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Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a young man with Down syndrome who lives in a residential nursing home because he has no relatives and is under the supervision of the Department of Social Services with the state. He feels imprisoned, and realizes that he does not belong there. Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) is tasked to keep watch over him and take care of him. She does it with kindness and dedication.

But Zak needs to get out. His dream is to become a professional wrestler, and he wants to start by enrolling in the wrestling school run by his idol, Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), in Florida. With a little help from his elderly roommate and friend (Bruce Dern) he breaks out one night and does not come back. He runs into an outlaw on the run named Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) and the unlikely pair team up against all odds and start heading south. First stop: Salt Water Redneck’s wrestling school.

Reminiscent of Little Miss Sunshine, a group of unlikely underdogs make their journey and come out better on the other side.

This is a feel-good movie for all of us and it makes us think about our place in society, and those who are not as fortunate as we are.

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood tells the real-life story of the relationship of Tom Junod, a journalist who wrote for Esquire Magazine, and Mr. Rogers, the famous children’s television show host.

In the fictionalized story, the journalist is Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). He is burned out and trapped in an emotional mess of his own making. He can’t reconcile the broken relationship with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper), and he takes it out on his supportive wife and indirectly on his infant son. When he is assigned to profile Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), he first thinks it’s a joke.

When he meets Mr. Rogers, he goes through a learning process, when the famed star of the children’s show uses his techniques of dealing with emotions to elicit empathy and kindness. While Lloyd ends up writing the story of his life, ending up on the cover of Esquire Magazine, he also learns how to deal with his emotions and inner conflicts. He makes peace with the demons of his life and settles his scores with his estranged father.

Tom Hanks makes a wonderful Mr. Rogers. They could not have found a better actor for this role. While we see into the soul of the journalist, Tom Hanks shows us that the seemingly unflappable Mr. Rogers has his own pains and moments of sorrow and anger.

This comes to life in the last minute of the movie, when Mr. Rogers plays the piano in the studio, after a show, when the crew has left, the studio is all quiet and dark. Mr. Rogers plays a painful tune and then suddenly pounds all the lowest keys of the piano a few times hard, and we, the viewers, all know what that means.

You’ll just have to go and find out.

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In 1968, when I was a young boy of 12, I enjoyed learning about cars. I was impressed with the Ford Mustang, but my all-time favorite car was the Ford GT40. Of course, I never, ever saw one in real life. I had to be satisfied with pictures.

Ford built the GT40 as a race car, specifically designed to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race that was dominated by Ferrari in the early 1960s. One of the requirements to compete in the Le Mans was that the company had to build at least 25 road-going versions of the car they were racing. Ford built 31 GT40 Mk I street cars. Nowadays they sell at auctions for over three million dollars each.

The first time I ever saw a GT40 in real life was at the Escondido Hot Summer Nights a few years ago. Escondido is my home town. On Friday nights in the summer, they close down Grand Ave for an all-town party. Car lovers bring in their babies by the dozens, maybe hundreds.  All the restaurants are open, and it makes for a great outing – and an occasional sighing of a classic, like the Ford GT40.

The movie Ford v Ferrari tells the story of the legendary American car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who worked with Ford on the GT40, and the daring driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), as they built a car from scratch, in record time, against all odds, to beat Ferrari at the Le Mans.

The movie is over two-and-a-half hours long, but worth every minute of it.

Christian Bale did an amazing job in this movie. He had to lose a large amount of weight to fit the role. Remember, this is the same actor that played Dick Cheney in the movie Vice in 2018. See this article for a picture of the same man for these two extreme roles. I find he is unrecognizable.

I didn’t know much about racing in the 1960s, and this movie taught me a lot. And I got to see the Ford GT40 in action. What more could this 12-year-old boy in the body of a 63-year-old man want on a movie night?

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JoJo Rabbit is a satire. It is cartoonish and grotesque, and for the first half of the movie I really didn’t know what to do with it. It plays with an intense subject matter, the Jewish prosecution in Nazi Germany and how it was possible for an entire nation of people to be led to play along with such an obscene objective.

We all know it happened. JoJo Rabbit tells the story of a lonely and awkward 10-year-old German boy named JoJo who, as all children of his time, joined the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth), an organization that brainwashed children from an early age by subjecting them to Nazi doctrine and the personality cult Hitler fostered. Peer pressure did the rest. Create a “family” of like-minded people, in this case children, who are told that their mission is a noble one of creating a pure and good empire and eradicate all bad, ugly, evil and low, and you have an entire generation of followers who never knew otherwise and think nothing of ratting out their own parents for the good of the country.

When JoJo finds a Jewish girl hidden in the attic in their house, it creates a conflict for him that he does not know how to work through.

JoJo Rabbit exposes what went on during the Nazi regime, and it makes us think about what is happening today. We vilify foreigners, especially a certain type of foreigner, we build walls to keep us protected from them by supposedly keeping them out. We know the walls don’t work, they never did, they never will, but we tell our children and our people who do not think for themselves that walls are good, and the illusion feeds on itself. We hold up an emperor, and it does not matter if he wears any clothes. We follow him, because we don’t know what else to do to solve our problems.

When the emperor starts killing and putting uniforms on 10-year-old boys so they can go out and die, the people still follow because they don’t know any better.

JoJo Rabbit shows how this works.

It disturbed and unsettled me.

 

 

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The Joker is a comic book character, a supervillain, psychopath and criminal mastermind who reigned over his empire in Gotham, the arch nemesis of Batman. The movie Joker is a prequel to the numerous Batman movies, but completely unrelated to them. It explains how the Joker came to be in the form of a stand-alone fictional story.

There is nothing funny about the Joker. Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a clown for hire during the day. He puts on gaudy makeup and twirls signs in the city streets. When he goes home and his makeup is off, he dreams of being a stand-up comic. He writes joke material into his journal and performs in comic joints at night when he can get a gig. Maybe one day he’ll make it big.

But things are not easy for him. He supports his ailing mother, who has a secret or two of her own. He battles severe depression and desperately tries to cope with his illness by taking a multitude of medications and going to counseling. As a clown in a degenerate society where the social gaps between the desperate masses and the super powerful is huge, he is a perpetual victim of his purported friends, and of the bullies on the street.

When he gets beat up in the subway by a group of young Wall Street thugs he snaps and kills all three of them. That was his first blood. It wasn’t his last.

Joker is a story about mental illness in our society. It’s a dark, depressing, heavy depiction of a man with a will, a yearning for a decent life, a successful and rewarding career, who gets beaten. He get beaten by kids on the street, beaten down by his upbringing, beaten by his workmates, beaten into submission by his superiors, beaten by the mental illness support system of his city: “Where am I supposed to get my medication now?”

Joker is a story about the immense differences between the classes of society. There is the corrupt political layer, where the powerful enrich themselves by the labor of the masses and where those same elites convince the people that they have their welfare in mind. Does that have any parallels in our society this very day?

Joker is a movie with one main actor – Joaquin Phoenix – who portrays a comic book character with fierce intensity and relentless passion. I predict he’ll get an Oscar for this role.

When we left the movie Joker, we needed to distract our minds. Be prepared. It takes a lot out of you.

But you have to go!

 

 

 

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Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) is an astronaut in the nearer future, a time when trips to the Moon and to Mars are routine and humanity has started venturing farther out, mining the asteroid belt, and reaching for the gas giants. When Earth is suddenly bombarded by massive and destructive power surges from a mystery energy source at the planet Neptune, McBride is recruited to help. As it turns out, the only person who ever traveled to Neptune was his own father, a decorated astronaut who was the first to reach Jupiter, then Saturn, and finally embarked on a mission to the edge of the solar system, to Neptune, presumably to seek out alien intelligence in the universe. But when he arrived, he and his crew perished and were never heard from again – or were they?

NASA suspects that the elder McBride near Neptune is still alive and has something to do with the power surges that threaten to destroy the earth. In order to communicate with him, NASA recruits his son, Roy McBride, because they think the father is likely to respond to the son. And thus he goes on a long journey.

Ad Astra is the Latin expression for “to the stars.” There nothing about stars in this movie, other than neat special effects of space travel. The entire movie and the ludicrous story that does not make any sense just seem to be an excuse to string together some interesting and effective special effects.

I watch pretty much every “large” science fiction movie because I am interested in space travel and humanity in the future. So I enjoyed the movie, even though it insulted my intelligence every few minutes along the way. There is so much wrong with this story, it’s hard to know where to start.

Warning: Significant Spoilers Below – even though I don’t think they’ll really interfere with your enjoyment of the movie, since it’s such a weak plot anyway.

First the basic premise: NASA recruits Roy for the top secret mission to travel to Mars, via the Moon, to send a message to Neptune to his father, with the option to eventually fly out to Neptune to stop the threat to the Earth. The journey to the moon is equivalent to an airline ride coast to coast for us. It’s all routine. But when they arrive on the moon, for some odd reason, they have to travel by rover overland to another base from where the rocket to Mars is launched. But there are now pirates on the moon, and they prey on travelers and attack them by rover. Everyone is in spacesuits and they are shooting each other up, like in a western, but rather than riding horses, they ride rovers in space suits. I wonder what the pirates are trying to gain. The whole chase is just a useless filler that takes up 5 or 10 minutes of movie time and adds nothing to the story.

Along the way to Mars, there is a mayday call from a research vessel, and the ship stops to try to help. I will spare you with what happens on that research vessel. It again has nothing to do with the movie other than adding some special effects footage and scary scenes. The problem is, how did the chemical rocket they were riding to Mars stop along the way, line up with the stranded vessel and match trajectories so they can board via space suit? And then start up again going on to Mars. The trip to Mars is supposed to take a few days, so the stopping and starting along the way would have taken massive amounts of acceleration that no human could possibly endure. But, it’s a movie, I guess.

Once Roy arrives on Mars, he is guided into a secret sound-proof room where he records a message to his father that is then sent to Neptune via a laser beam. After sending the second message, it appears there is a response. That is quite odd, since Neptune is about four light hours away from Mars, so the round trip of a message would take eight hours. You would not stand there waiting for it. But that’s what it looks like they are doing. Then they decide to send Roy back to Earth because they think he is not psychologically ready to continue with the mission. So explain to me why Roy bothered to travel to the Moon, get attacked and almost killed by pirates, then on to Mars, just to record a message? He could have recorded that message in his living room on Earth and they could have sent it to Neptune.But, it’s a movie, I guess.

He eventually forces his way onto the ship that travels on to Neptune. The trip will take 79 days. Again, massive accelerations and speeds are required to make that happen, and it’s not clear how the simple chemical rocket technology they have accomplishes that. As we observe him on his journey, there are some convenient shots of the ship right in front of Jupiter first, and then a bit later of Saturn, as if the outer planets were all lined up in a straight line and the ship would travel from one to the other. As it is, the planets are spread out all over the solar system, often on different sides of  the sun, and a rough alignment only happens every few centuries. It seems to have happened for Roy’s journey.

Neptune has a thin set of rings. Roy put his craft in an orbit right above the plane of the rings, so he has to conveniently dive through the rings to get to the craft of his father. I enjoy thinking about floating in the rings of Saturn, and I wrote this entire post about that. So I enjoyed that scene, even though it was way too contrived. I also got a kick out of how Roy decided to return to his craft through the rings after he loses his shuttle. He uses a sheet metal panel to protect himself against impact of ring particles as the dives through. Then he finally gets back and collides with his own craft due to their velocities not being matched very well. Good scene there.

Finally, when the movie is over, somehow Roy has to travel back to Earth. To do that, he invokes a Deus ex Machina technique: he uses a nuclear explosion to propel him. Somehow the three dimensional vector between the nuclear explosion and his ship is perfectly aligned so the ship travels through the 2 billion miles plus back to Earth and hits it exactly. Yeah, sure!

As you can see, this is a movie for people that do not understand science, know nothing about space travel, and just want to see neat special effects. They might enjoy this

For the geeks, like me, Ad Astra is just silly and a waste of a good opportunity. All that money and technology could have made a good movie and a good story instead.

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If you asked me what Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is about, I’d be hard-pressed to give you an answer.

The story plays in Los Angeles in 1969. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the former star of a western TV series. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is Rick’s stunt double, who also serves as his driver and definitely his best friend and buddy. Rick is struggling to keep his career moving forward. He feels washed out and does not know how to cope with Hollywood’s new realities. When he is recruited to travel to Rome and star in a series of “spaghetti westerns” he is depressed and driven to tears. Cliff’s own success is directly dependent on Rick’s career, since nobody needs a stunt double other than the star, and if the star does not have gigs, the double does not eat. But Cliff has other skills and he does not take shit from anyone. When he runs into Bruce Lee on a movie set and Bruce taunts him, he ends up giving him a good beating.

Rick lives in a nice house on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood hills, and his next door neighbors are Roman Polanski and his girlfriend Sharon Tate. Rick’s ambition is to somehow meet the famous “Polish Prince” director in an effort to boost his own chances of landing a starring role, but he does not know how to go about it.

Cliff, in his own right, has been around the movie business for a long time, and he knows people. During one chance excursion he goes out to the Spahn movie ranch where he finds an old friend on his dilapidated farm taken over by a gang of zombie-like hippies. Their leader is Charlie and the hippie in charge of security is Tex.

The casting was somewhat unusual, too. Seldom do we see two top Hollywood actors share the same movie. Neither Brad Pitt or Leonardo DiCaprio was the star of this movie, they both were, and it was very well balanced. The two played off each other well, and neither dominated the other. The acting was superb, convincing and poignant.

So what is the movie about?

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is probably a play on Once Upon a Time in the West, my favorite spaghetti western with Charles Bronson by Sergio Leone. It’s about struggling actors in Hollywood in the Sixties.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is also about the Charlie Manson murders, specifically the Sharon Tate massacre on August 8, 1969. When Cliff ran into Tex, it was Charles “Tex” Watson of the Manson gang who was a central figure in the Manson crimes and is serving his life sentence to this day.

A friend told me that after watching this movie he went to get the 1974 book Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, to read up on the Manson gang. Coincidentally, Helter Skelter was the first book I read in the English language back in 1974, and I still remembered quite a few of the details as I watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

I thought I knew what would happen, but I was wrong.

So what was the movie about?

You’re just going to have to go and see it to find out.

 

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Maiden is a documentary about Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old English girl who decides to make it her quest to sail around the world in the Whitbread Round the World race in 1989. The journey is grueling, going for 27,500 miles, from England down to Uruguay, then east through the southern ocean to Australia and New Zealand, then back round Cape Horn and up north through the Atlantic again. It takes about 9 months.

The entire sail-racing world is completely dominated by men, and no crew is willing to take her on. She decides she has to find her own all-women crew, buy a boat, get a sponsorship, train and – yes, sail. She is the laughing stock of the sailing world. Nobody takes her seriously. When she can’t find any sponsors, she mortgages her house and buys a second-hand boat that they first need to fix up.

Finally, against all odds, the starting gun sounds in Southhampton in 1989, and she sails off heading south. Nobody believed she would make it out more than a few days, or perhaps a couple of weeks, before failing and possibly perishing.

Maiden is a true documentary. Tracy herself and a number of crew members and skippers from other boats tell the story on camera. All the footage is vintage and original. Due to this, the pictures are often grainy and shaky, but they draw you in and you are on the boat embedded with the crew, experiencing the adventure firsthand.

The movie is a documentary of the Whitbread race of its first ever female crew, a testament to the human spirit of fighting against all odds and succeeding, and a validation for women all around the world fighting for their right to be treated as equal members of humanity.

Maiden is inspiring and eminently satisfying.

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I am looking out the window and the trucks won’t stop coming.

This is the first sentence battered women use to identify the purpose of the call when they call Sadie for help.

Sadie (Olivia Wilde) was abused by her husband (Morgan Spector). He was a loner who took his wife and young son into the wilderness in the Adirondacks to practice living off the grid. They would park the car, cover it with a tarp and camouflage it with branches and leaves. They would hike into the mountains and live off the land. To prove toughness, he would break her arm and then reset it himself.

One day she has enough and musters the courage to leave him. When Sadie breaks away, their son gets killed.

On her own, she teaches herself martial arts, fighting and self-defense and makes it her life’s mission to help other women leave their abusive men by coming after the men with the same brutal aggression they have been using on their women. It is not an easy life. Eventually there is the final face off between herself and her former husband.

A Vigilante is full of graphic scenes of despair, terror and anguish. We see women in a shelter telling their stories to each other to try to get closure. We see how Sadie slowly transforms herself from battered wife to ruthless fighter for justice by her own terms. But none of it is credible and works.

The movie is disjointed and choppy. I found it difficult to make out where in the story I was at times, whether she was on a mission to free somebody, or on her own obsessive quest to come after her husband.

Light spoiler ahead:

In the final showdown, she finds her husband, and true to his self, he ties her up and breaks her arm just for good measure. She eventually gets away, and when he finds her, somehow, she kills him. The movie does not show how this goes down. This small woman, albeit trained as a fighter, with one arm broken and temporarily mended by herself with electrical tape, stands in front of the man, tells him she is going to kill him. In the next scene we see her choking him with her one working hand, he is on the ground, rolling his bulging eyes as he dies.

Then she dumps his naked body in the woods and moves on to save another woman.

The critics love this movie, which boasts 91 on Rotten Tomatoes. I differ greatly.

A Vigilante is not credible from the very beginning. It is trying to show the hurt and anguish of battered women, and it does so graphically. Otherwise it’s an unconvincing movie, depressing to watch, with huge plot holes.

Unsatisfying all around.

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I usually don’t like musicals. When the actors in the beginning of Rocketman all of a sudden stopped talking and started singing, it had me pause. But Rocketman is a biopic about Elton John, who is one of the great singers and songwriters of pop music history. A little musical extravaganza with actors singing and dancing to make their point provides just the right mood.

Elton John burst onto the music scene in 1969 and his career exploded in the early 1970ies. In those years he was the best-selling musician in the world, rivaled only by Stevie Wonder.

Rocketman tells the story Elton John’s life, his childhood dominated by inept and emotionally abusive parents, and the discovery of his talent of being able to listen to a melody and instantly playing it back on the piano. When he crossed paths with Bernie Taupin, who would become a lifetime friend, their collaboration made creative sparks fly and changed pop music history. Most singer and songwriters write their music and then compose lyrics to fit them. Elton and Bernie worked the other way around. Bernie wrote poetry, gave the lyrics to Elton, who pondered the words, built the music around it, and sang it with his characteristic voice. The outcome was true pop music magic.

I was just entering my teenage years, and I remember clearly New Year’s Eve 1973 when I was with my friends, we were awaiting the New Year while with were playing cards, and Crocodile Rock was playing in the background. In the years that followed, Elton John and his music had a huge influence on me and my coming of age.

I remember as an 18-year-old, lying on the carpet next to the stereo with the headphones on listening to the Madman Across the Water and Captain Fantastic albums.

Rocketman brought back all of those memories and feelings.

What I didn’t know was how bad Elton John’s substance abuse was at that time, how destructive it was for all those around him, and how much he suffered from it. This movie, which celebrates his life and musical genius, also serves as one “hell of a warning” to everyone about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.

The actor Taron Egerton, portraying Elton, sings all his own songs in Rocketman. I was skeptical about this approach before I went to see the movie. After all, how do you imitate the voice of a legend who is a legend partly because of his voice? It seemed impossible, but it worked. Elton John’s music powers through the movie and keeps a relentless pace. For those of us that grew up with that music it is a joy to watch. I don’t know if it has the same impact on the younger generation.

 

 

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Dell (Kevin Hart) is a recently paroled ex-convict. His teenage son and his wife do not respect him. He has not been a father or provider by a long shot. On his search for a job, he stumbles upon the opportunity to be a caretaker for the paraplegic billionaire Phil (Bryan Cranston). Even though he is not qualified whatsoever, Phil takes a liking to him and over time, the relationship changes both of them. The unlikely pair become friends.

The movie is based on a true story first told by the French film The Intouchables. The critics of The Upside are blasting it and comparing it to the supposedly much better The Intouchables. I have not seen that film, so I am not qualified to judge, but I can say that I enjoyed watching The Upside more than I expected. It’s a heartfelt comedy that lifts the human spirit.

I have a pet peeve about movie titles that don’t make sense to me. The Upside is one of those. I can’t figure out why they named it that. There must be some upside with this film.

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Landline was released in 2017, but plays in Manhattan in the 1990s.

Two sisters are struggling with their own lives. Ali, the teenager, is fighting with coming of age troubles, boyfriends, drugs and growing up in the big city. The older one, Dana, is recently engaged but finds herself in lust with an ex-boyfriend and is trying to come to terms with her feelings. They discover that their father is having an affair and they try to figure it out without telling their mother.

This Woody-Allen-esque drama plays in Manhattan in the 1990s. You can tell because all the phone calls are done on landlines. No Internet, texting or smart phones. There is on old Mac computer that contains files that expose the dad. Why he would just leave those files on the family computer for all to see is strange and an apparent plot hole.

I don’t know why the movie is called Landline. The title has nothing to do with the story. I also don’t know why they staged this in the 90ies. It might have been more effective, and simpler to do, if it had played today.

It’s mildly entertaining, makes you think about family, love and dreams of youth that dissipate as we go through life.

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This is one of the most iconic images of the 20th century. It shows Buzz Aldrin on the moon with the American flag on July 20, 1969.

I was 12 years old then, old enough to think on my own and science-minded enough to sit up in the middle of the night (in Germany) in front of our TV at 3:56am local time when Armstrong made that famous first step onto the moon.

The movie Apollo 11 is a documentary of the moon landing, and as we are coming up on the 50th anniversary of this event, it is ever more significant. The entire movie is not narrated or filmed. It is entirely constructed of actual clippings, both video and audio, taken at the time, and put together in a coherent sequence that tells the awesome story in all its glory. There is a minimum of screen prompts, like “Day 3,” that keep the viewer oriented. Other than that, it’s all original material, and that makes the impact all the more powerful.

This is not a movie, but rather a documentary of humanity’s peaceful conquests, and it is told masterfully.

 

 

Now that I rated the movie, I have to add my own ruminations about the moon landings.

I am not sure exactly how all those people who were born after this, which is the majority of humanity, think about the moon landings. But I remember clearly reading science fiction in the 1960s when I was in awe of the immensity of the undertaking. I remember a world before humans reached another body.

50 years have now gone by. 77 percent of all people alive today were not alive when the first moon landing occurred. Another 12 percent of all people alive today were younger than age 12 at the time of the moon landing, and therefore probably do not have first-hand memories of the events themselves.

So a full 89 percent of the world’s population did not have the experience of sitting in front of the television that day, watching those grainy pictures from very far away.

I remember what I thought that day. I remember thinking that by the time I was “old” I’d be able to buy a ticket to take a vacation on the moon. Not in my wildest dreams did I think that by 1972, we’d stop going there, and by 2019, the United States is actually in a position where it does not have the technology to put a man into space, let alone onto the moon. I recognize that we’re on track to change that soon, with initiatives by SpaceX and Boeing for human-rated rockets underway and both within 12 months of realizing that goal.

Of the 12 men who ever walked on the moon, eight are now deceased. Only Buzz  Aldrin (age 88), David Scott (85), Charlie Duke (82) and Harrison Schmitt (82) are still alive as of today.

I would never have thought that a boy in South Africa (Elon Musk) who would not even be born for another two years after the summer of 1969 would be the one that would make it possible for the United States to launch humans into space in 2019, and who would have the vision to take them to the moon and Mars.

The collective will of our nation, and our species, to set goals beyond the next election cycle, has diminished and we are left at the whims of individual politicians with an outlook of a few years at a time. Real goals, like a space program that allows us to leave the planet, are achieved in decades of dedication and lifetimes of focus. Unless we figure that out soon, we might as well continue to ruin our planet and render it unlivable, with no way out.

Perhaps movies like Apollo 11 will inspire us to do more with our time than line our pockets and gratify our immediate urges and needs.

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Instant Family is about a middle-class couple with no children, who are re-evaluating their lives. He (Mark Wahlberg) is a contractor who buys and flips houses. When they investigate adoption, they find out that the first step is becoming foster parents. They go through the training and eventually, at a big meet-up picnic, find a 15-year-old girl who comes with two smaller siblings. And thus starts the adventure of a white working class couple picking up an instant family of three Latino kids.

The foster parent community is a special one, and it has its challenges. Natural parents can show up all of a sudden, and the kids you have just gotten used to could be taken away from you overnight.

Instant Family is a better movie than I expected it to be. There is some slapstick like humor that is a bit over the top, but it’s tastefully done. It puts a spotlight on the plight of children who either have no parents, or whose parents are so unreliable that the kids need to take care of themselves. It’s a part of our society that we don’t really think too much about unless we’re in the middle of it.

The human drama comes through, and it brought out a few tears as the story progressed. I am glad I watched Instant Family. It entertained me, I learned, and it pulled me in emotionally. At the end, it was wonderfully, if predictably, satisfying.

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We all know Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel as the kings of Hollywood comedy in the 1940s and 1950s. Everyone knows them as Stan and Ollie, or Laurel and Hardy, or, as I knew them as a young boy in Germany in the 1960s, “Dick und Doof.” Their comedy is timeless. It worked for me in this biographical movie today as it worked for me when I was a child.

Stan & Ollie plays in 1953, when the duo went on a tour in Britain. They were older, and carrying their own suitcases was starting to be a challenge. The tour was depressingly slow at first but gradually built into a success. However, Ollie’s health was failing, and their partnership began to show the cracks of age.

What I didn’t know until now was that Stan, who played the feeble-minded of the duo, was actually the creative genius behind their comedy, and the business man, driving them forward to comedy success and financial reward. I enjoyed seeing Stan transform himself from a thoughtful, caring, clever and hardworking showman to a doofus klutz the moment he walked onto the stage, time and again.

Stan & Ollie tells the story or Laurel and Hardy as they come to terms at the twilight of their long and successful career.

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