Wonder Woman – So Inspiring to Young Girls and the Lift We All Needed

I can’t review Wonder Woman like any old film.  It shouldn’t be so momentous that a woman director has directed for the first time a superhero film, that cracked $100 million opening weekend.  But it is.  Patty Jenkins had directed an Oscar winning independent film, Monster, that cost $8 million, had garnered the Directors Guild Award for the TV Series The Killing — and yet…. the headlines said it was a “gamble” to let her helm a superhero film.  It is maddening.  When young male directors are given huge action or superhero films after smaller indie films, it’s not called a gamble.  The Mary Sue called out this double standard misogyny.

I can’t separate my review of the film from what it has felt like to read about other women’s reaction seeing the film.  It’s everything to see a woman centered superhero film, directed by a woman.  And then there are the pictures of the little girls who dressed up to see the film, or got to meet their heroine.  Gah!

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I was a young girl when the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman TV show aired in the US.  I watched it every week!

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It is everything for these girls now to have both a female lead for Star Wars and now Wonder Woman.

So, how was the film?  It was good.  Very good.  I don’t know if I can call it great merely as a film — but at this point, it’s not merely a film, it’s a cultural phenomenon.  I can’t separate all my feelings out.  I will tell you that Gal Godot was excellent as Wonder Woman.  When she was cast, people said her accent would be horrible — you know what?  I thought it was perfect.  It made her seem that much more “other” — that she had been raised on this isolated island away from the world.

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Chris Pine was fantastic.  It was huge that someone who had headed up his own franchise, Star Trek, was willing to play the sidekick to a female Superhero.  This is what Chris Pine said back in 2015 when he was cast as Steve Trevor:

“What excites me most is to work in a movie with a superhero woman. With a woman in the lead role. I am teamed with this intelligent, beautiful and strong woman to defeat the villains and save humanity.”

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He had a nice comedic touch in early scenes with Gal Godot, and there was great chemistry between them, too, especially in a nice scene where he teaches her to dance.  Let me just tell you also, another nice thing about a woman director — we learn just how much male nudity you can have in a PG-13 film!  He’s not a damsel in distress, but he’s always the one to say, “No, Diana, you can’t do that.”  And then he turns around and she’s already done it.  Like the incredible No Man’s Land scene.

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I really enjoyed the early part of the film, where we see little girl Diana watching her aunt, General Antiope train the Amazon warriors.  And how cool is it that Robin Wright, Princess Buttercup herself is this badass warrior! Connie Nielsen was also perfectly cast as Diana’s mother.

I really enjoyed the film right up till near the end.  It was a solid film.  The battle on the Amazon Isle was great.  But nothing was so visually stunning that it took my breath away.

Where the film was a bit lacking for me was the villain reveal and the way the film ended.  I won’t go into spoilers exactly why.  My main issues, though were with the villain’s motivation.  As my son said, “The themes got a bit muddy there at the end.”  Still, this was a film that was about something and not just watching superheroes crash into buildings.  Diana believes in the inherent goodness of humanity, and then learns the world is more complex than she thought.  Someone’s sacrifice restores her faith in humanity.

There is actually Oscar talk about Wonder Woman.  This is big.  And I’m not just talking about technical VFX awards.  Anne Thompson of Indie Wire wrote today that she could see a supporting nod for Chris Pine and a best actress nod for Gal Godot.  Wouldn’t that be something to see?

I have been going back and forth on my rating between four and four and a half stars.  It’s not a perfect film, but it felt so damn good.  Gal Godot is the perfect Wonder Woman  — And for those little girls!

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Totally Gnarly Notes – Excellent!

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Wayne’s World which is actually set in my home town of Aurora, IL.  Excellent!  Party On Wayne!

These two are too cute!

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How La La Land reworks Casablanca.  Why A-List actresses avoid Rom-Coms – is it the curse of Katherine Heigl?  Speaking of Rom-Coms, here’s a list of 34 of the best Rom Coms of the past decade and where to stream them.  Move over Spielberg and Scorsese, there’s some new kids taking over the town.  Where you can stream some of the Oscar nominated films this month.  Hasidic actor conquers Sundance.  Model trains!  The history of The Black List.  Cards Against Humanity is looking for a very special new employee.

Not to get TOO political…. but Lin-Manuel Miranda has made us a Spotify Playlist.  11 Essential movies about refugees and immigrants (I need to see A Separation!) This twitter account takes me to a welcome alternate reality:

Speaking of Hidden Figures, these girls dressing up for their school project brings me such joy:

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Have you seen La La Land yet?  Those of us in Chicago have STRONG feelings about it:

2016 – My Movie Year

 

Letterboxd.com is where I keep a diary of all the films I watch, including films I rewatch.  They have a very cool year in review feature.  I was inspired by this Matt Bowes post about all the media he consumed in 2016, to make this post.  I’ll just talk about the movies here, but I love how he listed all the comics, podcasts, etc., too!

So, according to Letterboxd, I saw 222 films in 2016, which includes short films and rewatches.  That averages out to over 18 a month, and over 4 a week.  Weeks like our visit to the Sundance Film Festival, where we saw 30 films (including shorts) certainly help to bump up that average, but I am an avid movie viewer no matter how you slice it.  I just started this blog in April, but I had been posting short reviews on most films to Letterboxd before that.

2016 started with The Hateful Eight (which I didn’t love) and ended with Zootopia, which I did love.  There were mostly older films, but I did watch 82 films that were released in 2016.  It won’t surprise any of my readers that fully half were films from India, 111 of them.

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Interestingly, the actor with the most films I saw was not Shahrukh Khan (who was second with 12), but Nasser with 14!  That man is in EVERYTHING!

This year I discovered Telegu cinema megastar Mahesh Babu (9 movies) and Malayalam cinema star  Prithviraj.  I’ve got a stack of more Prithviraj movies to watch — the man has made so many!  I’m amused that Prithviraj’s early film Stop Violence – which I watched without subs! – Letterboxd lists as my “most obscure movie”.

The highest rated (by people on Letterboxd) film I saw in 2016 is Moonlight, which is heading to the Oscars.  The lowest rated is Yoga Hosers.  Yeah.  Have to pretty much agree with that — but Assassin’s Creed is giving it a run for it’s money on that score. Yoga Hosers is just crazy silly (Brat Nazis!) but it was worth it to go to the midnight premiere just to see Kevin Smith.

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2016 will always be in my memory, because this was the year that a movie I helped get made premiered at Sundance.

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 How To Tell You’re A Douchebag is the movie I saw the most times this year, as I attended screenings of the film, and showed it to friends and family.  I’m so proud of writer/director Tahir Jetter’s achievement.  It was bought by BET and aired this summer.  You can watch it on iTunes, Amazon video or Google play now!

Top films from 2016 I saw in Hollywood and Indian cinema coming soon.

La La Land – This movie is so glorious I actually cried tears of joy in the theater

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I knew I was going to love La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s new film musical, but I wasn’t really ready for how it made me feel watching it in the theater today.  Damien Chazelle blew me away with Whiplash, an intense movie about a jazz drummer which opened Sundance a few years ago, and garnered J. K. Simmons a Supporting Actor Oscar.  The success of Whiplash let him make the musical movie he’d always dreamed of.

I went to see La La Land alone today because I. Could. Not. WAIT, but I will be dragging everyone I can to go see it on the big screen.  I want to see it as many times as I possibly can.  Critics have swooned, even Manohla Dargis wrote about how swept away she was watching it the second time.

I love movie musicals.  I live and breathe them.  I fell hard for Fred Astaire, adore Gene Kelly and the list goes on.  Those films of the past had magic.  Yes, they were earnest and wore their heart on their sleeve, but can anything convey like a song that heavenly feeling of falling in love?  Musicals have fallen out of fashion in cynical Hollywood as of late.  They are rare or you have to watch a Disney animated film to see one.  I have turned to Indian films to get my musical fix.

 

Today, in the theater, Damien Chazelle gave me the most precious gift.  He gave me a Hollywood musical, steeped in the traditions and with a love for Hollywood musicals of the past, and also fresh and adult and modern.  The movie made me smile from the first frames as an LA traffic jam leads to people getting out of their cars to dance and sing.

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Then we meet Emma Stone’s Mia, a struggling actress and Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian, a struggling Jazz piano player.  They run into each other a few times and banter before this glorious spontaneous dance:

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How gorgeous is that shot?!  The sunset on the hills, her yellow dress and red hair.  How they have those matching shoes.

There are bumps along the way, but one night they go to the Griffith Observatory after seeing Rebel With A Cause.  And then they fall in love, and the music takes them up into the stars.  I seriously started crying tears of joy at this.  I didn’t just choke up.  Tears were running down my face I was so happy.

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I loved all the camera tricks that Chazelle uses.  He’s studied the masters and gone even a step further.  This is a film where Damien Chazelle takes the every day and makes it part of a musical number.  We meet Mia’s roommates and a blow dryer gives Mia a moment worthy of a Bollywood number:

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People don’t just walk down the street to a party – they do this:

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I was only hoping for a few big musical dance numbers, but this a full fledged musical film with songs and dances throughout from start to finish.  The music is all original by Justin Hurwitz who also provided the score for Whiplash.  Ryan Gosling’s character is a jazz musician who is always composing and working on his music, so it makes sense in the film for moments like this one:

 

This is hands down my favorite film of the year.  It’s about a guy and a gal falling in love and struggling to make their dreams come true.  Maybe it doesn’t have the weight of Manchester by the Sea, or the important issues of a film like Moonlight.  But I cried more than once — for joy and for the beauty of it all.  That final sequence just left me again in tears it was so perfect.  So beautiful.  So bittersweet.  This is not a saccharine sappy film.

Chazelle fought hard to get this cast.  He had to really convince Emma Stone to make the leap and she didn’t make it easy.  Ryan Gosling took piano lessons for months so that he could convincingly play the piano in the film without editing cheats.  Gosling and Stone have shown in films like Crazy, Stupid Love that they have that X factor chemistry between them.  This film was almost cast with Miles Teller and Emma Watson.   Thank God Stone and Gosling became available — Emma Stone is likely to win an Oscar nomination for this film.

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La La Land is romance at its best.  Damien Chazelle has captured magic in bottle.  I plan to partake again and again.

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Moonlight – Like Watching Beautiful Poetry Come To Life

I had heard a growing chorus about the greatness of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight from the festival circuit, and it is now gracing the number one spot on many critics’ Top 10 films of the year.  It’s a three-way Oscar race at this point, with Manchester By The Sea, and La La Land.

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Before I saw the film, I did not understand the movie poster for Moonlight, but it is actually perfection.  The film is split in three parts showing 10 year old “Little”, a young teen and then a young adult Chiron.  The poster shows all three actors split in thirds, and how they together make the whole person that is Chiron.

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This image released by A24 Films shows Alex Hibbert, left, and Mahershala Ali in a scene from the film, “Moonlight.” The film is a poetic coming-of-age tale told across three chapters about a young gay black kid growing up in a poor, drug-ridden neighborhood of Miami. (David Bornfriend/A24 via AP)

The film Moonlight is based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue which was written by Chicago Steppenwolf playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney.  Little/Charon is a young taciturn 10 year old in the first segment.  Chased by bullies who taunt him for being a “faggot”.  He hides out in a crackhouse, and is improbably rescued by the local drug dealer gang leader, Juan (Mahershala Ali in a tour de force).  Mahershala Ali I was mainly familiar with from his excellent work as the lobbyist Remy in House of Cards, but he’s one of those faces who has been in several TV series and movies like Hunger Games Mockingjay.  I’ve never seen him like this.  He was quite simply amazing.  He will be nominated for just about every supporting actor nomination available this awards cycle.

He takes young Little back home to his wife Teresa because Little won’t talk and say where he lives.  After Little spends the night, Juan takes him under his wing, and you fear what he might be grooming Little for.  But there is just this luminous scene where he teaches Little to Swim on a Miami beach.  Juan is the one who tells him about black boys looking blue in the Moonlight.  Little lives alone with his single mother nurse, and you can see in his big eyes how he craves a father figure.  He even asks Juan and Teresa, “What does ‘faggot’ mean?” and your heart stops.  Juan and Teresa explain, but also are accepting and tender.  Every character in this film has layers and complexities — the local drug lord, is the caring father figure, full of acceptance.

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The second segment shows lanky Chiron (Ashton Sanders) still being bullied at school.  He has one consistent friend, Kevin, who was his best pal in the first segment, too.  There is an incredible tender scene between Kevin and Chiron alone on  the beach one night.  But then afterwards, he is betrayed.  This moment in the still above is when Chiron looks at his beaten face in the mirror, and you can just see him girding himself, and saying, “No. More.”  He explodes, and it had my heart in my throat just like the ending of FandryFandry.  You’ve seen this poor kid, now with a crack addicted neglectful mother, just endure and endure and he just can’t any more.  Many movies would end there.

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But the final segment shows what Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) has become as an adult.  He’s now a drug dealer with gold teeth and macho attitude.  The way he dresses, and his car all show how he’s trying to live up to what Juan was.  He gets a call from Kevin (André Holland) out of the blue, and that sends him driving hours through the night back to Miami to see Kevin again.  The film ends so tenderly and with such a sense of hope.  My heart was just so full.

This is an incredible film.  Groundbreaking in its structure.  It examines the life of a young gay black man, and examines the toxicity of the roles of masculinity.  It’s complex, and it’s also just so luminously filmed.  It is a gorgeous film to watch.

2016 may suck in general, but we’ve been given such a gift this year with great films.  Don’t miss Moonlight.  It’s still playing in theaters.

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David Ehrlich’s Top 25 Films of 2016

David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich) is the Rolling Stone Movie Critic. We met him briefly this last Sundance in line for a movie, but I didn’t realize he was the onscreen_shot_2012-05-26_at_12-12-33_am_400x400e who makes these videos every year that I adore. I just love the music choices and his editing.

But as to his top 25 list, I haven’t been to all the festivals that he has, or seen even half these films. I have a feeling La La Land which comes out Friday will be my number one of the year, and right now it’s the front runner for the Oscar. It has been getting ecstatic reviews from just about everyone who’s seen it — a musical with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling by the same director who did Whiplash. Ehrlich had La La Land in his top 10, but it was number 8 for him.
 
Manchester by the Sea would be my number two film (if La La Land is 1) and he has that all the way down at 18. Moonlight is his number one, and it is for many critics. It’s probably my number 3 film of the entire year. It’s absolutely incredible (review coming soon).
 
I have not seen Scorsese’s Silence or Jackie which will come out later this month. I would also put The Lobster in my top 10 of the year, possibly my top five. I loved every absurd moment of that film.
Here’s his 2015 video:

Manchester By The Sea – Casey Affleck is superb in Lonergan’s masterpiece

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Manchester By The Sea is out right now in limited release.  If you can find it, I urge you to go see this incredible film.   I saw this film in January at Sundance going in knowing next to nothing.  All there was in the program was this picture of Kyle Chandler and Casey Affleck who play brothers in the film.  And the name Kenneth Lonergan, the writer director.  That’s the name that made this film a must see for me.  He has only written and directed three films.  His first feature, You Can Count On Me gave us an incredible debut by Mark Ruffalo as Laura Linney’s ne’er do well brother.  His second film, Margaret, starring Anna Paquin, was finally released on DVD recently.

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This is the short review of Manchester By The Sea I wrote on Letterboxd after I returned from Sundance:

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Casey Affleck plays a janitor who has to return to his hometown when his brother (Kyle Chandler) suddenly dies of a heart attack.  He’s named guardian for his teenage nephew, and you come to understand through flashbacks why he is so reluctant to assume that role.  Michelle Williams plays his ex-wife, in a fantastic supporting role.  Lucas Hedges is the 16 year old nephew, and he is amazing.  This is a break out role for this young actor.

But Casey Affleck’s melancholy superb acting had me sobbing, not just tears down my face but holding my hand over my mouth to keep quiet in the theater sobbing.  This is a masterful movie about real people and their grief.

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If you can, go see this film without watching the trailer, because the trailer shows part of a key scene between Casey Affleck and his ex-wife, Michelle Williams.  I think it has more impact if you don’t know what’s coming.

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Casey Affleck is a lock for a best actor Oscar nomination, and Manchester By The Sea is at the top of best of 2016 film lists, right after La La Land.  I haven’t seen La La Land yet (Dec. 9th can’t come fast enough), but Manchester By The Sea is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.

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Aloha – Kind of a Mess

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Sometimes even I am too tired to watch a movie with subtitles.  I picked Aloha on demand because it wasn’t too long, basically.  Wow, what a mess of a movie.  I knew it had gotten lots of bad press because of the whitewashing casting of Emma Stone in a character that is supposed to be a quarter Hawaiian and part Chinese , Captain Allison Ng.  Cameron Crowe has made some really fantastic films, but lately he seems to have lost his way.

My issues with the film are beyond the whitewashing, but why Cameron Crowe didn’t just make Emma Stone’s step-father Hawaiian or something, I don’t know.  She’s supposed to be a believer in Hawaiian legends and superstitions in the plot.  I guess he based the character on a real red-headed Hawaiian woman, but he should have seen the controversy coming.

aloha-2015-movie-screenshot-john-krasinski-john-woody-woodside-5But moving on from that, there were plenty of times in the movie where I could not figure out what was going on.  This is basically a rom-com dramedy and I couldn’t figure out why the main characters were acting the way they were.  There were some shining moments to the film,  especially the performances.  Crowe assembled a great ensemble cast.  Rachel McAdams is military contractor Bradley Cooper’s ex-girlfriend.  The always great Bill Murray is Cooper’s wealthy eccentric boss, and I just loved him in this.  John Krasinski is Rachel McAdam’s military pilot silent stoic husband, and I just adored his performance especially.

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I wish the film had been from the perspective of either of the central women figures in the script, because I was most interested in their stories.  But of course, this is Cameron Crowe, so it’s all about the journey and perspective of messed-up-and-at-a-life-crossroad Bradley Cooper.  He can’t move on to a romance with Emma Stone until he resolves his issues with ex-girlfriend Rachel McAdams.

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The complicated confusing plot about launching a satellite that might have weapons and all is incidental to each actor getting a little flourish of an acting moment.  While there were some scenes that were brilliant, the whole didn’t hold together.

You, dear reader, are unlikely to watch this film, so I’m spoiling the ending because it annoyed me so much.  Rachel McAdams and Cooper broke up 13 years ago when he did not show up for an important weekend vacation.  She has a 12 year old daughter and had married John Krasinski shortly after the breakup.  Yep.  Everyone does the math.  The final scene shows Bradley Cooper looking through a window at his daughter in her hula dance class.  She looks out and he beams and nods.  The young actress is great in doing what Crowe asked her to do — look surprised, then tearily happy, as she runs out to give Cooper a hug and then run back to class.  Really??  A pre-teen girl figures out that the father she’s known her entire life is not her real father, and this near stranger just nods at her and it’s all good?  Yeahhhh, I don’t think so!  She doesn’t first think, hey it’s creepy that this old friend of my mom is staring at me?  Or have any anger at her mother or him?  Of course not, because her part in this movie is just to tie up Bradley Cooper’s character’s life up with a pretty bow.

I did like the Hawaiian setting.  My in-laws used to have a house in Hawaii, and there are not enough movies set there and celebrating what’s unique about it.

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Bridget Jones’s Baby – I laughed my ass off

bridget-jones-gallery-01It’s been 15 years since Bridget Jones Diary came out, and 12 years since Bridget Jones:  Edge Of Reason.  For me, Bridget Jones’s Baby had the same delightful feel as the first movie, and there’s a reason — Sharon Maguire, who directed the first film is back for the third.  The second film wasn’t awful, it just had the curse of following such a beloved first film.  The only thing I really remember about it was that slap fight in the fountain between Hugh Grant and Colin Firth (those two commit, 120% in their slap fights!)

Bridget Jones’s Baby starts back in that old apartment, hitting the same beats as the first film, but then Bridget changes the music and dances around her apartment, happy in her singledom.

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Pretty much everyone from the original film is back in little cameos, but I loved the new additions, like Bridget’s co-worker and best pal Miranda, played by Sarah Solemani.  Bridget is still a bit clumsy, but she’s now a successful TV news show producer, and Miranda is the host.  I liked that Btidget is now a grown up and competent, even if she’s puzzled by the Millennials at work.

The only one not back is Hugh Grant.  His plane has gone down “in the bush”, and there’s a hilarious funeral scene with pews full of models and old girlfriends.

When Bridget’s old pals bail on her birthday celebration, Miranda surprises her with a girls’ weekend at a music festival.  She falls in the mud in front of Patrick Dempsey (Jack) and they end up hooking up later that night.

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The next weekend, she and Colin Firth are godparents at a friend’s baby’s christening, and sparks fly with them again after Darcy admits he and his wife are separated.

Bridget is happy to go back to her single life, and thinks that she and Darcy will never work.  They tried, but he is too wedded to his work.

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Well we know what happens next from the title!  She gets pregnant and has no clue which man is the father.  She tells both separately, and after being stunned, billionaire Jack (Dempsey) warms to the idea and actively woos her.

Darcy is thrilled that she’s pregnant, but decidedly NOT thrilled when he learns he has a rival.  He’s so Darcy buttoned up and reserved, with his seething feelings under the surface waiting to burst out.  Sigh.

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Emma Thompson is hilarious as Bridget’s doctor, with her witty wry humor (she even co-wrote the screenplay, and boy does it show.)  I loved that the doctor tells her she doesn’t need either man, and would be just fine with the baby herself.  “I did it!”

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When Bridget goes into labor, I was practically rolling on the floor with laughter as the two men try to carry her to the hospital, and make it through a revolving door.

You’ll enjoy the film more if you’ve seen at least the first movie, but one of the friends who saw it with me had no clue this was the third movie in a series.  She laughed just as hard as me (okay, maybe I really laughed loudly), so it’s very enjoyable to people new to all things Bridget Jones.

Very funny movie, and especially fun to see with gal pals.

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Remembering Director Curtis Hanson

rip-curtis-hansonRIP Director Curtis Hanson. News of his passing from natural causes at age 71 greeted me this morning, and I’ve been thinking about him all day.

I never did see The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, his breakout film, or the entirety of River Wild with Meryl Streep and Kevin Bacon. (I’ve only seen bits and pieces of that film.)

My first Curtis Hanson film was the fantastic L.A. Confidential, for which Kim Basinger won an Oscar, and Hanson won a writing Oscar. Oh, my goodness, what a great film.  We can thank Curtis Hanson for giving two Aussie actors their Hollywood debuts: Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce.  These are two of my favorite scenes:

 

I enjoyed the quirky character study films Wonder Boys and In Her Shoes, but 8 Mile goes down as another of my all time favorite films.  Who knew Enimem could act, and be so riveting on screen even when he wasn’t rapping?  Curtis Hanson took a chance and wow, what a film.  (I totally forgot Michael Shannon was in 8 Mile!)

 

Hanson’s final film is Chasing Mavericks with Gerard Butler.  I missed it in theaters, but I think I need to find it.  RIP Curtis Hanson and thank you for some fantastic films.