First Hit: There are several funny scenes, and although it gets to the edge of being silly, it never goes over the cliff.

My first memory of Diane Keaton (playing Martha) was at Orange Coast College where she was an acting student. Then, she was interestingly quirky — her own person and had a crowd around her (theater arts people). She still is the same kind of person, and in this film, she’s retired, alone and interestingly quirky.

The story begins with Martha selling her possessions. She’s moving to a retirement home in Georgia. The greeting is an over the top southern homespun reception that includes a tour of the grounds, and a lot of southern charm spread around like fertilizer.

This doesn’t quite sit well with Martha because, as a straight spoken northerner, we discover she’s there to be left alone and die a peaceful death from cancer which she is choosing not to fight.

She’s got a nosy neighbor Sheryl (Jacki Weaver) who intrudes on her. The interactions are, at first, exasperating. However, Martha soon warms up to her, especially when she learns that Sheryl substitute teaches to make extra money.

Martha tells Sheryl she was once a cheerleader and she had to quit before her first performance because her mother was ill and dying.

Sheryl and Martha start a cheerleading club at the retirement home. They need a total of eight people, and so they reach out, and six others show up for tryouts. They are; Alice (Rhea Perlman), Helen (Phyllis Somerville), Olive (Pam Grier), Phyllis (Patricia French), Evelyn (Ginny MacColl), and Ruby (Carol Sutton).

Each of them has a story as to why they want to be in the club, and we get to learn that some of these women have been or are being controlled by husbands for family, and by joining this club they are doing something they want, and they like it.

There are fun scenes that mostly relate what it is like to get older but having the spirit of being young still residing within.

There are ups and downs in this story, but the overall mood is, at times, poignant sprinkled with humor and fun.  

Keaton is perfect for this role. Her own quirky independent nature fit very well with the quality of this character. Weaver was excellent as the nosy neighbor who had reason to have her grandson live with her. Perlman was fun. When she showed her “guns” in the gym, I could see she enjoyed it. Somerville, Grier, French, MacColl, and Sutton were all wonderful in their roles as women looking for a bit more fun in their lives. Charlie Tahan (as Sheryl’s grandson Ben) was very good as the nerdy guy who gained confidence along the way. Alisha Boe (as Chloe a high school girl who helps the Poms) was terrific. She saw that everyone gets older and that someday she’ll be there too. Shane Atkinson and Zara Hayes wrote this screenplay. Although it was lighthearted and filled with fluff, it worked. Hayes also directed this group, and I’m sure it was fun for the entire crew — it showed.

Overall: I liked and enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

Long Shot

First Hit: Although there some hilarious bits, I didn’t buy the premise of these two being their characters.

The storyline is for the audience to believe that Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is the current Secretary of State for President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk). The President is more interested in a movie career than being President, and so his staff is really running the country. Although the film makes attempts, Fields character as Secretary, isn’t quite established well enough for me. Something was slightly missing.

On the other side of the story, we have Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) who is supposed to be an independent journalist writing for an online publication. He only cares about what he perceives to be the truth and because he writes well and is willing to put himself in awkward positions, there is a self-righteousness to his character that comes across as a bit snarky.

To set up Flarsky as indeed someone willing to do anything to get the story, we find him in the process of becoming a member of a white supremacist group. In the induction meeting, he’s supposed to pledge hatred for Jews (although he’s sitting there - obviously a Jew) and gets goaded into getting a swastika tattoo. While getting the tattoo, one of the members finds out he’s really a journalist and is impersonating wanting to become part of the group. He escapes. This set-up is filled with both funny and vile setups and statements of hatred.

Fields is beautiful, smart, and powerful while Flarsky is schlubby, somewhat full of himself – regarding the truth as he sees it, and ill-mannered. Because of his self-aggrandizing ways, he quits his job when a tasteless publication company buys out the publication he works.

In his sadness and anger, he contacts Lance (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) his longtime best friend who consoles him by inviting him to an upscale gathering after taking him to a few bars to imbibe him.

There Flarsky sees Field who he recognized as his old baby sitter when he was 12 years old. They liked each other then, but the storyline has him recall getting an erection when they kissed. The film spends a bit too much time talking about this and in the end, I’m sure it wasn’t needed for the overall story.

Fields hires him as a speechwriter (first to punch up her humor quotient) and as they work together, he becomes more of her full-time writer. As they work together, they grow to know each other, just as they did as children.

The other side of the slightly overdone plot was the President who spends his time running lines in his office and watching his past performances as a President on a television program. The flippant way in which the President, Secretary of State and the people who work for them acted became something that, in the end, didn’t work for me.

Many of the political aspects and situations portrayed in this movie were pointedly reflective of today’s political environment and current office holders. The story also points out how exploitive publishers act.

Some of the amusing bits include when Fields team discusses her strengths and weaknesses. Also what happens to the tattoo Flarsky got at the suprematist meeting. Another hilarious scene was when the Prime Minister of Canada James Steward (Alexander Skarsgard) shares with Fields how he’s had to learn how to laugh.

As everyone in the audience knows that having Flarsky and Fields falling in love is a Long Shot, the story does end up in its prescribed ending.

Theron is solid as a comedic actress in this role and is absolutely stunning on the screen. Rogen is Rogen. He’s the same character in every film, and my general dislike of his character or personality continues here. June Diane Raphael (as Fields assistant Maggie) is strong. I liked how she pushed her agenda on to Fields. Ravi Patel (as Tom, another Fields assistant) is good. His subservient nature to Maggie was funny. Skarsgard was really funny, especially when he’s showing Fields how he learned how to laugh properly. Jackson Jr. was solid as Flarsky’s black conservative motivational friend. Odenkirk was silly and hilarious as a President who wanted to be a film star. Tristan D. Lalla as Agent M, Fields bodyguard, was outstanding. His sly looks while doing his job were precious. Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah wrote this screenplay. It pushed the edge of being overtly gross more than it needed to be. Jonathan Levine directed the film. I thought many of the scenes were clever, but then when they are pushed towards being overtly overdone, it made me wonder.

Overall: The amusing bits outweighed the overtly unpolished parts.

Gloria Bell

First Hit: I thought the concept was interesting, but it fell a little flat on the screen.

This story is about a middle age woman who has two grown kids, has been divorced for 12 years, and her flirtation with another romance.

Gloria (Julianne Moore) works for an insurance firm as an adjuster. Her favorite pastime is dancing at a local club. The club she goes to is filled with people her age (40 – 60) who are also looking for a good time and possibly a hook-up. Gloria drinks and dances her evenings away. She meets nice gentlemen, but there isn’t any spark and it doesn’t seem to matter.

I never got the feeling that she wanted to get involved in a relationship, and to fill the spaces of time in her life she tries to get more involved in her grown children’s lives. They are slightly open to her intrusions.

Anne (Caren Pistorius), her daughter is a yoga teacher who is engaged to a big wave surfer. She loves her mom, but she’s a young woman who wants to create distance from her mom, despite loving her, to dive into her own life. Her son Jeremy (Michael Cera), is raising his daughter alone as his wife is off “finding herself.” Gloria tries to be helpful and Jeremy tells her to back off because he wants to show her that he’s got everything covered, his way.

One night, while dancing, Gloria meets Arnold (John Turturro). He’s recently divorced and wants to be in a relationship. In fact, his hunger for a relationship is almost too telegraphed.

Gloria and Arnold hit it off. However, the sticking point is that his daughters and his ex-wife keep calling him because they are dependent on him for everything. Although his daughters are grown, he’s expected to pay for everything and solve every problem. The phone ringing in each scene with him is a moment in abject disgust and suffering for him, Gloria and the audience.

Despite their powerful physical intimacy, the calls, his insecurity around her family, and his dependence on being a savior for his girls, give this film it’s saddest and troubling moments.

My favorite scene in the film is when Gloria shoots paintballs at Arnold and his house. A very freeing moment for Gloria.

Moore is very good at portraying what she wants, her vulnerabilities, and what makes her happy. One of those things that makes her happy is singing in the car with complete abandon. These moments are priceless if you are a car singer. Pistorius is very good as the daughter that wants to follow her own dream and not have to live up to mom’s expectations. Cera, likewise, is strong in his portrayal of living up to the father he wants to be and do it his way. Turturro is excellent as the guilt and caretaker man who is caught between his love for Gloria and providing for his family’s needs. Brad Garrett is good as Gloria’s ex-husband. Alison Johnson Boher and Sebastian Lelio wrote a tepid screenplay that had more possibilities. However, it is a difficult subject to film. Lelio directed this film and many of the scenes were captured nicely.

Overall: Although at times tedious there are moments of laughter.

Fighting with My Family

First Hit: Mildly entertaining and while it was a bit too predictable at times, there were effective moments of inspiration.

Back when TV wrestling got its real start as (Golden Age) the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) in the early 1950s there were outsized characters like “Gorgeous George.” The narcissistic persona he embraced both elevated the sport’s popularity, but it also created an over-exposure by the late 1950’s early 1960’s.

But as the NWA developed to become the WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation) and shortened to WWF, its outsized characters regained its audience both in person and on television. Having to switch to WWE (Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment) because WWF was used by the World Wildlife Fund in 2001, WWE was global, and its ego and brawn based characters were known worldwide. “Hulk Hogan,” “Triple H,” “Stone Cold Steve Austin,” “Ric Flair,” and “The Rock” (Dwayne Johnson) who makes a couple of appearances in this film moved the WWE into the financial and popularity stratosphere.

This movie is based on the true story of Saraya “Paige” Bevis (Florence Pugh), who had her mind set on becoming a WWE wrestler. Coming from Norwich, England her chances were minimal. How she became a WWE wrestler is this film’s story.

She got started in this business because her father, Patrick “Rowdy Ricky Knight” Bevis (Nick Frost), and mother Julia “Sweet Saraya” Bevis (Lena Headley) started a wrestling business to put food on the table. It was either this or crime. Patrick was a thief, and robbing banks was his previous line of work and had already spent time in prison for this. However, he loved wrestling, and it was the life he took on to keep from robbing banks. Although “Paige’s” oldest brother was in jail, her next older brother Zak “Zodiac” Bevis (Jack Lowden) was also a wrestler and part of the family business.

Together the family had a company called WaW that taught younger people to wrestle in addition to putting on small matches throughout England. With pestering calls to WWE to help promote their business and Zak and Saraya, they finally get a call back from the WWE. Their representative for talent, Hutch Morgan (Vince Vaughn), contacts the family and ask that “Paige” and “Zodiac” come to tryouts in London at the O2 arena when WWE shows up to do a show there.

Only Paige gets chosen to continue the training, and the film follows her in this process. Immediately we see her struggle against other women who happen to be beautiful, sexy and physically healthy and capable. This was the one part of the film’s story I thought the filmmakers could have done more with. Each of the other girls was former models and cheerleaders, and they also needed to work and make money, and they were putting it all out there as well as “Paige.”

Of course, Zak is jealous that his sister got chosen while he didn’t, and therefore the film follows the jealousy track Zak has towards her sister’s success. But when “Paige” wants to quit, we find out how the family stands behind her, and “Paige” finds her strength.

This is a feel-good story of success and perseverance while also finding your place in the world.

The wrestling scenes were reasonably well done, and when “Paige” goes in the ring for the Diva championship, her world and dreams come together.

Pugh was excellent as “Paige.” I like her ability to show vulnerability as well as strength as she made this journey. Lowden was terrific as well. His jealousy was ideally placed as he wanted to be the star of the family but realized he was the star of what he gave to others. Frost and Headley were terrific as the parents of the wrestling family. Vaughn was fantastic as the talent manager and finder. His story about why Zak would fail as a WWE wrestler was wonderfully told. Johnson as himself (The Rock) was appropriately perfect. His personality leaps off the screen. Stephen Merchant wrote and directed this story with his eye on the ball. He kept it moving and did a great job of getting wonderful performances from the actors.

Overall: This isn’t a great film, but the heart shows up well on the screen.

Films that rose above the fray in 2018

This was a particularly good year for films. At first I didn’t think so but after I reviewed the films I watched and wrote about this past year, I was pleasantly surprised. I was entertained by outstanding acting, strong and poignant films about racism, and out loud laughs. My next post will be about the Oscar nominations.

Game Night: This film was funny from the get go and I laughed out loud all the way through.

Leaning Into the Wind: Andrew Goldsworthy: If you liked the film River and Tides, you’ll love Leaning....

The Death of Stalin: There are very funny moments, but I couldn’t help but wonder was his regime filled with that much personal corruptness? Probably.

Flower: The acting lifts this bizarre storyline to funny, engaging and entertaining levels.

Red Sparrow: Although long at 2h 19min, it had enough twists, turns, and detail to keep me fully engaged.

You Were Never Really Here: Beautifully shot scenes, dynamic soundtrack, but this oddly paced film tells a story of redemption, salvation or deeper despair.

Beirut: I really liked the way this film was put together and came to fruition.

A Quiet Place: Well done film and the silence of the actors made all the difference in the world.

Deadpool 2: First Hit: This film is fun, irreverent and filled with out-loud laughs.

RBG: Excellent film about a woman who lives within her strength and defined and changed U.S. law.

Disobedience: Extremely well-acted film about how antiquated thinking can split families and a loving relationship.

Hotel Artemis: Who says Hollywood cannot create a unique and well-acted film.

Blindspotting: Extremely powerful and pointed film and raises the bar for Best Picture of the Year. In my view this unnominated film is by far and away the best film of 2018.

Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far On Foot: A unhurried film revealing the power of how forgiveness of others and self, can make one’s life different.

Three Identical Strangers: A truly amazing story about how sciences’ curiosity didn't take into account the effects on human beings.

Sorry to Bother You: What I liked about this film is that it is funny, unique, and unlike any other film I’ve seen.

Leave No Trace: Sublimely acted and evenly paced film about a man and his daughter living in a public forest.

Puzzle: I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant film about a woman finding herself through a passion.

BlacKkKlansman: Fantastic film about race relations in the United States while reminding the audience about how far we have to go.

Eighth Grade: Outstanding acting and script gives us an insightful view of what it is like to be in the Eighth Grade today.

Fahrenheit 11/9: Covers a lot of stuff but I think it was mostly about Presidents and people in power managing and acting poorly.

Pick of the Litter: It was an fantastic and interesting way to learn about how guide dogs are taught to be amazing caretakers for the blind.

First Man: Compelling reenactment of an audaciously brave time in the 1960’s where we were challenged by President Kennedy to go to the moon.

The Hate U Give: A fantastic film about the existence of racism and, as indicated here, in our police departments as well.

Green Book: Excellent acting, engaging story, and both funny and thought-provoking make this film fun to sit through.

Boy Erased: Outstanding cast delivers sublime performances in a powerful story about LGBT conversion programs.

A Private War: Rosamund Pike (as Marie Colvin) gives a deeply complex performance of a war correspondent who brought personal stories of war victims to the forefront.

Bohemian Rhapsody: Accurate or not, this film was fun, well-acted, engaging, and joyful.

Can You Ever Forgive Me: Excellent acting about a caustic, friendless author that finally finds her voice.

Mary Queen of Scots: Saoirse Ronan (Mary Stuart) and Margot Robbie (Queen Elizabeth 1) give powerful performances in this adaptation of how Mary Queen of Scots tried to claim her title to the throne of England and Scotland.

Vice: I liked this oddly created film about a powerful yet enigmatic man who really ran our country for a period of time.

Ben is Back: Extremely well-acted story based on 24 hours of a mother and her addicted son’s return for the holidays.

Roma: Outside of the beautiful black and white photography and languid movement of the story, I left the theater with little.

The Favourite: A stark, intense musical score underscores the bizarre and tension filled interrelationships between the queen and her court.

Shoplifters: Wonderfully engaging film about a Japanese family who chose each other while fighting to stay nourished and together.