Movie Review – ‘Lights Out’

A bona fide horror flick, “Lights Out” will keep audiences sleepless and tense for days.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Making his directorial debut, David F. Sandberg delivers a fast-paced and superbly acted horror film to viewers willing to endure its jittery, nail-biting suspense scenes. This film’s best feature, though, is the compelling storyline it glues us to from start to finish.

“Lights Out” shines apart from the more common mindless horror genre features found today using expertly timed comedic relief and several intriguing backstories. Each subplot evolves completely outside of the movie’s hair-raising supernatural, creepy star until all of the story’s loose ends are nicely tied up by the film’s conclusion.

At the center of this edgy thriller resides Rebecca, a twenty-something daughter of the film’s oppressor played by Australian hottie Teresa Palmer. Rebecca, trying to eliminate all potential drama in her life, ultimately gets thrust into the lead role of this jumpy mystery. And as the central figure, she delivers this movie. In fact, the complex relationship between Palmer’s Rebecca character and the rest of the film’s cast is where “Lights Out” dominates and excels.

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Stellar bookend performances by Maria Bello (as Rebecca’s mother) and Gabriel Bateman, as the half-brother, create constant high drama and troublesome predicaments from which everyone must fight in order to stay alive. A solid tribute to the old school horror experience, this movie’s outcome is less predictable than most while leaving us guessing who’ll be left standing as the credits roll.

“Lights Out” brings a strong cast and an even stronger assortment of heart-racing suspense. Expect sweaty palms, covered eyes and a few startled theater seat moments between the dysfunctional family scenes. As both brother and sister attempt to get help for their unstable mother, a supernatural being stalks in the dark.

A bona fide horror flick, “Lights Out” will keep audiences sleepless and tense for days. Leaving the film screening, my first thought was immediately back to those warning signs posted at amusement parks attractions to customers; “For safety, you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride.” I think the same guidance should apply to those wanting to see this well-made thriller.

Grade: B+

“Lights Out” is rated PG-13 for terror throughout, including violent, disturbing images, some thematic material and brief drug content.  Its running time is 1 hour and 21 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Ghostbusters’

Thirty-two years after the comedy box-office hit “Ghostbusters” sparked a catchy Oscar-nominated theme song and the brilliant marketing slogan “Who you gonna call?” this reboot was placed in the clever hands of director Paul Feig… tapping into his razor-tongued comedic talents from Feig’s “Bridesmaids” (2011) and “Spy” (2015) films, Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig reunite in this better-than-expected girl power ghost story.

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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When the teaser trailer for this 2016 makeover of the original “Ghostbusters” debuted earlier this year, I wasn’t impressed with what I saw. After all, what could this new group of all-female ghost-catchers dial-up on their proton packs that hasn’t already been covered by the paranormal tracking legends Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson? A lot, we find out.

Thirty-two years after the comedy box-office hit “Ghostbusters” sparked a catchy Oscar-nominated theme song and the brilliant marketing slogan “Who you gonna call?” this reboot was placed in the clever hands of director Paul Feig. Immediately tapping into his razor-tongued comedic talents from Feig’s “Bridesmaids” (2011) and “Spy” (2015) films, Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig reunite in this better-than-expected girl power ghost story.

Ghostbusters2016Logo121715“Ghostbusters” delivers one of this summer’s funniest films. It works because it doesn’t try too hard to rebrand a proven winner. In fact, this is a stand-alone, female version of the mega-successful “Ghostbusters”. This film smartly keeps a blistering pace—quickly introducing us to the new quartet of heroines (McCarthy, Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones) while stringing together near-continuous wisecracks using short, Saturday Night Live-type of scenes.

A character-driven comedy, “Ghostbusters” exaggerates each ghost-fighter’s outlandish personality and hang-ups in hilarious fashion. This ensemble cast oozes, slimes and blends charisma with chemistry, but never throwing shade on the original foursome. In fact, director Feig and these modern “Ghostbusters” offer several big-screen tributes to their predecessors throughout the movie–although not openly acknowledging their existence from either the 1984 film or its sequel in 1989.

Adding to the complete comedy madness is the scene-stealing performance by lady-killer Chris Hemsworth. Taking a deserved break from the Marvel Comics’ superhero role of “Thor”, Hemsworth confidently squeezes out every ounce of humor from his over-the-top receptionist gig. All superpowers, however, are duly reserved for the girl power in “Ghostbusters”…from ghost shredders to enough mobile scientific equipment to make Christopher Lloyd’s eccentric physicist character in 1985’s “Back to the Future” proud.

Generating laughs while giving a respectful nod to the original ghost-chasers, this remake of “Ghostbusters” is both enjoyable and fresh. It shines brightest when it focuses on the star-power interpersonal relationships and moves quickly through the ghostly plot setup and action scenes. Overall, a film that was better than I had expected.

My only concern is that we’ll see another “Ghostbusters II”, or even more, in the future. I’m not sure New York City or theater audiences could handle that overexposure. But the warning signs are there; stay through the post-film credits to see several Marvel-esque added scenes. And remain in your seats until the last-second to watch a teaser and special cameo appearance.

Grade: B

“Ghostbusters” is rated PG-13, for supernatural action and some crude humor.  Its running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Swiss Army Man’

Film buffs need to stand up and applaud “Swiss Army Man”.  This daring, odd and thought-provoking film is a bold statement that proves outside-the-box minds still exist in filmmaking. 

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Watch out moviegoers, Hollywood has once again found its wild side.  For nearly a decade, filmmakers have inundated audiences with television reboots, movie prequels, sequels, and trilogies, along with steady rollouts of best-selling books-to-big-screen adaptations.  All of which has made film plots safer, more predictable from the bottom-line focused studios, but less challenging to fresh-starved audiences.

As independent (“indie”) films have gained award-winning popularity for their creativity and edginess, so has viewers’ appetite for originality and unique storylines.

Film buffs need to stand up and applaud “Swiss Army Man”.  This daring, odd and thought-provoking film is a bold statement that proves outside-the-box minds still exist in filmmaking.  Newcomer feature film directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan co-wrote this ambitious, yet strange, narrative about loneliness and the human mind.

SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano

                      SWISS ARMY MAN (2016) Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano

“Swiss Army Man” showcases the two best performances in one film so far in 2016. Future Oscar-winner Paul Dano portrays Hank, a man deserted on a Pacific island until the corpse of Manny (played by “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe) washes ashore to provide Hank companionship and his will to survive.

Together, Hank and Manny discover the power of love, humor and self-reflection.  We see how the brain works, connecting our inner childhood experiences and influences with the images recorded for dissemination once faced with a survival situation.

The human body—and all its functions—gets fully examined in a beautiful, often funny, but strange, loving and shocking manner.  Over time, we find Hank’s journey therapeutic and empowering.

“Swiss Army Man” is a powerful story about human beings.  Its bold delivery is both effective and original.  Dano and Radcliffe are sensational at breathing life and emotion into one’s lifelong struggle.

A film like nothing you’ve seen before…with an ending you have no idea how it will wrap. Hollywood creativity and freshness is back!

Grade: B+

“Swiss Army Man” is rated R for language and sexual material.  Its running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘The Shallows’

“The Shallows” wisely doesn’t overextend its welcome into our busy lives. It offers a fast-paced tempo with just enough plot twists and character depth to keep us glued to the action for the entire 87 minutes.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Moviegoers looking for a refreshing suspense film to help beat the hot summer temperatures may have found just the theater ticket in Columbia Pictures’ “The Shallows”. Forty-one years after the beaches of Amity Island were cleared by Roy Scheider’s police chief role in “Jaws”, we find another man-eating great white shark wreaking havoc in bloody waters. Is it fair to compare “The Shallows” to the one of the greatest films ever made? No. But, this 2016 adventure does an adequate job of giving audiences enough anxious moments to create uncertainty and uneasiness.

The beautiful Mrs. “Deadpool“, aka Blake Lively (married to Ryan Reynolds), confidently shines as medical student and competent surfer, Nancy, on hiatus in Mexico. The movie’s costar clearly turns out to be Lively’s eye-popping bikini—which makes “The Legend of Tarzan” loincloth look like a queen-sized beach towel. Lacking a true supporting cast, Lively smartly talks and text messages us through her disastrous surfing ordeal.

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Despite presenting a predictable outcome within the first few scenes, “The Shallows” wisely doesn’t overextend its welcome into our busy lives. It offers a fast-paced tempo with just enough plot twists and character depth to keep us glued to the action for the entire 87 minutes.

While the film may slightly hurt Mexican tourism, the larger danger exposed in the movie is the feeling of invincibility by today’s younger generation. Their comfortable mindset in traveling and surfing alone will make parents everywhere tremble with worry. Regardless of one’s ability to post social media updates or have worldwide cell phone coverage, going solo on a day trip has distinct disadvantages in safety protocol. On the big screen, the 28-year old Lively’s bright and strong character feels her isolation and the need to kick into serious survival mode…and so do we.

This shark story compliments—never competes with–the original, terrifying “Jaws” thriller of 1975. “The Shallows”, though, expertly taps into our trepidation of swimming in open waters, offering tense moments captured by amazing underwater cinematography. Blake Lively’s performance is better than expected. The same can be said about the overall film.

Grade: B-

The Shallows” is rated PG-13 for bloody images, intense sequences of peril and brief strong language.  Its running time is 1 hour and 27 minutes.

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Sneak Peek: ‘Hell or High Water’

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Two brothers and one mortgage about to go into foreclosure. “Hell or High Water” stars Star Trek Beyond’ captain Chris Pine and Ben Foster (from 2013’s “Lone Survivor“).

Remember a young Bosom Buddies’ TV star with impeccable comic timing?  He took his easy ability to make viewers laugh to the big screen, with instant hits in “Splash”, “Big”, and “Turner & Hooch” during the mid to late 1980s. From there, Tom Hanks made the dramatic leap into more serious roles…elevating his acting game with award-winning features “Philadelphia”, “Forrest Gump” and “Saving Private Ryan”.  I see the potential for “Hell or High Water” to be the same linchpin for Chris Pine as “Philadelphia” was for Hanks.  We’ll see.

The film earned “The Black List” award for the most liked motion picture “screenplay not yet produced” from voters consisting of studio and production company executives in 2012 .  A bellwether for an Academy Award nomination come this January?  I’d give it even odds.  Historically, over 25% of the screenplays making “The Black List” have later earned an Oscar nomination, including “Argo“, “American Hustle“, “The King’s Speech”, “Slumdog Millionaire”, “Spotlight” and “The Revenant“. Not bad company.

“Hell or High Water” opens in theaters on August 12th.

 

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Clint Eastwood & Tom Hanks film “Sully”

Brace for impact because this one looks very good!  Here’s the newly released trailer for “Sully”:

As pilots, we fly in an environment of peers that prides itself on self-reflection and a “There I was…” storytelling mantra.  We attempt to learn from others’ mistakes so that we can avoid the same, potentially deadly, fate.  A vast majority of the time, these “lessons learned” are imparted upon us aviators via safety board reports and accident investigations.

“Sully”, under Clint Eastwood’s visionary touch, appears to bring viewers from behind the flight deck door and into the lives of pilots–inside the cockpit and even outside the terminal area.  Perhaps, in an approach similar to how Eastwood made “American Sniper” less about the kill shots and more about Chris Kyle the husband and father, “Sully” will shake out into the decision-making, initial second-guessing and the collection of facts from the accident investigation, rather than just capture what we already know from the news media on that eventful day.  We’ll see.

But from what I can tell in the trailer, “Sully” looks to be a major water-cooler topic of discussion for passengers, as well as, aircrew, air traffic control and pilots alike.

** UPDATE**

Warner Bros. and Village Roadside just announced September 9, 2016 as the release date for “Sully”, the true story of the Miracle on the Hudson airline crash landing in 2009.

** END OF UPDATE **

As I mentioned on this website back in early July, Tom Hanks will play U.S. Airways Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in the motion picture of the true story, directed by Clint Eastwood.

Now we have the first pictures of Eastwood and Hanks filming in New York along the Hudson River yesterday.

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Here’s the Daily Mall story on October’s filming in New York.

My previously posted thoughts on “Sully” and that fateful day:

To common airline travelers and television viewers, they watched Captain Sully’s actions with an eye towards a miraculous water landing in Manhattan’s Hudson River.

For pilots, we saw so much more.  We saw the split-second decisions that needed to be made in successive, rapid-fire fashion.  Decisions that kept possibilities and opportunities available as options for an aircrew that was losing precious altitude and time with every second.  As aviators, we saw an immediate transfer of aircraft control from the copilot to Captain Sullenberger–who was sitting in the left seat and now at the airplane’s controls, flying and talking–to Air Traffic Controllers, his copilot and even the passengers to brace for impact.

When it comes to aircraft emergencies, there are moments when it’s acceptable to have the more junior pilot (copilot) fly the aircraft while the older head(s) on the flight deck decide what appropriate actions must be taken to handle the in-flight malfunction or problem.

At other times, when the circumstances are the most dire and time constraining, the senior pilot, the captain or aircraft commander, must fly the aircraft and exhibit their A-game skills formulated over thousands of flying hours and years of experience to allow for the best odds of survival.

Pilots following this true story about the  “Miracle on the Hudson” know that the copilot was performing checklist items and backing up Sully from the right seat the entire time.  They watched an aircrew–a team really–perform and interact like a well-oiled machine–the direct result of a profession that prides itself on preparation for all possibilities…always attempting to make the unexpected emergency more expected through rote checklists procedures, in-depth systems knowledge and continued simulator training.

What non-pilots see in the U.S. Airways’ “Cactus 1549” flight…

It seems like every time Tom Hanks portrays a Captain on-screen bad things happen to him.  And this.  Or taking this guy down also.  Now we learn that negotiations have all but concluded with Hanks slated to play Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in director Clint Eastwood’s next project.  The film, originally expected to be called Miracle on the Hudson, is going to be titled Sully according to The Guardian.

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From an actual Cactus 1549 passenger statement to the National Transportation Safety Board:

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Agree.

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Movie Review – ‘Free State of Jones’

“A shockingly brutal and bloody war movie, “Free State of Jones” raises many hot-topic issues—none more so than the dramatic mistreatment of blacks by Southerner plantation and slave owners.  This historic film starkly illustrates the pressures and hardships faced by so many down at the local level.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Alright, alright, alright.  Matthew McConaughey fans will rejoice seeing another gritty and enthralling performance from the award-winning actor.  McConaughey, who earned an Academy Award in 2013’s “Dallas Buyers Club” and a Critics Choice win for his unorthodox sleuth character in HBO’s premiere season of “True Detective”, leads a sensational cast in this true Civil War story.

Teamed up with rising Hollywood actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw (from last year’s “Concussion”), McConaughey plays Southern farmer Newt Knight…a rebellion leader unwilling to fight and die for the Confederate States of America and cotton-producing slave owners against President Lincoln’s advancing Union army.

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A shockingly brutal and bloody war movie, “Free State of Jones” raises many hot-topic issues—none more so than the dramatic mistreatment of blacks by Southerner plantation and slave owners.  This historic film starkly illustrates the pressures and hardships faced by so many down at the local level…a story often pushed aside for decisive Civil War battlefields and examples of Lincoln’s prowess dealing with a divided Congress and nation inside Washington DC.

Viewers see firsthand how the right of the people to keep and bear arms is a necessity to the security of a free State. As predicted in 1788 by Alexander Hamilton; “an army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens”. Other red meat topics explored include the Confederacy’s willful takeover of an individual’s property and a wanton disregard of established anti-slavery law in the South.

The first of three 2016 movies to focus on inter-racial relationships and the slave rebellion, “Free State of Jones” is a powerful start. With “The Birth of a Nation” and “Loving” hitting theaters this October and November respectively, a continued look into the dark and disturbing past of our country is further examined.  And in order to form a more perfect Union, that’s not only important, but required.

Grade: B+

Free State of Jones” is rated R for brutal battle scenes and disturbing graphic images.  Its running time is 2 hours and 19 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Finding Dory’

“Longtime Pixar fans will find this film easily the weakest story and biggest disappointment ever produced by the computer-generated movie giant.”

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Over the past twenty-one years, Pixar Animation Studios has amazed and enlightened audiences, producing 17 awe-inspiring feature films. After its initial launch of the mega-blockbuster and first-ever computer-animated classic “Toy Story” in 1996, movie goers around the world have been fascinated by the realism brought to the big-screen by this southern California business started and groomed by idea trailblazers George Lucas and Steve Jobs.

Everything Pixar has touched over the years—from the ginormous “Toy Story” trilogy, to the “Monsters Inc.” factory portfolio, to the lonely “WALL-E”—has become cinematic and Oscar gold. Never one to rest on her laurels, Pixar only seemed to get better and better with time. Coming off its best effort to date in last year’s thought-jarring “Inside Out”, Pixar has now released the sequel to one of the highest grossing movies ever (2003’s “Finding Nemo”). And expectations for “Finding Dory” were high. Way too high we find out.

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Thirteen years after “Finding Nemo”, audiences find a watered down script and ocean-soaked plot in this follow-up fish story. The perfectly suited Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks are recast as the suffering short-term memory loss blue fish Dory, and the easy-going clownfish Marlin. Both compliment the spectacular computer-generated imagery we’ve all come to expect, and receive once again, from Pixar.

The biggest problem with “Finding Dory” is not in how it looks, but in how it sounds. Despite returning the film into the trusted hands of two-time Academy Award-winning writer and director Andrew Stanton (“Finding Nemo” and “WALL-E”), this movie is both redundant and low energy.

“Finding Dory” self-sabotages with a bland script that spurns boredom from DeGeneres’ character having to constantly echo the film’s thin plot over and over again as she meets each new sidekick. Dory’s short-term memory loss creates repetitive dialogue and tests viewer patience for most of the 100-minute lost & found journey. It also halts–and then drowns–a handful of short, funny moments before any continuous laughter can be strung together over several scenes.

Longtime Pixar fans will find this film easily the weakest story and biggest disappointment ever produced by the computer-generated movie giant. Despite using the same successful formula and minds behind “Finding Nemo”, this movie lacks charisma, laughter and the customary bold step forward by Pixar. Instead, “Finding Dory” plays it safe. Too safe. We can only hope that audiences will have a short-term memory of this loss.

Grade: C

“Finding Dory” is rated PG for mild thematic elements.  Its running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Maggie’s Plan’

“Maggie’s Plan” is really about neither romance nor comedy. It’s about the complicated life we live in and our desires. The film spotlights how one’s decisions has consequences and impacts others’ lives–particularly children.

Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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Promoted and teased as a contemporary romantic comedy, “Maggie’s Plan” disintegrates into a complicated relationship triangle with children caught in the middle of three self-absorbed parents. Looking deeper, we find today’s “selfie” phenomenon morphing beyond the mere instant gratification from photographs into the more surreal, high-stakes role of single parenthood by-choice. This film, perhaps accidentally, captures a generation that wants it all—which in and of itself isn’t necessary bad or harmful.  Until one either finds something else better or decides having it “all” was a mistake. In the case of the latter, the iGen wants a do-over.

Maggie, exceptionally portrayed by a talented and vastly underrated Greta Gerwig, lacks a green thumb at growing relationships beyond the six-month point. Giving up on finding Mr. Right, Maggie settles for a sperm donation to achieve her goal of single motherhood, just as a disgruntled, older married man (Ethan Hawke) enters her heart and academia world on a New York campus.

After getting married and having a daughter of their own together, Maggie finds herself juggling a blended family solo, minus any parental teamwork from her self-centered boy toy, John (Hawke). Overwhelmed and regretful, Maggie checks for an expiration date on returning John to his ex-wife and successful Danish author, Georgette (played by Academy Award winner Julianne Moore). From here, Maggie hatches a “plan” to move all of the film’s chess pieces back to their original starting position for a new game.

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First-time independent director Rebecca Miller wrote this screenplay based upon Karen Rinaldi’s original story. Both women deserve serious credit for highlighting several difficult and rampant relationship hurdles straightforwardly. Boldly, “Maggie’s Plan” never sidesteps the heavy topics of affairs, divorce, infidelity or single-parenthood. To do otherwise would water down and weaken the movie’s best attribute—the stark and often painful realism found in its script and storyline.

“Maggie’s Plan” is really about neither romance nor comedy. It’s about the complicated life we live in and our desires. The film spotlights how one’s decisions has consequences and impacts others’ lives–particularly children. This plot revolves around the self-gratification world that permeates social media and our society today. Stellar performances throughout bring attention to absent parenting, self-absorbed novelists and loveless relationships. Notwithstanding a few funny lines, “Maggie’s Plan” delivers a dramatic, and troublesome, look inside contemporary relationships.

Grade: C

“Maggie’s Plan” is rated R for language and brief sexuality.  Its running time is 1 hour and 38 minutes.

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Movie Review – ‘Me Before You’

“Whether blonde or brunette, Emilia Clarke’s Hollywood stock continues to rise outside the Seven Kingdoms. And rise fast.”

– Patrick King, REEL BRIEF

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In this year’s most charming romance film so far, “Me Before You” brings an impressive array of happiness, joy, laughter and, yes, even sadness to a young couple.  Based upon the 2012 best-selling page-turner from romance author Jojo Moyes, this movie’s love story emerges from an abundance of authenticity and warmth between a wealthy thirtysomething quadriplegic and his new personal aide in the hillsides outside London.

From the hit HBO show “Game of Thrones”, dragon queen Emilia Clarke is barely recognizable as the enthusiastic caretaker Louisa Clark.  She superbly portrays a fun-loving Brit determined to remain upbeat around a sullen, withdrawn William Traynor (Sam Claflin), who’s hell-bent on focusing only on what he’s missed out on in life after a tragic accident.  Together, a patient, but well-paced and heartfelt courtship innocently develops into something more.  Much more.

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Exquisite acting performances throughout compliment and underscore the film’s seriousness and plight facing Claflin’s wheelchair-bound character.  It thoughtfully brings up William’s arduous end of life considerations while dramatically illustrating the unpleasant burdens placed upon the young man, his family and those inside his innermost circle of trust.

Television fans will see a reunion take place between Clarke and her past “Game of Thrones” costar Charles Dance (who played Tywin Lannister).  Notwithstanding smaller parts from Dance and Academy Award nominee Janet McTeer (for 1999’s “Tumbleweed”) as William’s distraught parents, both film veterans nicely raise the bar and overall believability of the movie.

Avid romance readers will take solace knowing that the English author and two-time Romantic Novel of the Year Award winner Moyes wrote the film’s screenplay, ensuring a seamless adaption from book to big-screen.  One of the movie’s most enchanting elements that Moyes orchestrates is seeing an icy, stoic William melt under Louisa’s continual warmth and giddy personality.  The movie highlights the notion that we can choose to be happy if we allow ourselves to be.  Helping to make that happen is the importance of surrounding ourselves with hopeful and cheerful people.

Never mind that “Me Before You” telegraphs it’s every scene.  Although the plotline’s twists and turns may not surprise many viewers along this roller coaster ride, the adventure remains delightfully entertaining to watch despite an overall serious theme and endgame.

Whether blonde or brunette, Emilia Clarke’s Hollywood stock continues to rise outside the Seven Kingdoms.  And rise fast.  As the dynamic and mesmerizing Daenerys Targaryen on television’s hottest show, the two-time Emmy Award nominee can too easily leave critics to marvel only at her Esquire magazine’s 2015 Sexiest Woman Alive win.  But that shortsightedness misses the mark on Clarke’s ample versatility and acting chops on the big and small screens.

Grade: B+

“Me Before You” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material.  Its running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

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