Black Panther

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a fair weather Marvel fan; the more buzz surrounding the newest one, the more I’m inclined to get up at 4a to see the 6a show in IMAX. Historically, the trailers of these movies have been mainly comprised of white men — Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Thor, Captain America — and the occasional woman.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I saw the Black Panther trailer jam-packed with striking men and women of color.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the movie we need right now. For a myriad of reasons, this is the two-hour escape that we’ve been begging for, and it’s finally here.

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Following the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his African nation of Wakanda. Hiding from the rest of the world, Wakanda is thought to be a third world country, when in fact, it is akin to a divine utopia. Returning to Wakanda as well is T’Challa’s former flame, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o). An operative of Dora Milaje — a special forces team that is made up of exclusively women — Nakia has come back to see T’Challa crowned the new king.

Waiting to receive him in Wakanda are his mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and his sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright). With them, head of the Dora Milaje — Okoye (Danai Gurira) will look on as the new king takes his rightful place as ruler of Wakanda.

Amid the serenity of his new responsibilites is personal turmoil — disagreements with Nakia regarding what Wakanda should and should not be sharing with struggling countries — and incoming treachery from a rabble-rouser named Klaue (Andy Serkis) and his cohort, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).

While Klaue poses a threat, he doesn’t quite hold a candle to what’s bubbling just beneath the surface in Killmonger. While Klaue has his eye on Wakanda’s abundance of the most sought after metal — or, anti-metal — in the world, vibranium, Killmonger has a much different agenda.

A diplomatic man, T’Challa takes on the power of the Black Panther to defend his people while acting in Wakanda’s best interests. He struggles to find his voice as a king, and that wavering may cause him to falter.

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With Okoye faithfully by his side and Shuri — the tech genius of Wakanda — whipping up wild and fantastic new gadgets for her brother in her lab, nothing can prepare them for what’s coming.

I wish I could offer insightful comparisons between the film and the comics, but I never did get into this world. What I CAN tell you is that for a Marvel movie, Black Panther blew me away.

That said, as a film in the general sense, Black Panther blew me away.

It is remarkably topical and pragmatic in the delivery of its message. Every move Black Panther makes is deliberate and Director Ryan Coogler lets his voice be heard loud and clear.

A renaissance for the superhero genre, Black Panther breathes new life into the waning phenomenon of the caped crusader ideals laid down by previous franchises. It speaks to the malaise coating every inch of this country and gives reprieve in spades.

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Gratification, I suppose, is the best word to use here. An overwhelming satisfaction fills the theater and there, in the darkness, everyone has been on this journey together and are better for it. Boseman, Kaluuya, Bassett, Jordan, Nyong’o, Wright, and Gurira deliver the desired movie-going experience with flawless, gorgeous, and unstoppable excellence.

Black Panther is powerful and bold, unapologetically saying — in no uncertain terms — what so many are thinking. Speaking eloquently, I can easily say that this movie will leave viewers feeling a deep sense of empowerment and liberation.

Not speaking eloquently, you’re gonna cream your cosplay.

Black Panther is in theaters this weekend and sold out at theaters across the country. I can’t wait to see it again myself — Wakanda forever!

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Fifty Shades Freed

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What does this country need right now? A film about two white people who happen to have bottomless wealth? How did this movie happen? Who lost a bet and had to make all three of these things?

I’ve so many questions.

Ladies and gentlemen, Fifty Shades Freed is a movie full of actors who are getting paychecks no matter what.

In this third and hopefully final installment, we open on Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) and Christian (Jamie Dornan) exchanging vows. A few shots of the reception reveal brief appearances by key characters from the previous chapters, most of whom never to be seen again in Freed. Christian approaches his new wife and whisks her away to start their honeymoon.

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Arriving in one of his Audis at a private airport where a plane is waiting, Ana exclaims, “You OWN this?” to which Christian slyly replies, “WE own this.”

Girl, HOW are you surprised that your billionaire husband owns a plane?

Off to see the most beautiful sights, a painfully saccharine pop song plays over the montage of merriment as The Greys frolic and make out a bunch.

Their fairytale is cut short when a message from back home alerts them to an arson attempt at Grey Enterprises that resulted in stolen files. Immediately identifying a poorly masked Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), Ana’s former boss who assaulted her, Anastasia is issued extra security detail.

Later in the film, when Ana’s life is threatened, Sawyer and Prescott (Brant Daughtery and Kirsten Alter, respectively) — Ana’s personal protection — neutralize the threat. Prescott asks Sawyer for something to bind the assailant’s wrists while they wait for the police, but he wasn’t given such equipment. So, these two rough and tumble folks assigned to protect the billionaire’s wife weren’t even given the proper utensils to detain a threat.

This is when Ana offers, “We’ve got something” referring to the arsenal of restraints she and Mr. Grey share. And the theater crowd goes wild!

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With Hyde in custody and Christian leaving town on business to do whatever the hell it is that he does, Anastasia is given explicit instructions to go to work and come straight home.

Cue a text from her BFF, Kate (Eloise Mumford), asking to meet for drinks at the old Bunker Club. Sawyer watches her like a hawk the entire time, and she arrives home safely, but Christian finds out anyway and uses The Red Room of Pain to punish her.

I just want to stop for a second and remind you that someone wrote this in a book, someone else published it, and now it’s a movie.

The rest of the film is rife with sex scenes and jet setting. A getaway to Aspen? Who DOES that anymore? Rich, white people. That’s who.

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Now, kids, I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but I MUST address one scene in particular. This was the most offensive of the entire film, in my opinion.

Upon arrival at the Aspen house, Christian sits right down at the grand piano and starts playing a tune familiar to my ears. It’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney and Wings. My inner dialog was on its knees, praying that he wouldn’t sing. This was the moment I realized that the filmmakers hate us. All of us. Because he does sing. He sings for what felt like 12 minutes.

I’d checked out at this point.

It’s here that I’d like to mention that I’ve been filling in my coworkers about the film this morning. It wasn’t until moments ago that I was laughing about it with someone when a woman shushed me and said, “I’m gonna see it tomorrow! Don’t say anymore!”

So we really are divided as a nation.

The main take home point for me after seeing this movie was that if this can get made, so can my movie about a man who lives underground and wears a mask made out of brick-like material and his name is Brickface.

Freed has one saving grace, and that is Dakota Johnson. She’s quite good and has delightful comic timing. The soundtrack, however, is akin to drinking bleach, set to music.

The rest is a bit surreal to see conveyed in a serious light on-screen. Someone earnestly made this movie. Someone wrote these words down as Twilight fan-fiction, then someone took those words and turned them into this, and someone took THAT and made THREE full-length feature films.

The moral of the story is — even if your dreams are garbage, you can still see them to fruition in wide release, just in time for Valentine’s Day! Laters, baby.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure

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I’d like to shoot you straight, reader; before this latest installment, I’d never seen these kids running mazes. The last time I saw Thomas Brodie-Sangster, he was in love with an American girl in Love, Actually.

And that fella Barry Pepper was running around Vietnam with Mel Gibson in We Were Soldiers last I remember seeing him on the big screen.

I was wary of this movie at first because it was explained to me as another Divergent or Hunger Games.

Reader, the moment I watched Barry Pepper leap from a car that was tethered to a moving train, botch the landing, and pull himself onto the train with what should have been — but were not — shattered ankles, I was all in.

I see movies for suspension of disbelief, and I have never doubted anything more than the fact that the bones in his feet were in tact after that jump.

This review is going to be a bit of a mess because in lieu of watching the first two movies and educating myself, I’m going at this the same way I went for Harry Potter; only seeing the last film of the franchise and reviewing it as such.

Death Cure opens on what I presume are beloved characters that we’re glad to see again, Brenda and Jorge (Rosa Salazar and Giancarlo Esposito, respectively) awaiting instruction via walkie from our hero, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and their other comrade, Frypan (Dexter Darden). I like to think Frypan is the name on his birth certificate.

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Thomas and Vince (Pepper) are fixin’ to hijack a train full of children in chains, none of whom are named Alice that I know of.

One of them, however, is Minho (Ki Hong Lee). From what I gather, Minho is very special to Thomas. I don’t believe a single one of my friends would lift a train car into the sky using an elaborate plan to save me were I in need.

Not. One.

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Anyway, popping up out of the middle of a field, Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) runs to aid the mission and the group successfully pulls it off without a hitch. See, they blew up the hitch. The hitch was holding together the train and they used an explosive to destroy it, hence, no hitch.

If you are still reading, I applaud your efforts.

The group, reunited, arrive back at base camp only to find that Minho isn’t among the kids rescued. After there is talk of a city — when all of the remaining cities had supposedly been demolished — Thomas decides that’s where Minho is and that he’s gonna go and collect him.

The only problem is that there is a wall around the city. A WALL. To keep out undesirables. I see what you did there, movie, and I thank you for it.

On the other side of that wall? Teresa (Kaya Scodelario). She was once part of the squad but now holds the title of MAJOR TRAITOR. While her heart is in the right place — wanting to cure the disease plaguing the planet — she still did wrong by the rest of her crew.

Teresa’s… boss?… Ava (Patricia Clarkson) and her unctuous counterpart, Janson (Aidan Gillen) are playing for the same team but their motivations are wildly differing. Before the end, Janson and his Great Clips haircut might just have the last word.

Will the kids find the cure for the pandemic wiping clean every remaining trace of life before it’s too late? Will Thomas and Teresa reconcile? Will Aidan Gillen ever not look like one of the models in the catalogs they give you at Supercuts while you wait?

In all honesty, I had the same experience with this movie that I did with the final Harry Potter. I went in with little knowledge of the preceding films. I had the gist. Fortunately, like Harry Potter, Maze Runner gives the audience a bit of gentle hand-holding for the viewer who is less cultured and refined.

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A bit long, Death Cure keeps a fine pace, only slowing down to explain some crucial plot points. It’s a fun one that I didn’t mind as much as I thought I might and speaks on topical matters far more than I’d anticipated.

Will I watch the first two? Not likely. Do I recommend this one? Yes! Do I think it’s hilarious that on the iMDB page, Director Wes Ball’s four “Known For” movies are the three Maze Runners and the romantic dramedy Beginners? Dear, God, yes.

We’re in a dead zone for movies at the moment and will be until Black Panther, but this is a good one to catch for a bit of action, some laughs, and that delightful boy from Love, Actually all growed up.

12 Strong

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There is a simple formula that most comedians use to gauge whether or not something can be talked about in a humorous light.

Tragedy plus time equals comedy.

That was all I could think about during my screening of 12 Strong. Well, that and the fact that it looks like it physically pains Michael Shannon to smile.

Everybody remembers where they were the morning of September 11th, 2001. I’d played hooky from school — I was in my sophomore year of high school — and woke up to the answering machine in the other room. My mother was leaving a message about a plane and a building. My father was still working in downtown Chicago then, so I leapt out of bed to grab the phone but missed her call.

My sister happened to be home that day as well, and naturally, we started bickering about the other being home when they should have been at school.

I phoned back to my mom to rat out my bratty sister and she answered the call, “Turn on the television.” I tried to carry on about the cage match that was going down in our living room and she only repeated herself.

The sibling rivalry waned when we watched, live on television, the second plane hit the other tower.

12 Strong follows the twelve men who were deployed to Afghanistan after those attacks on what seemed an impossible mission. Captain Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) who led his team into a hellscape to go head-to-head with the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies.

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The film is based on Doug Stanton’s telling of the tale, Horse Soldiers. Nelson along with Chief Warrant Officer Cal Spencer, Sergeant First Class Sam Diller, Sergeant First Class Ben Milo (Michael Shannon, Michael Pena, and Trevante Rhodes, respectively) and eight other men would meet General Abdul Rashid Dostum (Navid Negahban) of the Northern Alliance.

Unsure of whom to trust and with the well-being of his country, his team, and his family as his primary concerns, Nelson had to make unthinkable decisions. Their battles were fought on horseback, incredibly enough. Odd and a bit off-putting to see big heavy guns toted on the backs of such beautiful creatures.

I have a hard time with 9/11 because my opinions on that day tend to spark argumentative discussion. I don’t do well with war movies either, because all we’re seeing is a retelling of events that took place. I always wonder how much of the heroics are italicized for the sake of Hollywood pandering.

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Either way, 12 Strong pulls off the ol’ razzle dazzle as well as it can while telling a story that drudges up frightening memories. I feel that it steps outside of the box and has a lighter feel than the typical war film fare. Granted, it’s got Chris Hemsworth and Michael Pena — two very familiar faces — as its safety net should things go wrong.

The reason I brought up tragedy plus time equals comedy is because 12 Strong delivered a few well-timed laughs. Imagine my surprise when, in the face of bombing the Taliban, we get a quick chuckle.

Everyone remembers that day in their own way. 12 Strong tells the story of how twelve brave men rode into combat for the welfare of our country. If you’re in the market for a major testosterone boost, a heartwarming tale of kinship across enemy lines, and very minor but brave female characters, check it out!

 

Insidious: The Last Key

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The tagline for this movie — which I was calling ‘The Final Key all day yesterday — is “Fear Comes Home.”

I thought it would be very funny to talk about how this could have been a holiday movie if they’d only added “for the Holidays” to the tagline. That way, they could have also been considered for the 2018 Academy Awards.

I took those brilliant insights, slapped ’em on a photo of the screen promo for the film at the theater last night, and put it on Twitter. Then I tagged producer James Wan.

Over coffee this morning, I was browsing my Twitter activity and saw that Mr. Wan “liked” my tweet. In other words, I’ll never work in this town again.

Anyway, in this fourth installation of what could have been a trilogy or even just a crappy sequel, Elise (Lin Shaye) is going back to dark, echoey places where jump scares lurking at every turn.

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After a nightmare about her childhood house — she doesn’t call it a “home” cause that’s not what it was — revealing her torrid past, Elise gets an ominous telephone call asking for help. Remarkably, the call comes from a man currently residing at the house she grew up in. Its location? Five Keys, New Mexico.

Do you understand the gravity of this? Five Keys. Five fingers. Well, four fingers and a thumb. So, four key fingers and a key thumb. It makes five.

Un. Real.

Elise is apprehensive to return to that place, given the memories she carries, but if she didn’t go, there wouldn’t have been a movie.

I don’t recall there being arrangements with a dog sitter for her adorable, old pup, which is infuriating and irresponsible, but that’s not what we’re here for.

Tagging along are her ghost-hunting, well-intentioned but endlessly bumbling sidekicks, Tucker and Specs (Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell, respectively).

Arriving in Five Keys, Elise meets the new owner of her old abode, Ted (Kirk Acevedo), who yells at the ghosts to make them go away, but ghosts don’t respond to that kind of thing. They don’t care. They are deceased.

Needless to say, his stern talking-to doesn’t work, hence the phone call to Elise.

They sure did try got cram a lot of movie into this little guy. Elise’s back story, her recurring nightmares, the new trouble, a reconciliation with her brother whom she abandoned as a teen, meeting his daughters who don’t look old enough to be daughters to a 90-year-old which is about how old he looks, and processing secrets that she hadn’t figured out until now.

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I am most perplexed, however, at the decision to name and bill the key-handed monster of the movie KeyFace. The character is listed on iMDB.com as KeyFace. I didn’t catch it in the credits after the movie, but I’m looking at the iMDB page currently and it’s right there.

Additionally, even though I was calling it The Final Key and was proven aggressively wrong by theater staff, the name leaves me with the impression that they’re done making them. The Last Key/The Last Straw?

Nope! Definitely left wide open for another. I am not on board with this decision, but nobody asked me. So I guess I’ll see you all at the theater for Insidious: We’re Definitely Making Eight More of These. Love you James Wan!

 

The Post

post1Monday, December 18th was Steven Spielberg’s 71st birthday. To celebrate — and as an assignment — I went to screen his new picture, The Post. My affections for Senor Spielbergo were blossoming before I was even born.

I wouldn’t enter this world until nearly a decade after Steven directed my favorite film of all time — Jaws — and was subsequently ROBBED by the Academy Awards when they announced nominations for Best Director. To be fair, Milos Forman won for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which I GUESS is okay…

But I digress.

It’s safe to say that Steve-o Spielberg has an impressive track record. He’s since picked up seven Best Director statues from the Academy, so he bounced back just fine.

In The Post, Kay Graham (Streep) has inherited The Washington Post — previously run by her father and then her late husband. In the Vietnam era, written word and the free press had the final say in goings-on around the world. Practicing caution in their outspokenness with a desire to deliver the truth to the news-hungry citizens of the world, Kay struggles with the pressures of maintaining the success of the paper.

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While The Washington Post wasn’t the most sought out paper on the stands, it was a publication whose team was earnest and hard-working.

Kay’s hard-nosed, no-nonsense editor, Ben Bradlee (Hanks), is always scrambling to break the next big scoop before The Times or any of their many competitors.

When one of their journalists, Ben Bagdikian (Odenkirk), gets wind of a lead on a huge story involving scandal that spanned over two decades — and details ways in which the United States sorely mishandled relations in the Vietnam War — The Post will be faced with a nearly life or death decision.

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Running an operation that had previously only been governed by folks of the male persuasion, Kay has the final say in whether or not The Post will show the world the truth or not, and run the Pentagon Papers.

This movie boasts a robust cast and a hearty dose of feminism. As much as I enjoyed those two things, however, not even seeing David Cross and Bob Odenkirk side-by-side on-screen could jostle me from my yawning.

It’s a slow mover telling an important story that doesn’t quite engage the audience until we near the crux.

Believe me when I tell you that Steven Spielberg and John Williams have enriched my life immeasurably. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks are two of our most precious resources and should be protected at all costs. Cross, Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Sarah Paulson, Bradley Whitford, Allison Brie, Pat Healy — the players are heaven!

The story just didn’t grab me by my lapels and shout, “Can you believe this?!” in my face, which tends to happen in most movies bearing Spielberg’s name. I do understand that they can’t all be Jaws, and will say that after we get into Act III, things amp up in a rapid fashion.

While The Post isn’t my favorite of the year, it does tell a rather interesting story, integral to our country’s past and even newsworthy here in 2017. See what I did there? Anyway, the movie will hit theaters in January. So if you need your Streep/Hanks jollies and would like to see the millionth film in the history of time to feature a scene with soldiers in Vietnam set to a classic rock song, check it out!

 

All the Money in the World

allmoneyWhen I was growing up, my mom used to tell me to marry only for love… but specifically to fall in love with a rich doctor. It was in jest, but there was always this fire in her eyes that said, “you’ll thank me later.”

I’m 33-years-old now, and I can’t imagine living off of someone else’s fortune.

THAT SAID. Some days, ya get to thinkin’…

I’m kidding. I’m happy being the strong, independent woman that I am. We’re seeing more and more of those in the movies, too. Finally. That was one of my biggest gripes about Wonder Woman. You’ve got this incredible gal who grew up on an island of amazons and her final power move is driven by the loss of her boyfriend.

That, my friends, is a story for another time.

All the Money in the World is the newest from Director Ridley Scott. It tells one of many stories from late billionaire Jean Paul Getty’s life. The film depicts a tale of supposed true nature.

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When Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer) is nabbed by some men in a van one night, his mother, Gail (Michelle Williams) is asked to pay a rather handsome ransom of $17 million; a request that Paul the first refuses. Receiving mail from strangers on a daily basis asking for charity, Jean Paul (Christopher Plummer) is wary of giving away a penny of his massive fortune.

Young Paul’s mother, Gail (Michelle Williams), is incredulous at her former father-in-law’s unwillingness to help. Her ex-husband, J. Paul Getty II (Andrew Buchan) — having spent the last who-knows-how-long in a drug-induced haze — is of zero help, so OG Getty’s head of security, Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) will velcro himself to Gail in an attempt to locate her son.

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Unable to pay the ‘nappers what they’re asking and being stalked by the media, Gail is steadfast in the pursuit of her son’s safe return home. Efforts to appeal to the billionaire are futile at best, but Paul III’s captors — becoming desperate and exhausted themselves — begin to lower the price on Paul Jr.’s head.

It’s fascinating the way the very wealthy think. My stepmom is an interior designer and has done some extravagant homes. She’s told me stories and — I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — rich people do weird shit. Jean Paul Getty — in real life — published a book called ‘How to be Rich’.

When Plummer’s character named the title of the book, I thought it was a joke. I was wrong.

But, then, having millions of dollars is something that I can’t relate to. It’s pressure that I don’t understand. And, as Biggie Smalls once said, Mo Money, Mo Problems.

Fortunately, Gail was never in it for the money. She only wanted her son back and would go to almost any lengths to get him.

Director Ridley Scott hit a bit of a hiccup when controversy forced him to replace the original actor cast as J. Paul Getty — Kevin Spacey — and re-shoot all of his scenes with Plummer. While Plummer plays the disenchanted billionaire quite well, I couldn’t help but wonder what it looked like with Spacey under all of those elderly prosthetics.

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The star of the show, Williams, is a Transatlantic dreamboat. She rivals Joyce Byers for concerned mother of the year. But then, I’ve never seen her in a performance that was less than sublime.

All the Money in the World is a fascinating story of greed, the reach of a mother’s love, and more family drama than your family’s holiday dinner. If you’re anything like me, you’ll particularly enjoy Charlie Plummer’s Hanson-esque good looks — cheers and happy holidays!

 

Ferdinand

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If you were to ask a 6-year-old John Cena what he wanted to be when he grew up, he probably would have said, “A giant bull, but a lover, not a fighter.”

Fast forward 34 years and here we are. Dreams do come true.

Ferdinand (John Cena) is about a happy-go-lucky bull who takes great pleasure in the old adage, “stop and smell the roses.” Growing up around bullies, Ferd has put his hoof down pretty firmly on the idea that he won’t fight.

Unfortunately, the lives of bulls in Spain are dedicated to becoming the biggest and strongest so they can beat the Matador in the ring when the time comes. When he is separated from his best friend — a little girl named Nina (Lily Day) — after an incident in which he is labeled the beast he appears to be, Ferdinand is taken to a ranch where fighters are raised and eventually taken to the bullring.

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Rejected by his competitors, Ferdinand befriends Lupe (Kate McKinnon) — a goat with a heart of gold — and hatches an escape plan. His emancipation and subsequent safe return home to Nina will be a team effort, calling on the assistance of his fellow ranch dwellers; from the tallest  (the other bulls) to the smallest (a trio of helpful hedgehogs) and his BGF (Best Goat Forever), Lupe, everybody will play a part.

Ferdinand speaks to the ugly truth of Bull Fighting — which is still a sport, amazingly enough — and wildly popular. It simultaneously addresses the bullying — HENCE THE BULLS — problem facing so much of this country, young and old.

This is a movie marketed for kids that I would be comfortable taking my pre-teen niece and nephew to. In fact, when I pitched seeing it to my niece, we convinced my nephew by telling him that John Cena is the voice of Ferdinand. I like that there are jokes that I know will make them giggle, but also some fare for the more seasoned folks.

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It’s a truly sweet story and I — a grown, 33-year-old woman — cried ‘neath the cloak of the movie theater darkness, but I don’t care who knows it! I cried when Ferdinand stopped to smell those flowers! And that Nick Jonas fella did a fine job on the song “Home” featured in the film which has since scored a Golden Globes nomination!

Ferdinand is charging into theaters this weekend — a perfect escape from the cold with the kiddos!