When I arrived at the city in the new state I was visiting, I drove my rental car to the eastern part of town. There spanning the length of a city block was a mural painted on a brick wall, depicting the struggles immigrants had who settled in the area. After spending some time examining the fine detailed work I noticed a community center across the street. I walked over to it to see if I could use their restroom before driving off to another part of town. Once inside I saw a tired looking woman sitting behind a long formica counter. Hearing my footsteps, the woman slowly raised her face up until her eyes made contact with mine. With a look of shock creeping on her face she asked me what I was doing there. I explained how I stopped to see the mural across the street. When I asked if I could use the restroom she muttered something in a low voice, then told me to use the private restroom behind her, not the one down the hallway. It seemed odd but I did as she told me. At the end of the day back at my hotel, I asked the front desk clerk if they had ever seen the mural across town. A stunned look came across her face as she asked if I had gone and seen it yet. When I said yes, she nearly hissed at me that I should have never gone, it was a bad area; no one in their right mind would be caught there. When I asked her how I would have known she told me it was easy, just look at what was walking around there. I was sensing she might be prejudiced so I decided to drop it and go to my room. I was reminded of this incident while watching this exquisite, Oscar nominated film. The message in this movie was told in such a delicate and lovely way; I was totally engrossed with the story. Raised to fear the other, rodents lived underground away from the bears who resided above. Rules were in place to keep each away from the other until young Celestine, voiced by newcomer Pauline Brunner, accidentally met street musician Ernest, voiced by Lambert Wilson (Of Gods and Men, Sahara). Their friendship would go against everything in place that kept the two groups apart. This Cannes Film Festival winning movie was enchanting with its uncluttered and simple artwork that magically told a beautiful story. I saw the original version of this dramatic comedy in French with English subtitles, though I found out later there was an English version. Without preaching or browbeating the audience, this film had a wonderful message that bears repeating.
3 1/2 stars
The words coming out of his mouth never quite settled down in my head. I understood each word, but strung together they were like sheets flapping in the wind. All the individuals in my tour group sat attentively with their heads moving from side to side, as if they were watching a tennis match. We were in a museum and our tour guide was giving a lecture about the large, abstract art piece that was squatting in front of us. The people around me kept looking back and forth between the guide and the art piece, as if they were witnessing the creation of a new species. I sat there perplexed because I was evidently not seeing the things that everyone else were focusing on when gazing at this large, colorful mass of steel and paper. To me the object looked like a massive teepee that was starting to lift up its skirt as a front porch wrapped partially around it, with odd shaped geometrical flags sticking out that had been starched to stiffness. I guess I am not an art connoisseur like the others because I was not getting the whole thing. Everyone reacts to art in different ways; I understood it having grown up in an artistic family. But as I looked around it appeared I was the odd man out. Gratefully that was not the case with this science fiction thriller. From director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) the visual aspects of this film festival nominated drama was both curious and enticing. It was this component of the movie that kept my interest. Some of the scenes were fascinating due to the camera angles and the effects. Filmed in Scotland, Scarlett Johansson (Hitchcock, We Bought a Zoo) played an alien who preyed on lone single men. There was very little dialog and I gave Scarlett credit in her ability to convey the emotions of her character. I am willing to bet there will be people who sit through this unusual movie and afterwards spend hours debating the symbolism they felt was there. I, on the other hand, do not want to work that hard when I go see a film. So I must tell you I had no idea what the movie was about and when I typed the word “gratefully” earlier it was because the viewers around me said the same thing at the end of the picture. I could come up with things I assumed but they would only be my take on the film and everyone will have their own opinion; so what is the point?
2 1/2 stars
During the first week of school each of the students were given a list of extracurricular activities they could join. There was the football and baseball teams among other sports activities. Though one of my aunts felt I should try out for football because I was heavy, I had little interest in it. The first group I considered was band since I could play the piano; but I never saw a piano out on the football field. The only choice was a xylophone strapped to my frame. I nixed that idea, imagining I would have looked like a carnival clown walking across the field. It was a good thing I did not sign up because during the school year I noticed students in band seemed to get picked on more frequently than other kids. I joined the school’s newspaper and yearbook staffs. During that first year I discovered there was a pecking order based on what group or team a student was in. No one from the major sports teams was ever bullied. When it came to band or to the chess group, there was a good chance they would get their books knocked out of their hands or be shoved out of the way while walking down the hallway. Can you imagine a kid who stops participating in something because they would be picked on for it. Think about Andy Warhol or Steven Spielberg as kids, getting picked on for what they were passionate about and deciding they would never paint or make a movie again. It would be so sad for them and a loss for us. See what happens to poor Bruce Garrett, played by Nick Frost (The World’s End, Paul), when his love for salsa dancing was literally beaten out of him in this comedy film. On the way to the junior championships contest, young Bruce was attacked by a group of boys. Never making it to the event, Bruce vowed he would never dance again. Fast forward 30 years to see how that decision changed his life. Nick did a beautiful job as the lovable unmotivated Bruce. Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires, Bridesmaids) as his co-worker Drew and Rashida Jones (The Social Network, Celeste & Jesse Forever) as their American boss Julia were just as good with their characters. I found parts of the film funny even while there was a sad undertone that filtered through the predictable story. The script seemed so smart with the dialog but the scenarios were at times boring to me. I believe it was due to several unsurprising and inconceivable actions. Based on an idea from Nick, I hope he does not get discouraged by the reviews coming out for this movie.
2 1/4 stars
It is important to hear encouragement but how much of it is heard depends on the person. I have seen people on those reality shows where their family and friends have told them they can sing or dance and it is obvious they do not have talent. They believe every compliment they are receiving, even if it is only being given out of kindness. I personally do not think it is fair to mislead a person unless the whole family or friends do not realize they are all tone deaf or lack rhythm. Being a defensive pessimist on top of being my own worst critic, I am in a different category. Any compliment I receive I tend to discount. Though appreciative of encouraging words, they actually are the fuel that drives me harder to do better. All these years I thought it was a stubborn streak that kept me pounding away to succeed at the task at hand. I have come to realize there is a voice inside of me that has high standards, pushing me to prove wrong the other voice in my brain that tells me I am a failure. The same can be said for those people who told me I could not do something; it only made me fight harder to prove them wrong. The first thing I heard inside of me when my first short story was published was that 7th grade teacher who told me I would never be a writer. It all comes down to believing in yourself and that inner drive was something I admired in general manager Sonny Weaver, played by Kevin Costner (3 Days to Kill, Mr. Brooks) in this sports drama. Hoping to rebuild the Cleveland Browns football team, Sonny would butt heads against strong opposition for his NFL Draft pick from Coach Penn and team owner Anthony Molina, played by Denis Leary (Sand, Rescue Me-TV) and Frank Langella (Robot & Frank, The Ninth Gate). Even with his mother Barb, played by Ellen Burstyn (Another Happy Day, The Fountain), questioning his moves Sonny was determined to do what he thought was right. I found the NFL Draft story exciting and thought Kevin was believable in his role. The part that did not ring true was the story involving Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club, Elektra) as Ali. There was little chemistry between her and Kevin’s character and I just found it phony and unnecessary. If the writers would have stayed with the football story, including the back stories for the hopeful picks, this movie would have been better in my opinion. Keep in mind I am not a fan of team sports but I enjoyed all of the drama and tension revolving around the team franchise. Whether Sonny made the right choice or not did not matter to me; his drive and conviction was what I admired in him the most.
2 1/2 stars
Walking into a room filled with strangers does not create anxiety for some people. It could be a business convention, workshop, classroom or a family event and it would not be a problem for a person. Years of teaching class has helped me overcome my instinctive fear of being thrown into a situation with a bunch of strangers. If there is no connection between me and the other people other than we are all in the same line of work, than I am comfortable. However, when I have gone as someone’s guest my first instinct is to hold back and be an observer. I am sure many of us have been in a situation where we were meeting our significant other’s family and though we were told they would not be judging us, deep inside we knew they would be. Sure you want to be on your best behavior and make a good impression, but the pressure can get to you. I cannot tell you how many times I have been in this type of situation, where I not only was careful with my verbiage, but was starving for fear someone would catch me with a piece of food dripping off my facial hair or stuck between my teeth before I could clean it up. There was no way I could not sympathize for Blu, voiced by Jesse Eisenberg (Now You See Me, 30 Minutes or Less), in this animated adventure sequel. Discovering they may not be the last of their kind; Blu and his wife Jewel, voiced by Anne Hathaway (Love & Other Drugs, Bride Wars), left the comfort of Rio de Janeiro and headed out to the deepest parts of the Amazon jungle in hopes of finding blue feathered friends. It would turn into an adventure that would bring a whole new meaning to the word family for Blu, Jewel and their kids. This sequel stayed pretty true to the original one. It would help to see the first one, but one could easily watch and follow this film without seeing the original movie. This comedy adventure’s main attraction was the big dance and song numbers. Each one was fun to watch and provided a huge palette of colorful figures crossing the screen. Musical artist Bruno Mars (Honeymoon in Vegas) had the perfect role playing Roberto, including a big solo performance. The story was the weak link, taking parts of the movie “Meet the Parents” as one of its story lines. I do not think children would care since there was a steady stream of jokes and comical characters. All of the cast from the first film were here including Nigel, voiced by Jemaine Clement (Dinner with Schmucks, Predicament), along with some new characters such as Andy Garcia (Rob the Mob, At Middleton) as Eduardo. This was an enjoyable fun film that did not stray from its winning formula established with the previous one. I believe everyone would feel comfortable being a guest at the showing of this enjoyable movie.
2 1/2 stars
You see the two of them walking towards you hand in hand. They look almost identical except one looks fresh, the other one looks worn. Now I am not talking about a couple who have been together for years and are dressing the same. I am referring to a parent and their child. How many times have we seen children growing into similar features shared with their parents. These outside traits come about through a combination of the parents’ genes. I know my lost hair is because of my mother’s father; the trait of baldness gets carried down through one’s mother. My fascination gets stimulated more by the internal similarities between parents and their offspring. When a child’s taste in foods mimics a mother or father, I can assume one of the adults influenced them. But what about a son or daughter who grows up and goes into the same profession as their parent? I was introduced to a man who was able to trace his family’s history all the way back to the times of the Spanish Inquisition; we are talking about the late 1400s. He explained each generation in his family produced at least 2 scholars who kept detailed records. They even passed down several sentimental items to the younger family members, continuing it from generation to generation. A similar family history was the basis for this fantasy thriller. Dominic Rains (The Taqwacores, Flight 93-TV movie) and Serinda Swan (Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief), Recoil) played husband and wife Shawn and Jasmine. The quiet idyllic life they were living suddenly began experiencing unexplained events that were soon taking on an ominous undertone. Looking for answers Shawn found two men willing to help him, Father Westhoff and Gabriel, played by William Atherton (Die Hard franchise, Ghostbusters) and Ray Park (G.I. Joe franchise, X-Men). What they had to say was hard to understand. The trailer for this film had a mythical spookiness that intrigued me. It only took me a short while to realize this movie was going to be real bad. Wait let me change the end of that last sentence to say pathetically awful. I will start with the production values; they were horrendous with hokey special effects. If you were to watch a special effects filled film from the 1950s you probably would have the same reaction I had watching the cheap stunts in this movie. The poorly written script was made even worse by the sophomoric acting. This may be harsh to say but if the studio is considering a sequel I hope the family in this picture stops procreating.
1 1/4 stars
Words can provide us things like comfort, excitement, hope and tenderness. In written form we absorb the word’s meaning, allowing it to color a thought or infuse intensity into our feelings. We hear words and the sender’s inflection assists in molding the words to our heart and mind. As adults we have the skills to be resilient when words get lobbed over with the intent to hurt us. I knew this person who always tried to establish himself as the smarter person in every one of his conversations. Personally I felt he was extremely book smart but had little common sense. His favorite thing to do when having a discussion with anybody was to answer their talking points with “And your point is?” I always found it offensive. Now notice if he would have said, “I do not understand what you mean,” it would have taken on a kinder, respectful approach. There were individuals who would not let his comments bother them, they had a solid confidence that was honed by years of experience. However, a child may not be capable because their identity has not been fully formed. There are people who have skewed expectations when it comes to children and you will see an ugly example in this dramatic movie. Ryan Reynolds (Smokin’ Aces, The Proposal) played successful author Michael Taylor . An upcoming family celebration was forcing Michael to go home and visit his parents Lisa and Charles Taylor, played by Julia Roberts (Notting Hill, Closer) and Willem Dafoe (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Hunter). Though Michael was looking forward to seeing his mother, he would prefer avoiding his father who always seemed to be disappointed in him. This movie had 2 sides of the story that flipped back and forth. The side I found better was the one with Michael as a child. I wished the writers would have made the whole movie about this time period. The part that dealt with the adult Michael was okay but I felt a stark difference between the two. Granted the cast was excellent, including Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves, The Book Thief) as Jane Lawrence, but their portion of the script was weak compared to their formidable acting skills. Overall I remained interested in the entire story and noticed I was getting a fearful reaction from Willem Dafoe’s character. It really is something when I can sit here today and still remember all those words that scarred me as a young boy.
2 1/4 stars — DVD
The room had faded floral wallpaper with tired looking edges resembling sleepy eyelids. There was a brightly polished maple table in the middle of the room where a small woman with large glasses stood. She greeted us with a delicate smile. My friends and I arranged to visit her because we were told she had a unique gift. Each of us sat with her separately and when it was my turn I sat down across from her. She asked to see the palm of the hand that I use for writing. Looking at it she began telling me what type of personality I had, emphasizing I had strong teaching skills. Now it was funny, before sitting with her one of my friends whispered in my ear to remember the things that did not make sense. “Strong teaching capabilities” was more of a general statement, though she did not know I was an instructor. She peered closer at my palm and told me that in a former life I was a spy. I was able to go back and forth between opposing sides with no trouble. The reason I became a spy was due to my inner strength and ability to not reveal my true convictions. I evidently had a knack for quickly changing my mindset, able to avoid being captured by anyone. I had not thought about this for many years until I saw this action adventure film. The reason was the main character Rama, played by Iko Uwais (Merantau, The Raid franchise), had to do the very thing I supposedly did another lifetime ago. With the city being divided up into gang territories, police officer Rama agreed to go undercover to work his way into the criminal underground hierarchy. His plan involved getting close to Ucok, played by Arifin Putra (Macabre, Badai di Ujung Negeri), who was the son of a crime lord. This was one of those sequels where you did not have to see the previous film. It was a good thing because my review of the earlier one received only a rating of 1 3/4 stars. Where that one was a poorly done film, this one had more going for it. Iko Uwais’ martial arts skills were killer, pun intended. The fight scenes were the main attraction of this crime thriller and they were pretty amazing. I cannot say much about the acting but at least there was more of a story, a motive and fluidity to this picture. My guess would be this movie would only appeal to those who are fans of the genre. There was extreme violence and bloodshed throughout the film. If you are curious to see incredible fighting feel free to go incognito into the theater. The dialog was Indonesian and Japanese with English subtitles.
2 2/3 stars
During tragic times there are some people who ask themselves what they can do to help. One of the most selfless groups of people I have ever witnessed are those individuals who do hospice care. To me they are a rare breed of humans who give of themselves without expecting something in return. I have a saying I use that goes, “For every plus in life there is a minus.” What I mean by this is the world is made up of people, things or events that can be either a plus or minus, positive or negative, or you can even say good or bad. Here is an example: my car’s windshield got chipped from debris on the highway. The following day my company handed out holiday cash bonuses and the amount covered my deductible. The negative act was cancelled out by the positive act. With that being said it saddens me to say with all the positive folk we have in the world, it appears we have almost as large a group of negative ones. They can prey on others; not only during tragic events but even on those individuals who may be less fortunate. The “criminals” in this crime drama inspired by a true story were utterly despicable. I will tell you it was hard watching this film festival winning movie. Rachel Weisz (The Mummy franchise, The Deep Blue Sea) played American police officer Kathryn Bolkovac, who took a position as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia. Working on an investigation she discovered young women were being trafficked for the pleasure of men. Though she would encounter obstacles, Kathryn was determined to have her voice be heard for these victims. This certainly was Rachel’s film and she owned it, making an amazing character come to life. She was backed up by some real star power with Vanessa Redgrave (Unfinished Song, Blow-Up) as Madeleine Rees and David Strathairn (Lincoln, L.A. Confidential) as Peter Ward. As I watched the story unfold I really was outraged witnessing the scenes that were filled with such desperation. I was aware the director and writers probably took liberties with the story, focusing more on the cruelty; but it still bothered me. Though there was drama, personally I wanted more back story to the main characters. With this being such a vehicle for Rachel, some of the supporting cast was lost in the frame. At the end of the picture I had to stay seated and thought about the negative people in the story. I just wondered what kind of childhood did these people have to carry out the things they did in this gripping film.
3 stars — DVD
The first time it happened you chalked it up to a coincidence, but when it took place again you became suspicious. You shared sensitive information with a coworker. Later in the day you bumped into a fellow employee from a different department who made a comment that seemed odd. Feigning ignorance you let it slide, but as you returned to your desk you thought it was unusual for that employee to make such a comment out of nowhere, especially since the two of you were not close business associates. Later in the week you saw your coworker talking to that very same employee and you immediately understood why that employee made the comment to you; your coworker must have said something to them about you. When trust gets broken with me the first feeling I sense is the quick evacuation of oxygen from my body, as if someone had jumped on my stomach with both feet clad in steel toed boots. All the connections that were created between us shudder and crumble as the aftershocks prevent me from finding balance. It is a horrible feeling to place trust in a person or business and later discover you were betrayed; they were not who you believed them to be. In this action adventure Steve Rogers aka Captain America, played by Chris Evans (The Losers, Fantastic Four franchise), would question the placement of his trust when a new threat appeared to be getting the odds stacked in their favor. This film had a super throwback vibe between the forces of good and evil. I had a sense that all the actors like Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Don Jon) as Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow, Anthony Mackie (Real Steel, The Adjustment Bureau) as Sam Wilson aka Falcon and Robert Redford (All is Lost, The Electric Horseman) as Alexander Pierce were having a fun time filming this exciting movie. If you are not familiar with Captain America you may be at a slight disadvantage though the writers worked to fit in the back story of how Steve Rogers became Captain America throughout the film. There was a constant flow of action and excitement, but I found some of the fight scenes were so fast and in close-up that it was hard to make out each character’s actions. With a smart script filled with fun quips, an exciting story filled with surprise twists and a cast that met the physical demands of their roles while keeping solid chemistry between each other; I trust the powers that be will keep the Captain America franchise strong enough to yield more sequels. There were a couple of extra scenes up to the very end of the credits.
3 1/3 stars