It is rare these days for a film to be as inspiring as A Million Miles Away. This beautifully-told biographical drama about the life of José M. Hernández, the first Mexican-American astronaut who came from very humble beginnings, is a must-see. It is to director Alejandra Marquez Abella's credit that this exceptional film is one of the year's best. Abella knows how to tell a great cinematic story and does so with mastery. The film moves at a quick pace, never wallowing in the many setbacks our hero experiences throughout his exhausting but determined journey. Instead, the audience recognizes these setbacks as the stepping stones they are, each leading Hernández to fulfilling his lifelong dream, igniting his passion even more each time they occur. Hernández is the ultimate underdog and we, his inspired audience, can't wait to see his victory. From a production standpoint, this film is near perfect. As our protagonist, Michael Peña gives an award-worthy career-best performance. His impressive portfolio of performances include many standout roles in Crash, Cesar Chavez, and End of Watch (to name a few). Without a doubt, he is one of the most talented actors of contemporary films. Here, he is allowed to shine, earning the audience's devotion and empathy with a vulnerable performance that should propel him into leading man status for many films to come. Peña is surrounded by a supporting cast that collectively create a remarkable ensemble. Of particular note is Rosa Salazar (who plays the role of Adela, Hernández's biggest cheerleader and loving wife). To her role, Salazar brings a charming likeability, which fuels an unforgettable performance filled with love, grit, and hope. There's much to love about this terrific film. Yet, at it's heart, this heartfelt story is about a hard-working family who deeply believed in the potential of one of their own, and together, propelled him to the skies.
Watching Shawn Levy's sci-fi action comedy The Adam Project is a fun, thrilling experience. The concept of the film is clever: a fighter pilot travels back to a specific point in his life, only to meet (and bond with) his younger self. The always-charming Ryan Reynolds is our leading man, playing the grown-up version of Adam Reed. Reynolds continues to prove he knows a thing or two about being funny. Here, his comedic timing is sharper than ever, evident each time he delivers hilarious lines of dialogue. The pairing of Reynolds with young actor Walker Scobell (who plays a 12-year old version of Adam Reed) creates a fantastic comedic duo. Their dynamic is very enjoyable to watch. They are surrounded by an all-star cast, appearing mostly in supporting roles, including Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Garner (both should've been given more screen time), and a devilish performance by Catherine Keener as an ultra-villain who you will love to hate. At the heart of the film, this is a good
Released a year-and-a-half after Rebel Without a Cause , John Frankenheimer's delinquent youth drama The Young Stranger is filled with echoes from the iconic James Dean film. Here, high school student Hal Ditmar (played with a passionate intensity by James MacArthur) is blamed for something he didn't do: assaulting the manager of a local movie theater. Claiming the act was self defense (which it was), MacArthur spends most of the movie trying to convince the other characters of this truth, namely his father who is a wealthy film producer, played by James Daly. The only one who seems to believe in him (albeit not without a layer of doubt) is his mother, played by acclaimed actress Kim Hunter in a subdued role compared to the more powerhouse performances in her remarkable repertoire of work. This is a simple film in that it features a small cast telling a straight forward story that takes place in only a handful of locations. Certainly a precursor to the ABC Afterschool Specials
Long before there was Orange is the New Black or Wentworth , there was Caged . This women-in-prison film noir from 1950 is an intense, gritty movie that offers an in-depth look into the complicated lives of its characters. Adapted from the story Women Without Men by Virginia Kellogg and Bernard C. Schoenfeld, the script (written by Kellogg) holds nothing back. While the drama is certainly heightened, the film is remarkable in its seemingly realistic depiction of prison life for women (at least for the time it's set in). Kellogg gives us relatable characters to root for and loathe, portrayed by a talented cast of women including Eleanor Parker in an Academy Award nominated lead role, Betty Garde in a heartbreaking performance as homicidal shoplifter Kitty Stark, and Agnes Moorehead as the sympathetic prison superintendent Ruth Benton. A prison movie wouldn't be true to genre without a villain and Hope Emerson gives us a ruthless one in her sadistic portrayal of the evil prison