Captive Review

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CAPTIVE is a remarkably realistic and intense thriller with elements of Christian faith present throughout, though its never overt or in-your-face.  Kate Mara (House of Cards, Fantastic Four, and The Martian) David Oyelowo (MLK in Selma) star in this riveting fact-based thriller based off of the best-selling non-fiction book of the same name, based off of true events that took place in and around Atlanta, Georgia in 2005.

 

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Kate Mara is Ashley Smith, who is a struggling meth addict who can’t seem to shake her addiction, even though she has a young daughter to keep in mind and priorities she needs to face (work, new living situation, addiction counseling sessions).  Her concerned counselor hopes to encourage Ashley by giving her a book by Rick Warren called “The Purpose-Driven Life”.  Ashley initially tosses the book away, but eventually the book will save her and where she’s heading…

 

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David Oyelowo is convicted killer Brian Nichols and is about to face his hearing that will determine his ultimate fate, jail or the chair.  Before he gets to that point, Nichols is able to subdue his detaining officer and goes into the courtroom, armed and shoots the judge and two others.  Now on the loose, Nichols aims to escape the cops and to be a free man…the thing is that he needs someone who can help him, and he may just find that person, in the form of Ashley Smith…

 

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First off, the acting in this film is spectacular and brutally honest, in that the portrayals of Smith and Nichols are no-holds barred and realistic in how each character is each deeply broken and in need of help, in one way or another.  The story is essentially focused on the broken nature of these two wayward souls.  How they come to initially mistrust each other, for various reasons (with Nichols not being able to trust anybody and especially because Ashley Smith is his kidnap victim) but find peace and solace in the briefest of moments, such as when Ashley asks Brian Nichols why he’s doing this, asks him what his true purpose is, and eventually reads not just to Brian, but to the domineering yet tortured emotional state of Brian from her book, “The Purpose-Driven Life”.

 

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The supporting characters ably portray their characters, as federal officials who are searching and reaching out to Brian Nichols, when the time comes, to bring him to justice as well.  The rest I can only say, is history.

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Based on real events in 2005, CAPTIVE is a very-well acted and riveting fact-based thriller with subtle Christian undertones that will appeal to any filmgoer willing to go on this journey.  CAPTIVE is a thriller and also a testament to the power of forgiveness and love through Jesus Christ.  For its combination of realism and testament to its powerful message, CAPTIVE is a one-of-a-kind film that just may stand the test of time for fact-based, and faith-based, films that have been and are to come.

 

 

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Kung Fu Panda 3 Review

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KUNG FU PANDA 3 is a lively, energetic and engaging finale to the Kung Fu Panda trilogy with incredible animation, fluid and frenetic kung-fu showdowns, and spot-on vocal performances from a very high-quality and fun-loving cast with heavy-hitters such as Jack Black, Jackie Chan, Angelina Jolie , Seth Rogen, Dustin Hoffman, and new favorites such as Bryan Cranston as Po’s father Li and J.K. Simmons as the powerful villain Kai.

 

KUNG FU-PANDA 3 begins as KUNG FU PANDA 1 and 2 began: with a kung-fu bang. Jack Black is back and hilarious as ever as Po, the ever-growing (and ever-hungry) panda whose fist still thirsts for justice and whose belly can’t seem to catch a break.   In the Valley, two new figures emerge. A big, friendly and FATHERLY panda named Li and a powerful new villain, a dual-wielding ram warrior named Kai. Plus Master Shi-fu announces his retirement and that Po is to take his place! What a lot to handle in a threequel, and faster than you can say ‘I hope they don’t pull a Spider-Man 3’ be rest assured: KUNG-FU PANDA 3 is the best of the three KUNG FU PANDA movies, and for good reason.

 

The good reasons are: The painterly and Eastern-influenced CG animation is back and more bursting with fluidity, humor and nuance than the second; the screenplay is hilarious and the cast (especially Bryan Cranston as Po’s father LI) are given a deeper and more meaningful dive into their characters while still retaining the awesome humor, fun, and the main themes of inner peace, growth, and learning (and kung-fu fighting, duh) that makes these films a pure joy to watch.

 

The story of Po and his fellow Kung-Fu Warriors continues, as their most powerful foe Kai emerges from the spirit world (claiming to have taken all of the Kung-Fu masters ‘chi’, or life essence and merged with his own) to become more powerful in their world (then again, the more you take, the less you have, am I right?). Kai needs to be stopped and only the true Dragon-Warrior can defeat him.

 

So, Poe goes on to learn one of many lessons in 3, as his true family is revealed, his true skills are gained with his calling, and the chi that lies in each of us shines brighter together than in a solitary state.

 

Anyhow, KUNG-PANDA is a winner of a threequel, through and through. Go see it if you haven’t already, and for goodness sake, see it again when KUNG-FU PANDA 3 arrives soon onto home video and digital retailers too!

 

As Po loves to say when he makes a good point: Skidoosh!!

The Intern Review

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THE INTERN is a smart, light-hearted and surprisingly insightful Nancy Meyers dramedy that brings the best of her filmic talents to light and also her flair for seamlessly blending comedy and drama, as needed. Headlined by Robert DeNiro and Anne Hathaway and supported by many familiar actors such as Renne Russo, Adam DeVine and Nat Wolff, THE INTERN sure knows how to make itself known from its cast.   And as you can probably expect, THE INTERN features New York City as much of a character as the rest of the cast, if not sometimes more. As you may expect, THE INTERN is as much a comedy about life and love as it is about marriage, relationships, and truth as it is a feature-length homage to New York City.

 

Robert DeNiro stars as Ben Whittaker, a 70-year old widower who has grown weary of his retirement and feels that he has too much free time on his hands. So, upon viewing an ad for an internship, Ben decides to take the plunge. And so he does. Anne Hathaway also stars as Jules, an upstart self-made head of online business who runs her own company from the ground up, in an old yet remodeled phone book company warehouse. Initially, Ben goes in for an interview for an open internship with Jules’ company, and he passes with flying colors. Jules is such a busybody that she initially doesn’t feel compelled to call upon Ben’s availability, although he’s available to her right away as her intern. As they become familiar and get to know each other, the internship becomes much more than that: a friendship and mentorship.

 

 

The main appeal, I can honestly say, is the warm and welcoming chemistry between Anne Hathaway’s Jules and Robert DeNiro’s Ben, respectively.   As they go through, endure, and enjoy life’s joys and sorrows within the story you can’t help but relate, sympathize, and perhaps love the characters and can see some of yourself or someone you know in them. The story is commendable for not taking a straightforward route, and thank you God for it not being overly complicated either. Instead, the story itself is simple yet filled with surprises. In addition, Hathaway and DeNiro really do a great job in their given roles, and THE INTERN becomes less of a 2015 romantic comedy and more of a simple yet true story of two people getting to know one another from across a generation gap and still be able to teach and learn from each other, beneficially and mutually with the time they have together.

 

So, in my thinking, there’s bound to be a draw to multiple film demographics based on the stars’ and the story’s appeal. The Y and G generation come to mind, as well as the Baby Boomers because of the broad, funny, yet emotionally moving appeal that THE INTERN provides through its story and strong ensemble. THE INTERN is less about work and more about life, more about the journey and not the destination, and about living life to your fullest, self-actualized potential.

 

EVEREST REVIEW

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EVEREST is an enlightening filmic document on the physical, psychological, mental, and emotional limits one can reach (or hope to) while on the trek to climb and conquer Everest. On May 10, 1996, the sequence of events that transpired between a friendly rivalry of two snow-shoe/summit-climbing companies gave way to eventual disaster and tragedy.

 

In this film, there are all climbers. Some who are team players, others who aren’t.   There were no villains in this film, but there are plenty of heroic and tragic acts, and moments in the face of brutal nature that set this film easily apart from the few films on extreme mountain/summit-climbing (VERTICAL LIMIT [2000] comes to mind).

 

The whole cast and crew who assembled and filmed this movie have to be commended for how accurate the time period of the late ‘90s is portrayed, how intense the peril and expert the cinematography/direction is, and how inherently the main core actors (Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Emily Watson, Sam Worthington, Jake Gyllenhaal, DJ Qualls, Kiera Knightley, Robin Wright) play their roles down to the t in teamwork and l in love and c in care.   If there was a standout, it’d have to be Jason Clarke as Rob Hall, the leader of the expedition and the one who always who sticks his neck out (literally) and puts his life on the line repeatedly to keep his climbers safe and alive.

 

As EVEREST progresses, it becomes clear that this is a film that takes an old-fashioned approach to telling a story. Man vs. Mother Nature is the inherent nature of the story, but so is the high risk (and cost) of climbing the highest summit on planet Earth.   Climbing may be fun, but Everest is no joke. That much is clear from the tragedy that struck the two climbing expeditions in the summer of 1996.

 

If there were any setbacks or flaws to this movie, I’d say there’d be two: the fact that the film starts out slow (fairly slow, I assure you) to establish the characters on-screen and build rapport with the audience so we can ultimately care about them.   And while it’s a great ensemble, the material is moving and tragic to be sure but the filmmakers don’t build up enough character attributes for the actors to give multi-layered performances. Then again, this isn’t a dramatic Oscar ensemble-type movie. This is a film that captures the essence of the extreme highs and lows of summit climbing, and also is a history lesson for the risk and cost of climbing Mount Everest.

 

Despite these somewhat inconsequential flaws, EVEREST still manages to be the best mountain/summit-climbing movie ever made. Not only because of the quality or the acting caliber supporting it, but because of the human and emotional element that brings weight and gravity to the film’s raw, intense and moving power of being.

The Revenant Review

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A masterful film, in short. A film that embodies the beauty and horror of nature, and the nature of man indeed.   Featuring one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s bravest and boldest performances, DiCaprio propels the story forward with only a few words and a staggeringly emotional and expressive performance that all but guarantees an Oscar, let alone all the awards he’s earned so far for his performance as Hugh Glass, a frontiersman in America’s 1870s last frontier, whose loses his son to the knife of one of his countrymen’s motives and is left for dead after a lie leaves him there to die.

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You can’t help but feel every inch of ground that Glass carries himself over and overcomes as he literally and figuratively crawls the frontier to exact his revenge, while learning from Indian natives that revenge is not all that truly is. Tom Hardy as the selfish villain, John Fitzgerald, and he earns his nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his domineering, very rotten character performance that is a case study in how bad people can take things a turn for the worse, for everyone. Domnhall Gleeson (of Ex Machina and The Force Awakens) is also a revelation as a Calvalry Captain Andrew Henry who knows what he stands for and what he doesn’t. Will Poulter is excellent as a conflicted younger countryman, Bridger, whose loyalties and morality lie with the truth of what he was led to do and what he needed to do too.

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Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is a director who knows how to evoke emotion from all angles, from the frontier combat scenes to the scenes of survival and trials that Hugh Glass overcomes to do justice for his son.   His roving and amazing direction captures the patience, beauty, and grace of nature just as God intended it to be. Hugh Glass is forever changed by his journey, for the better. Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematographer, is a true deliverer of awe-inspiring camera-work with spectacle that brims with silent beauty and thundering violence.

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The Revenant is a work of frontier fiction based on true events, as Hugh Glass’s company of countrymen are evading and fighting the relentless Indians hunting them, not knowing their true motivation.   Interspersed with scenes of powerful dialogue and sometimes heated interactions with the French troops, Indian tribes, and American frontiersmen, in various degrees, The Revenant tells a story that weaves all forces into a organic and naturalistic whole that cohesively shows each group’s motivations, good and bad, and ultimately collide with one another as Hugh Glass’s quest for revenge/justice comes to a head in the thrilling finale.

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All in all, the Revenant is a startingly real and amazingly realized story whose profound message of overcoming physical, mental, and spiritual obstacles is bar none phenomenal, as are the technical achievements achieved by director Innaritu and DOP Lubezki and the performances of the core cast and lead, Leonardo DiCaprio.

INTERSTELLAR Review

Matthew McConaughey as Cooper in Interstellar.

First off, I am so happy and grateful that I’m able to finally have (and have made) time for my reviews again.  I will do my utmost best to post reviews more regularly, because I am now learning how to incorporate regular time slots for blogging with my new regimen of regular daily life.  So, onto INTERSTELLAR!

I can’t believe I’m just getting around to INTERSTELLAR, but here I am fresh off my first time (won’t be my last!) seeing the Christopher Nolan-helmed Warner Bros. grounded family and palpably emotional sci-fi journey into the unknown of deep space, and inner space.  First off, Matthew McConaughey is uniformly incredible as the main character Cooper, a man of many professions: engineer, farmer, family man, and NASA pilot.  He lives with his family in rural America, a near-future landscape where a plethora of dust storms has overtaken America (and presumably the Earth).  Murph, his daughter, and Tom, his older son, are in the growing stages of youth.  During a chance encounter in Murph’s room, Cooper finds coordinates to a hidden location.

NASA happens to be stationed there, who Cooper happened to be previously affiliated with them before choosing to care for his family as a farmer.  He becomes reacquainted with Professor Brand, played by Michael Caine, who persuades him to be a pilot…for searching for another habitable planet for the human race to thrive off of.  From this point on, INTERSTELLAR explores the external deep space that the NASA astronauts themselves explore (via a wormhole) along with the inner space of the said astronauts, and the family that Cooper left behind.

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With time as a recurrent theme in Christopher Nolan’s filmography, the passage of time in INTERSTELLAR is taken to a notable and poignant extreme: time moves slower and in turn aging, leaving the astronauts less susceptible to the passage of time and aging in comparison to their families on Earth. This aspect, along with the purpose of the mission, is brought up quite a bit as is the astronaut’s rationalization of the mission to save the human race from possible, even certain extinction via suffocation and starvation.

What Christopher Nolan achieves in INTERSTELLAR is nothing short of breathtaking: combining a never-before-seen film journey (with logical and plausible help from renowned wormhole physicist Kip Thorne) into a wormhole and deep space as a result; with a moving story of how a family, broken and estranged from one another as the passage of time, distanced by the absence of Cooper the father and astronaut, comes together in more ways than one.

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INTERSTELLAR also explores, without getting into ANY spoilers, (because I have a spoiler-free ethic and policy in my reviews, minimal spoilers are recommended for anyone who would like to discuss them.  Since this review is covering a November 2014 film, the comments section in this review is given carte blanche as of now!), the lengths to which people can sacrifice to make the future a reality.  Yet also the redeeming grace of love and family is focused on, so the importance of how one family and its generation can grow and change with the next, is very emotional and poignant because that’s the truth of how the world continues to grow and prosper in this positive regard.

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With that being said, there is still space action to be seen and experienced.  It can be intense, but that’s to be expected in any Christopher Nolan film, with action involved.  Still, the cast is on top form, especially Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway, David Oyewolo (who starred in SELMA as Martin Luther King and apparently exceled as, which I will see and learn soon!) and some very cool-looking and smart -thinking T.A.R.S.

INTERSTELLAR - 2014 FILM STILL - Left to right: Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway - Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon   © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

INTERSTELLAR – 2014 FILM STILL – Left to right: Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway – Photo Credit: Melinda Sue Gordon
© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

And who could forget to mention Christopher Nolan’s long-time, mainstay composer Hans Zimmer.  His score here employs a whole-note, old-fashioned organ with an ethereal combination of synths and strings to create a sound as interplanetary as the inner and outer journey the astronauts undergo.

All in all, INTERSTELLAR is an ambitious family and space-travel saga with plenty of emotion, drama, and some intense action to spare.  See it in Blu-Ray High-Def, it’s the way to go.  Or if you saw it in theaters, even better :).

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UNBROKEN Review

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UNBROKEN is a tale that is a testament to the strength, endurance, and courage of the human spirit. It is a beautiful film, visually and emotionally. Yet it’s also not as powerful, on a gut level, as the book was. Even so, UNBROKEN may be too old-fashioned for some, as the film’s time period, the 1940’s, maintains the moral issues of that time and evokes a romanticized aura of that era. But for those who love (or don’t mind) old-fashioned will fall for UNBROKEN.

Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book on Louie Zamperini’s youth, a WWII bombing raid and return that turns into a harrowing mission to stay alive out on the ocean, and literally floating into enemy territory and being a prisoner of war…in Japan. The film accurately portrays the trails and tribulations of Louie’s hopeful and harrowing mission for survival, from 47 days on an ocean raft to years of brutality at the hands of “the Bird”, the Japanese Warden of the prison camp Louie is kept in.

Louie, as portrayed with dignity and silent repose by Jack O’Connell, is a stand-up guy whose troubled youth was bolstered by his older brother Pete (first John D’Leo, then Alex Russell). Running track transformed his reckless behavior, and was his foundation before qualifying and running for the Olympics. Louie nicely acknowledges a Japanese Olympian, an ironic gesture with how Louie feels about the Japanese later on. Revenge and fighting back against brutality with which he and his fellow American soldiers suffer and endure from their Japanese captors.

Domhnall Gleeson (the son of actor Brendan Gleeson) plays Louie’s friend Phil, Garrett Hedlund plays a strong soldier named Fitzgerald, Takamasa Ishihara plays Watanabe “the Bird”, and experienced character actors play their respective roles in UNBROKEN. Directed by Angelina Jolie and written for the screen by the Coen Brothers, Richard LaGravenese (FREEDOM WRITERS), and William Nicholson (LES MISERABLES, 2012), UNBROKEN is certainly a good and poignant story brought to vivid life on-screen (highlighted especially during a crucial scene) yet I feel that the film could have been more viscerally powerful than as it is in its current, strong PG-13 state. The book portrayed Watanabe’s incessant brutality and didn’t shy way from it, while the movie features only a handful of scenes that are brutal, yet not AS brutal as the book.

That nitpick aside, UNBROKEN is a solid, hopeful story of how Louie Zamperini overcame all odds of survival and found love and forgiveness in his heart instead of hate and revenge towards his captors is VERY powerful, indeed. Very well-acted and beautifully filmed by Jolie, UNBROKEN is a resonant tale of the human spirit and how hope and love overcomes all with all. And the new Coldplay song, “Miracles”, aptly honors this sentiment and truth.

Bonus: Seeing Louie Zamperini’s final message/act of hope and forgiveness, completed when he was 80, is inspiring to say the least. He passed on this year, 2014. UNBROKEN honors his memory and his message, which he more than deserves in his life and through his service.

BOYHOOD Review

 

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BOYHOOD is a one-of-a-kind film achievement, and a heartfelt and personal coming-of-age tale told over a span of twelve years in a real boy/actor’s life.  Filmed over twelve years, writer/director Richard Linklater shot portions of his film every year to show the growth of the main actor, Ellar Coltrane, along with his protagonist, Mason.  The film’s focus in mostly on Mason’s point of view and his story growing up, but BOYHOOD’s narrative occasionally shifts to its supporting characters.  And that’s a good thing, because every character in BOYHOOD is fully realized and realistically portrayed.  From the moment the camera zooms out from Coltrane’s young, wide-eyed face to the tune of early Coldplay’s classic song “Yellow”, you know the film is in good hands.  Do keep in mind, though, folks, BOYHOOD does not shy away from the darker side of growing up, as much as it also shows the bright side of growing up as well.

BOYHOOD takes place in Texas, mostly in Houston and surrounding towns (the film does not always announce the new towns Mason and his family move to, leaving that up to the audience to listen to the characters).  The film exudes authenticity, as a slice of life that can be any one family in America, in 2002 and anytime between then and 2014, this year.

The film opens in 2002, when Mason is a very young boy, age 6 (in kindergarten).  From the get-go, it’s easy to tell Mason is a good kid with a good heart.  Mason’s Mom (played with multi-layered excellence by Patricia Arquette) loves him and his sister Samantha dearly (played very well by Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei Linklater).  Mom separated with Dad when Mason and Samantha were quite young, so now Dad (a very strong and transformative performance by Ethan Hawke) sees them on a select number of weekends and is their anchor, their rock for a lot of their childhood.

As Mason’s life progresses, growing up rears its hard head and challenges Mason and Samantha at every turn.  Mom’s string of boyfriends/husbands, who turn out to be emotionally stunted, yet abusive and hard-drinking, cause a lot of turmoil for Mom, Mason, and Samantha.  Even when Mason’s Mom puts herself through night school to become a teacher. Yet like the good in our lives, the good always wins out and shows the way for Mom to lead her family out of the dark and into the light.

The film closes in 2014, when Mason “leaves the nest” to attend college.  As life goes, the journey is what it is all about, and the destination in BOYHOOD is another start.  BOYHOOD is, in essence, a coming-of-age film, and like the best stories of all time, an odyssey of growing, learning, stumbling, hurting, yet ultimately overcoming every hurtle and becoming a better person in the process.

Prolific indie director Richard Linklater (whose film credits range from WAKING LIFE, A SCANNER DARKLY, SCHOOL OF ROCK, BEFORE SUNSET, BEFORE SUNRISE, BEFORE MIDNIGHT, amongst many more) kept this epic coming-of-age project a secret for 12 years, so you know he has crafted a film that generation after generation of new families, young families and grown-up families to enjoy, learn from, and adhere to when times are rough or need a reminder of how good, how bad, how rich, how sad, how ultimately rewarding life is when you work hard, enjoy, and immerse yourself in life.  BOYHOOD, don’t miss out.  This’ll be one for the history books.

Seatbelts, everyone! The Magic School is being rebooted on Netflix!

So Fetch Daily

THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS (Image Credit: PBS) THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS (Image Credit: PBS)

Seatbelts, everyone! In 2016, Netflix will roll out a Magic School Bus reboot. The new show will be called The Magic School Bus 360°. The original program ran from 1994 to 1997 and featured everyone’s favorite eccentric, positive science teacher, Ms. Frizzle. I’m fairly sure every ’90s kid can still appreciate her sage advice (“Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”) and wacky adventures (inside the human body, in outer space, in Herp Haven to rescue Liz). But what will the new show bring to the table?

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Jay Z and Beyoncé Are All Things to All People on HBO’s On The Run

TIME

There has never been a concert film like HBO’s On The Run, because there has never been a pop star like Beyoncé or a hip-hop star like Jay Z or a celebrity couple like Beyoncé and Jay Z. The pair, massively successful and talented individuals who toured together for the first time this year, have become so much more than themselves. Their burning, multihyphenate success casts long shadows as musicians, entrepreneurs, spouses, and parents. HBO and director Jonas Åkerlund — filming over two September shows in Paris and adding a host of effects (slow-mo, black-and-white, lightning strikes!) — stuck a kaleidoscope on what is already our nation’s Rorschach-iest couple. On The Run says nothing new, but it says it all at once.

With six albums between them in their six years of marriage, and as many public appearances and touring dates, there’s a lot for fans to feast on…

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