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A SIMPLE FAVOR (Movie Review)

Stephanie Smothers might be in the running for world’s best single mom. Full-time mommy vlogger and connoisseur of all things domestic, Stephanie buzzes around at every elementary school function with her son, Miles, a handful of balloons and a plate of cookies always in tow.

She’s ready and available at any time, even if it's just helping out with one simple favor. Which is why when best friend Emily asks her to pick up her son, Nicky, she does so without hesitation.

But when dinnertime rolls around and Emily hasn't shown up yet, Stephanie starts to get worried. It’s so unlike Emily to be late. And not to respond to her texts. The next morning, Stephanie takes the boys to school; still no word from Emily.

Now she’s worried.

Stephanie calls Emily’s husband, Sean. A few hours later, the police launch a full-fledged investigation into Emily's absence.

Where is Emily?

As the police interrogate family members about Emily’s mysterious disappearance, Stephanie begins to question her knowledge of her best friend.

You can get close to her but you can never quite reach her.

After all, how much can you really know someone?

She’s like an enigma. Like a beautiful ghost.

And what if the person you thought you knew doesn’t even exist?

FIRST MAN (Movie Review)

"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

So Neil Armstrong said when he first set foot on the moon—perhaps one of the most famous quotes in American history.

But as immortal as those words might've been, they sold the step short. That one small step came after eight long years of steps and more steps, missteps and disastrous falls. People sacrificed a great deal for Armstrong to take that step—including their very lives. Eight years of trial and tragedy, of life and breath, of math and science and just plain guts, went into that step. And when Armstrong took it, he carried the work of thousands of people, and the hopes and dreams of millions more, on his back.

The honor of being the first man on the moon wasn't something Neil sought: He was a quiet man, as humble and as retiring as a national hero can possibly be, and America loved him for it.

He sacrificed a lot to be there, too. But inside the Armstrong home, Neil's dedication sometimes took on a darker hue. To his wife, Janet, sometimes it was hard to see whether Neil was trying to get to the moon … or away from home. Escape the responsibilities of being a husband, a father to their two sons, Rick and Mark, or to run away from the crushing grief he felt over the death of his daughter, Karen.

She wasn't even three years old.

"One small step," Neil said. But his own journey to the moon was filled with a million steps, skips and stumbles. Sometimes, he seemed to crawl. But eventually, those steps took him the 239,000 miles to the moon and back again. And through so many of those steps—too many, perhaps—he preferred to walk alone.


Farrokh Bulsara didn't seem destined for greatness. The odds were stacked against him.

Farrokh was born in Zanzibar to Indo-Parsi parents who practiced Zoroastrianism. After his parents immigrated from Africa to England in his late teens, he drifted around the periphery of London's burgeoning rock scene in the late '60s. "Paki," people'd sneer disgustedly, thinking he was Pakistani. Farrokh's protruding buck teeth earned more mockery. His shy, effeminate mannerisms made him an easy target.

But Farrokh had a secret weapon: his voice.

One night in 1970 after a band dubbed Smile watches its lead singer stomp off, the young immigrant offers his services. Guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor scoff.

Then he sings. And gets the job. And adopts a new stage name: Freddie Mercury.

The rest, as they say, is history.

And the history of Queen as it unspools from 1970 to 1985 is as dramatic as it is tragic—especially when it comes to Freddie Mercury's insatiable desire for love, a quest that consumed his life.

HUNTER KILLER (Movie Review)

All it takes is one evil madman to ruin it for everyone. Then again, it only takes one hero to save the day.

Joe Glass spends most of his time hunting and living a low-key life off the grid. He's very good at what he does: stalking his prey. But when the U.S. military calls, he's ready to respond.

Glass is the government's somewhat unconventional choice to command the USS Arkansas, a hunter killer submarine—the kind of vessel that stealthily stalks others of its kind. His mission? Discover what became of an American sub that vanished in the Arctic.

That task is hard enough. But Glass and his crew soon swim into a much bigger mission as this sub story unfolds. And it's not long before they're working with Navy SEALs to extract the embattled Russian president from a coup … risking everything to prevent the next world war.

A STAR IS BORN ( Movie Review )

The stage is a simple thing. Strip away its size, its sets, its rigging and pyrotechnics, and it's merely a platform—as flat and innocuous as a kitchen floor.

But as soon as someone steps onto that stage, it breathes. It almost sings itself, giving voice to drama or song. Eyes fix on the thing, unwilling to turn away. The stage comes alive, and those who watch are changed somehow. Sometimes the change is a fleeting thing, but every now and then the change lasts forever.

The people onstage are changed, too. Some hate or fear it. But for others, the stage, in all its incarnations in city and state and country, is home. Perhaps the only home they’ve ever known.

Jackson Maine lives most of his life under a hat. The brim hides his boozy eyes as he moves from show to show, from chauffeured SUV to private plane. When he speaks, his voice sounds like it’s been yanked, unwillingly, right from the ground, full of gravel and root. Everything about him suggests that he just wants to be left alone.

But when he steps onstage, the hat comes off. His hands move across strings and frets, and his voice rises like a country path: It rolls with the sonic hills and gullies, sounding off in confessional intimacy. He’s going deaf, he knows. His brother, Bobby, begs him to wear earplugs to preserve what hearing he has left. Jackson waves him off. They get in the way, Jackson says, between him and the audience. He’s more alive on stage than anywhere else, and he'd rather go deaf than deaden the experience.

Ally’s life is more pedestrian. She works as a server at a semi-swanky banquet hall, her supervisor swearing and belittling her whenever he sees her slink in. She lives with her dad in a modest little house, where she cooks and cleans and dreams.

But one night a week, at a local dive where wig-wearing drag queens populate the stage, she transforms. She paints her hair, tapes thin eyebrows to her face and becomes a torch singer—a Judy Garland, a Barbra Streisand, a Lady Gaga for her small room of cheering fans. There, she’s not just a plain-Jane kitchen worker, but a star, and her voice rises to the rafters like a wren.

Jackson becomes himself on stage. Ally becomes someone else. But they both feel at home.

But is it home? Home, a real home, doesn’t care a whit for album sales. It won’t kick you out when your fame begins to dim. The stage does. It always does.

They meet, of course. They fall in love. Jackson encourages Ally’s talent and tells her to be honest up on that stage—as honest as she’s ever been. “If you don’t dig deep in [your] soul, you don’t have legs,” he tells her.

But as the stage gives birth to one new star, cradling it and holding it in its spotlight, we see a darker truth behind: The stage, if it is a home, can change the locks at any time.

The stage, if it is a mother, sometimes eats its own.

HALLOWEEN (2018) Movie Review

They never happened.

That's right. Forget about Halloween II, Halloween 5, Halloween H20. Push the seven sequels out of your mind. Don't let it wander to the Halloween reboot of 2007 or its 2009 sequel. As far as the 2018 residents of Haddonfield, Illinois, are concerned, those movies never happened. They might as well be fever dreams, for all they know.

No, in this timeline, Michael Myers, the serial killer who stalked babysitters and hacked up five people in Haddonfield back in 1978, has been safely locked away in Smith's Grove Sanitarium. For 40 years, he's lived there—standing, sitting, eating, drinking, getting older.

But never talking.

Never talking.

Michael's former psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis, said the killer was "purely and simply evil." He couldn't be saved. He couldn't be rehabilitated. Perhaps the best—the only—thing one can do in the face of such evil, Loomis believed, is to destroy it.

Laurie Strode would agree. Michael killed many of her friends 40 years ago. He nearly killed her, of course. She survived, but Michael exacted a price, and Laurie's still paying.

Her hair's gray now. She has a daughter and granddaughter of her own. But her life is still stuck to Michael's as if he pinned her to his wall with a long, sharp knife. She can't forget that night and has spent the last 40 years prepping for an encore. Her house is a fortress. She trained her only daughter, Karen, to fight Michael—or did until the state took her away. "I spent my entire life trying to get over the paranoia," Karen later says.

Karen, now grown with a husband and daughter (Allyson) of her own, can barely talk to Laurie now, so lost is her mother in her obsession. The world, Karen believes, is a better place than her mother imagines. Not every rap on the door comes from a serial killer. Michael's been locked up for 40 years now. Forty. Years. Enough's enough.

He's never coming back.

Laurie knows better.

Laurie knows better than anyone that evil's hard to kill. And you can't keep it locked up forever. When Michael escapes, she'll be ready—with both barrels pointed at the door.


Sometimes older is better: art. Wine. Spies.

Granted, not everyone would agree with that last entry. Secret agents need a certain amount of agility to thwack evildoers in the craw and a full head of hair to convince femme fatales not to be quite so … fatale. Certainly one needs to be up on the latest spy-related gizmos: One can't get much mileage out of an exploding snuff box today.

And indeed, the 21st century has brought about its share of contemporary challenges for would-be spies. These days, clandestine conflicts aren't waged with weaponized shoes or acid-shooting fountain pens, but in the binary realm of ones and zeros. Technology rules the modern roost, and those who don't understand it are liable to get kicked out of the coop.

Take Great Britain, for instance. In this new world, jolly old England is feeling distinctly less jolly, unquestionably more old. Oh, the country has its share of Wi-Fi hotspots, of course, but the government's tech-dependent services keep getting hacked. And that's a problem: All the traffic lights turn red at the same time and stay that way. All the empire's trains are rerouted to a sleepy little stop up north. And worse yet, the identities of all its secret agents have been compromised.

What's a prime minister to do? Britain's current leader decides she needs to attack the problem from two fronts.

First, she hopes to gussy up the empire's laggard tech with help from Jason Xander, a strapping young digital guru who promises the world to countries that sign on with him. (It's a metaphorical promise, by the way. Promising countries the world in a literal fashion seems like just asking for problems.) And just a little of Jason's vaunted technical expertise could be the key to making Britain Great again.

Second, the prime minister wants the hacking culprit or culprits stopped. Alas, given the decided lack of secrecy for the island nation's secret agents at present, the PM lacks the manpower to launch such a covert investigation.

No problem: Just yank an old agent out of retirement, shall we? But the only one able and upright enough to answer the call (like, literally, upright—the rest are all sleeping) is English. Johnny English.

Suave (or so he thinks).

Dangerous (but not in the way he'd like).

And, of course, he carries a license to trip.

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