I listened and looked but still did not quite understand how the relationship worked. In its infancy there was a given intimacy as a comfortable space was created to allow for growth. The amount of attention given was at a high level so that everything that would help keep things fresh had an opportunity to do so. For years I was a bystander as I listened to friends talk about their gardens. The relationship they had with their gardens provided them with a pleasure that made little sense to me. Sitting in a friend’s backyard watching them prune and weed patches of open land that were thriving with vibrant colors only perplexed me. Yet after all these years something has happened inside of me. I have been visualizing seeing mounds of ornamental grasses with feathered tops out my back windows, watching how breezes would tickle the tops and cause the grass to sway. Besides the tall grasses there was a row of plants in different stages of colorful growth going down the width of my house. So I decided to dig in and bought 10 plants that I planted in the same way as in my visualizations. And wouldn’t you know it, everything I saw my friends do to their plants I am now doing to mine. Little uninvited sprouts of green invaders keep trying to circle my plants but I find myself stopping by each plant everyday to violently remove these interlopers. I have a new appreciation for what it takes to create a beautiful garden. King Louis XIV, played by Alan Rickman (Harry Potter franchise, Nobel Son), wanted and expected the gardens around his palace in Versailles to be something that no one had every seen anywhere in the world. The responsibility befell Andre Le Norte, played by Matthias Schoenaerts (Far From the Madding Crowd, Rust and Bone), who was taking a big risk in hiring landscape artist Sabine De Barra, played by Kate Winslet (Finding Neverland, Labor Day). This romantic drama had as you can imagine a beautiful look to it. I thought the story’s premise was wonderful and loved the idea that some of the things portrayed in this film could have a basis of truth in them. All the actors were so believable and really commanded the viewer’s attention. I had to hand it to Alan, not only was the role a perfect fit for him but he was also the director and one of the writers for this period piece. Maybe he took on a bit much because the script lacked a deeper level of drama, along with keeping the characters two-dimensional. On the plus side I liked the feminist angle the writers were trying to convey. This picture about the gardens of Versailles needed a little more pruning.
2 1/2 stars
There was nothing more exciting than having one of our parents be a chaperone for a school field trip when we were in the early grades of elementary school. I remember how proud each of us was when it was our turn to bring our mother or father along on one of those trips to the zoo, museum and other places around the city. Funny by the time we reached between 6th and 8th grade, the last thing we wanted was to have one of our parents show up anywhere near us, especially at the school dance. Heaven help us if they decided to go out on the dance floor and “cut a rug” as their child stood in horror, wishing they could melt into the floor. I think all of us at one point in our lives did not want our parents to be around our friends for a variety of reasons. No kid wanted their parent to call them by their pet name or ask nosy questions of their friends. I remember one friend who’s mother had to know where he was every minute of the day. If we were playing out in front she would periodically stick her head out the window to look for us. If she could not see us her yell could be heard down the block as she screamed out his name. There were some parents who were odd to us kids; we just chalked it up to them being old, old being a relative term here. As far as I can remember none of my friends’ parents acted like the one in this dramatic comedy. MAGGIE, played by Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Words), was faced with a tough decision when she received her acceptance letter into the master’s program of the university. If she accepted she would have to go out of state to New York and leave her daughters Amelia and Faith, played by newcomer Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide (The Slap-TV), with their father Cameron, played by Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers franchise, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), who suffered with bipolar disorder. This film festival nominated movie was fortunate to have Mark play this character. He was exceptional in the role where I totally believed him. As for Zoe, I thought it was a smart move on her part to tackle this type of role and she was wonderful. The script overall was fine though there were a few times throughout the movie where things felt disjointed for me; I felt myself getting bored. Still on the strength of the acting from the cast, this comedic drama that I understand was based on someone’s childhood was a compelling watch. I totally understood why the young girls did not want to have their friends over to their house.
The evening went from cordial to odd to bizarre for me. I was brought as a guest to a dinner party, unfamiliar with the couple who were the hosts. Their place was cool looking with a mixture of furnishings from the past several decades. Each room had one wall painted for the color theme of the room; accompanied by matching accents that gave each space its own dramatic flair. The conversation was lively right from the start; however, since I did not know this couple I could not tell if some of the things they were saying were supposed to be a joke. I had to take my cues from the surrounding guests. When dinner was ready we all sat around an oval dining table that was perched on a carved wooded pedestal. It gave the appearance of a wide tree. During the meal there were times where the topic of conversation would veer off into areas that I had a hard time following what the hosts were trying to say. In addition I found some of the things they were saying were not appropriate. Unfortunately the food only added to my discomfort; some things were undercooked in my opinion, besides having a taste that I could not tell was due to spices or spoilage. I know it was a tough spot to be in because there was no way I, who was essentially a stranger to the hosts, was going to say anything. So my time sitting at the dining room table was made up of nodding my head, smiling and picking at my food carefully. I do not know what I would have done if I were with the two couples in this movie. NEWLY transplanted couple Alex and Emily, played by Adam Scott (Friends with Kids, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) and Taylor Schilling (The Lucky One, Orange is the New Black-TV), felt they were making their very first friendship in their new city when Kurt, played by Jason Schwartzman (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Listen Up Philip), invited them to come over for dinner and meet his wife Charlotte, played by Judith Godreche (Stoker, The Man in the Iron Mask). It would be a dinner they would never forget. This film festival nominated comedy had some great dialog in the script. There were parts of this movie where I could relate to what the characters were feeling; but other times I sat in my seat in disbelief. The actors did a good job with their characters, even with the uneven script. I appreciated the fact the writers tried to put a different spin on a story that easily could be found in a comedy show on cable television. It was not fair that I got to experience some of the actors’ emotions in the scenes but did not get to have any of the food.
2 3/4 stars
I used to think there were some dogs that were just bad, but I came to my senses. It turned out it really was the dog owners that were bad. My original train of thought was due to a loose dog in the neighborhood where I grew up, that tried biting me as I rode my bicycle down the street near its house. Luckily as I grew up there was a relative of mine that adopted a black poodle that changed my views about dogs. This poodle really showed my what it was like to have a dog be a member of the family. In my adult life I encountered many dogs that were the children of friends and family. I realized like children dogs were not born bad, they had to be trained or not be trained to act in a non-appropriate way. There was one dog in particular that touched me in a special way that cemented my feelings about dogs. This mixed breed dog was not only a loving creature, but was able to express empathy. I will never forget the time when its owner was lying on their bed crying and the dog quietly jumped up and lied down next to them, putting its front paw across their back. I was nearly speechless as I witnessed this sympathetic act. Now when I hear a story like I did last week from a member in my class about walking their dog when the neighbors 2 dogs ran out to attack her dog, I know it says more about the owner instead of their dogs. I believe this even more now that I have seen this heartwarming film. UNABLE to be handled by anyone else after his handler Kyle Wincott, played by Robbie Amell (The DUFF, The Hunters-TV movie), was killed in the line of duty; the military had only one option left to avoid putting down Max, the bomb sniffing dog. They hoped Kyle’s parents Pamela and Ray Wincott, played by Lauren Graham (Evan Almighty, Bad Santa) and Thomas Haden Church (Easy A, Sideways), would take Max in and make him part of their family. Would they and their remaining son Justin, played by relative newcomer Josh Wiggins, want to have this dog in their house, reminding them of their tragic loss? This adventure family film won me over simply by having Max star in it. I was unfamiliar with this breed of dog, thinking Max was a German Shepherd mix. The script would have been stronger if it remained on the main story instead of going off with Kyle’s buddy. Also, I was quite aware I was being manipulated but still teared up because at the end of the day there is nothing like seeing a heroic dog.
2 3/4 stars
There are some friends that can always make you laugh; there are some friends that can have a serious conversation with you and there are some who always provide you with the perfect advice. Just as I believe a love relationship is unconditional, so do I feel the same way about friendships. You cannot pick and choose the parts you like about a friend and ignore the rest; true friendship only comes as a complete package in my opinion and they are as diverse as the world around us. Because this is how I treat friendships, I am always perplexed when someone offers their unsolicited opinion about someone else’s friend. Has this ever happened to you, where a friend of yours asks why you are friends with someone else? I experienced this in the past about a particular friend of mine. Here was an individual who did poorly in school; I suspect there was a learning disability. They may not have been able to carry on a conversation about world events or be able to communicate with proper English; so what, they were such a considerate, kind soul who was always willing to help out a person in need. I remember when a light fixture broke in my house and they immediately offered to fix it, knowing my limited handiness skills. Another friend of mine used to question how I could be friends with someone with such a limited vocabulary. I was offended by their questioning of such a thing, especially without even knowing the other person. How can someone comment on someone else’s relationships? See how it is done in this comedic sequel. RECENTLY married couple Ted and Tami-Lynn, voiced by Seth MacFarlane (A Million Ways to Die in the West, Family Guy-TV) and played by Jessica Barth (Get Smart, The Waterhole), have decided to have a baby. However, Ted will have to prove who or what he is before he can be a father. Written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, this sequel was essentially more of the same from the first film. Though Seth has a wicked sense of humor that was represented in the script by some quick funny lines, I found the story line dull. There was the same crudeness and vulgarity but this time it wasn’t as funny to me; I felt the set up for the scenes was a template that was repeated over and over as the movie progressed. A bright spot for me was Amanda Seyfried (Dear John, In Time) who played the lawyer Samantha. She did a good job with her role. I appreciated the idea behind the story but felt it was being handled with a heavy hand. If I were to consider movies as friends of mine, this would be one film I would not want to watch in a public place. Strong language throughout film.
1 3/4 stars
For some people when they hear these words they expect to have a fun time; others do not share the same feelings. “Start picking sides for your team,” are words I have always found to be twinged with cruelness. Let me show why I think this way. You have a group of people let us say who want to play a game of basketball. Two individuals have been picked as the team captains and they start taking turns picking people for their team. They are certainly going to pick those individuals they think can play well. So as player after player gets picked, imagine how the ones left standing must feel. It is not a real confidence booster, let me tell you. I know how it feels and it takes all the fun out of playing the game, knowing you really were not wanted for the team. There was one PE teacher I had in school who never had teams chosen in this fashion. He would have everyone line up side by side and starting at one end he would assign a number to each student. Usually it was in a series like 1, 2, 3 and 4; other times he would keep assigning numbers in numerical order. Once done he would say all the 1s and 4s will be one team and the 2s and 3s will be the other team. I always found this to be a fairer and kinder way in choosing sides. Ironically, I rose in the pecking order when the other students discovered I threw a hard, fast ball with bull’s-eye accuracy. Little did I know I would have more in common with this sports documentary. CONFUSION and frustration would be felt by both players and coaches who had or faced pitchers who threw knuckleball pitches. It was a baseball pitch that seemed to have a mind of its own. I was utterly surprised by this documentary DVD. The movie played more like a drama as it showed the highs and lows in a knuckleball pitcher’s life. The main focus of the story centered on Tim Wakefield from the Boston Red Sox and R. A. Dickey of the New York Mets. Each of their stories was so compelling to me; especially Tim who was one of the oldest pitchers in the league. As for the pitch itself, I had no idea what it took to throw such an unpredictable ball; I felt like I was getting a mini-class in physics. There were so many touching parts in this film, aided by the interviews of former pitchers Phil Niekro and Jim Bouton. I am not a team sports fan per se, but I have to tell you I thought this documentary was extra special as it focused on what some consider the underdogs of the baseball world.
3 1/3 stars – DVD
If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. But what happens if they do not come back? Let me tell you what happens; the vacated space in your heart will become listless for a time. Your memories go through a transformation that softens the hard edges, like water continuously running through a forming canyon. There may be times where a particular memory morphs with fantasy to create a totally new experience. You believe what you are recalling even though it never really happened. Remember that time where the two of you were supposed to celebrate your anniversary but they could not get away from work? Though at the time you were upset, you now look back at it with fondness because they made it up to you with a spectacular day. Never mind they were never really at work but out with friends and just did not want to tell you. Now you can say what you want, but unless you work really hard on confronting, dealing and expunging your anger over your breakup; your anger will always find a way to come out. And it may happen in the most inappropriate of ways. I know about these things because anger used to be a close friend of mine. One time my bathtub got stopped up and for some reason I bought this plastic pump contraption. I tried putting it together to make it work, but it only frustrated me and I exploded with anger, taking a hammer to it until it was in a million pieces. Just like the character in this dramatic film. LOCKSMITH A. J. Manglehorn, played by Al Pacino (Danny Collins, The Godfather franchise), lived a quiet life with his cat. Well, quiet only when he was not breaking his furniture. What made this film festival nominee attractive to me was seeing Al Pacino teamed up with Holly Hunter (The Piano, Raising Arizona) playing bank teller Dawn. The two of them were wonderful and I wished they had more screen time together. This was the issue I had with this film; the story needed to spend more time on them, instead of spending time with A. J.’s son Jacob, played by Chris Messina (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Argo). His scenes seemed to be filler for the story; though I knew they were trying to make a point about Manglehorn. It all came down to the script in my opinion. The directing was fine but without a strong script I was never fully invested in the story. To me it seemed like it was never really going anywhere until the very end. Who knows maybe down the road I will look back at this film and like it more than I really did.
2 1/4 stars
There was a time when I would think nothing of wrapping my hand around a door handle to open a door or borrow someone’s pen to fill out a form. I do not recall a specific incident or time when these actions turned into a forbidden hazard for me. If I am not wearing long sleeves or a jacket, you should see how I try to open a door without using the palm of my hand. To some people I must appear like a stroke survivor. Having individuals get offended at me when I refused their requests to borrow my pen, I now always carry extra pens with me to just hand out to folks and tell them to keep the pen. Reading up on the ways one can catch a cold or discovering what places at work have the dirtiest surfaces, I have discouraged everyone at work from sticking their hands into any communal bags of snacks that come into the office. Instead they need to pour out the amount they want on a plate or napkin. In my classes I always use a fist bump when greeting someone, in place of shaking hands with them. Before you decide that I am a bona fide germophobe, think about the times you have stood in a checkout line and seen the checker wipe their nose across their hand or sneeze into them just before they give you back your change. Yuck, I would use a charge card to make the purchase. So you see there is enough things in the real world that can be a hazard to our health which is why this horror film was scary. CELEBRATIONS over the July 4th weekend turned deadly when the citizens of a small town started showing signs from an unknown illness that was rapidly spreading through the area. Written and directed by Barry Levinson (Liberty Heights, Sleepers), this film festival winning horror movie used the found footage style of filming. Due to the story line I understood why this method was used; however, the multiple sources and the shakiness of it became tiresome for me. The idea was great to base the story in a realistic setting because it only made this movie scarier for the viewer; it could have happened anywhere, not just off the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. With cast members such as Kether Donohue (Pitch Perfect franchise, Boy Wonder) as Donna and Kristen Connolly (Revolutionary Road, The Happening) as Stephanie, I was not moved much by their performances. It was due to the script; though there were a few scary moments, I did not feel the level of fear provided the needed thrills a movie like this required to convey to the audience. However, this film sure made me think twice about what we are doing to our planet. Several scenes had blood in them.
2 stars — DVD
She did not even give me a chance to show her what I could do. I noticed her looking me up and down as I walked into her office for the interview. After we went over my work history she asked me about my teaching style. I gave her a brief description and offered to give a demonstration. She declined the offer which confirmed by suspicions. The way she looked at me in the beginning told me she was judging me based on my looks. I did not look like the typical fitness instructor because I did not have a smooth chiseled body; I was pudgy (I preferred saying soft and malleable) and hairy with a full beard. She had no idea how committed I would be to the job, nor see how hard I would work alongside the members of the health club. Due to the challenges I had in PE classes during my school years, I pushed myself harder than other fitness instructors. Maybe I was trying to prove a point of just fight my way to acceptance; it probably was a mixture of both. I was upset that this fitness manager was basing her decisions on the way I looked; I wanted to tell her that true good health began on the inside. She had no idea that I was able to teach 3 classes in a row, giving each one of them 100% of myself. Sadly she was not the first person to judge me based on my looks. I understood it; however, it still stung because I was never one to make a judgement based solely on the surface of a person. The main character in this movie could relate I am sure. LIVING in a tough neighborhood was a challenge for high school senior Malcolm, played by Shameik Moore (Joyful Noise, Incredible Crew-TV). Added pressure coming from the upcoming college entrance exams, that he needed to help get him into Harvard, Malcolm took a break by going to a party with his friends. It was a party that would have a major impact on all of them. This film festival winning comedic drama offered a different take on the typical coming of age tale. There was grittiness to the story with the use of some strong language. With Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Perfect Game) as Jib and Zoe Kravitz (Mad Max: Fury Road, Good Kill) as Nakia, the cast was good though I did not always find them believable. The script had a hint of being a screwball comedy in places as certain events unfolded. There were a couple of people who walked out in the middle of this movie. Maybe they had preconceived notions of what this film was supposed to be.
2 3/4 stars
I could hear the two voices in a heated discussion about whether I should bring a jacket or not. Planning on attending an outdoor event recently, there was one voice in my head telling me to bring a jacket due to the possibility of rain showers. It was also telling me that I needed a jacket since I would be outside after nightfall and I could get cold. The other voice was saying I needed to leave my jacket at home because with the temperature going up into the middle 80s no one would be walking around with a jacket. This argument was going on while I was changing in the locker room of the health club. In the next bank of lockers there was a father with 2 young children, the youngest in diapers. As the older boy was amusing himself by opening and closing the locker doors around him, the father placed his daughter on her back on top of a bench. She immediately let out an ear piercing scream as she burst into wailing tears. The father quickly pulled out his phone, swiping the screen with his thumb like a gunslinger, to position it right in front of the infant’s face. Instantaneously all sounds out of her stopped and the tear ducts dried up. But here is the catch; as soon as the dad tried to move his arm back to change his daughter’s diaper, she revved right up again with crying wails. To me it looked like a Pavlovian experiment as the opposite reactions of the daughter kept flipping back and forth depending on where the smartphone was placed. I now understand how these opposing feelings could rise up so quickly since I have seen this imaginative movie. RILEY, voiced by relative newcomer Kaitlyn Dias, only knew her Minnesota home her entire life. Moving to San Francisco due to her father’s job, Riley’s emotions were sent reeling as her unhappiness grew as the family tried to settle into their new place. This animated dramatic comedy had a more sophisticated story than other animated films I have recently seen. I am not sure if very young children will sit through this movie. At least at the theater where I saw this visual jewel of a picture, the movie trailers and short film before the movie clocked in for a total of 25 minutes. The actors such as Amy Poehler (Mean Girls, Baby Mama) as Joy, Lewis Black (Man of the Year, The Aristocrats) as Anger and Phyllis Smith (Bad Teacher, The Office-TV) as Sadness were just perfect at voicing their characters. The imaginativeness displayed in this adventure has set a new bar of excellence in my opinion. Just the idea of these emotions working together as we reach our adolescence was brilliantly handled in this story. By the end of the film the joy inside of my head was jumping up and down.
3 1/2 stars