Flash Movie Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Eventually over time all bright objects lose some of their glow. As bright as a high noon sun can be, time’s strength with its constant pull draws out the shadows that were tucked away, freeing them to dance across the landscape of one’s life. A smooth taut face will turn and appear like the flapping jowls of a bounding Shar-Pei dog or a centuries old ravaged canyon. Besides youth not staying long in a person’s life, one’s accomplishments can diminish as future generations with their energy and determination restructure the environment. Within some aspects of my life I am familiar with the fading light of a past moment or if you will a past glory. When I was much younger and taught up to 20 aerobic classes a week, I felt I was on top of the world. With each movement choreographed for all the main muscle groups of the body, beside to each beat of selected songs; I felt I was walking onto a Broadway stage for every class. Having upwards of 50 members in a class, working out truly felt like a high energy theatrical production. At this stage of my life I know I could never keep up with my younger self (though I keep trying) and I am okay with it. I do my best not to judge anyone; but in regards to various celebrities, when I see them trying to perform the same way they did in a movie they starred in 15-20 years ago I have to wonder what motivates them.    DECLINING fame was a hard fact to swallow for action movie star Riggan Thomson, played by Michael Keaton (Batman franchise, White Noise). Trying to recapture the spotlight once again; Riggan was launching a staged production that he wrote, directed and planned on starring in. He would have to deal with past events as he sorted through his true feelings. A film festival winner, this surreal comedic drama was outstanding on every level. The cast which also included Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, Magic in the Moonlight) as Sam, Edward Norton (The Illusionist, Fight Club) as Mike and Zach Galifianakis (Due Date, The Hangover franchise) as Jake were all amazing to watch as they handled all the twists and turns the script threw at them. From writer and director Alejandro Gonzalez (Babel, 21 Grams), the story dealt with real feelings and fears even when scenes took on a fantasy nature. Having Michael Keaton star in this movie was brilliant casting since in some circles people have said his best work was during the Batman films. I thought he was incredible in this role. In fact, I expect there will be multiple acting nominations for this film during next year’s Oscar race. Original, thought-provoking, stimulating; this movie was a glorious example for the beauty of filmmaking while showing the downfalls of yearning for one’s past glories.

 

4 stars

Flash Movie Review: The Best of Me

Where some loves recede from our minds like grains of sand in a tide returning to sea, there is one type of love that remains with us. It is our first love; that special moment where the use of singular pronouns turns to plurals. With no one else before had you ever had this unique and fresh relationship; where you were affectionate, kind and loving. The conversations between the two of you remained on a private level and were different then the way you talked with your friends. Possibly for the first time there was someone who got you, understood the reasons behind the way you did things. A first love is never forgotten for it remains nestled in the mind. Not necessarily interfering with your present choices in life, the memory of your first love hangs prominently on a wall of your heart, away from the harsh sunlight of current disappointments, always working in conjunction with your mind. It is funny even when you do find a true love, no matter how long it may take, that first one is always there to remind us like a faint exotic perfume.    TWENTY years had passed before former hight school sweethearts Amanda and Dawson, played by Michelle Monaghan (Gone Baby Gone, Source Code) and James Marsden (Enchanted, X-Men franchise), found themselves face to face due to the death of their friend Tuck, played by Gerald McRaney (Major Dad-TV, The A-Team). Though the two friends had moved on with their lives, there still was an undeniable connection between the two of them as they spent time together in their old hometown. Based on Nicholas Sparks’ (The Notebook, Safe Haven) novel, this dramatic romance followed the same formula as the previous films had done. The story was so predictable even though I never read the book. What I found the most annoying was the syrupy soundtrack that announced the emotions we were supposed to feel for each scene. The acting was okay though I found all of the characters, including Luke Bracey (The November Man, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) and Liana Liberato (If I Stay, Stuck in Love) as the younger Dawson and Amanda, on the same level. I wondered if this was due to the cheesy script and I think that was part of it, but the director did no one any favors. The movie was slow and the scenes never felt complete for me. If you are a fan of his books or maybe I should rephrase that and say; if you are a fan of these movies made from Nicholas’ books, then you probably will want to see this with facial tissue in hand. I am all for a good tearjerker now and then, but this film left me dry.

 

1 1/2 stars

Flash Movie Review: John Wick

It can cut across all age groups. I am not saying it is right nor am I condoning it, even though I have done it myself. If you never acted it out there is a good possibility you have seen someone else do it. Maybe at the beach you saw two little ones building sand castles. I do not know what the attraction is but after the castles were done, one of the little ones kicked the other castle. In turn, the one with the broken castle ran over to the remaining castle and stomped on it. Through my school years I saw so many examples of revenge that sadly it was pretty much the norm. In my day revenge consisted of putting glue on a student’s seat or starting a rumor about them. With the access of the internet we have been exposed to various kinds of revenge and cyberbullying. I remember an incident where I worked at a company that had a boss who was a horrible person. Trust me when I say he was not a nice man; so keeping that in mind, I am going to tell you something that I am embarrassed to reveal. At work one day, late in the afternoon, I went to the restroom. Standing at the urinal I heard a faint cry for help. Looking over by the stalls I caught a glimpse of my boss’ shoes peeking under the only closed door. I pretended I did not hear anything and shut the lights off as I walked out of the bathroom. Back when that happened I knew it was wrong but it felt so good.    REVENGE was the only reason ex-hitman John Wick, played by Keanu Reeves (The Matrix franchise, Devil’s Advocate), came out of retirement. This action thriller had a no-nonsense, take no prisoners approach that was beautifully executed by first time directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. Interesting side note, the two directors were both stuntmen, which explained the focus on physical contact in this movie and I was impressed by it. The fights played out like live video games with precision choreographed movements. Keanu was well suited for this role with its sparse dialog that he delivered in the proper framework, whether it was sadness or sarcasm. Without giving away anything I thought the writers did a brilliant job on what was the motivation that pushed John back into his former line of work. Operating just as well were the actors Michael Nyqvist (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo franchise, Disconnect) as Viggo Tarasov, Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones-TV, The Other Boleyn Girl) as Iosef Tarasov and William Dafoe (Out of the Furnance, The Hunter) as Marcus. This film knew exactly what it wanted to achieve and succeeded. I have to tell you I did not know revenge would be so much fun to watch. There were many scenes that had blood and violence in them.

 

3 1/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: Ouija

There were no commercials or advertisements as far as I could recall. None of the toy shelves at stores carried it. The only thing I can remember was it being the first game I ever played, not counting tag or hide-and-go-seek. The game was handed down to me, taught by my Mother. We would either sit at the kitchen table or on the sofa to play, with only one thing needed: a deck of cards. After she shuffled them she would lay all the cards out face down in rows. Each player would take turns flipping over 2 cards at a time. If they matched, for example 2 threes or 2 queens, the player kept the cards; if not, they would turn the cards face down and the next player would try finding a match. The winner was the one who collected the most cards. I used to love playing this game and eventually started playing it myself to see how long it would take me to match up all the cards. In turn, I taught the next generation after me this card game that had no official name. As time passed and I transitioned to board games with friends, I never showed any of my friends this card game that was done in the family. Not that it was necessarily a secret, it just remained a game one played with a family member. After seeing this film maybe that was a good thing.    BOARD games were supposed to be fun, but not in this horror film. After finding a spirit board, aka Ouija board, a group of friends decided to use it to see if they could find out why a friend of theirs killed herself. They unwittingly introduced a dark, ancient spirit into their lives that only wanted one thing: them. Starting out at a slow deliberate pace, this horror movie never veered from it. First time director Stiles White created a bland, generic piece that seemed to attract only young adults based on who was in the theater with me. If you have never seen a scary movie, then it is possible you may jump a couple of times while watching this picture. With Olivia Cooke (The Signal, Bates Motel-TV) as Laine Morris, Daren Kagasoff (The Secret Life of the American Teenager-TV, Blue-TV) as Trevor and Shelley Hennig (Days of Our Lives-TV, The Secret Circle-TV) as Debbie Galardi being part of the cast, there was no acting worth noting here. Of course having such a poorly written script with no lines worth remembering, the cast could not help but to be boring. I cannot believe I am saying this but a better time would have been to save my money by staying home and playing a game with family and friends. There were several scenes with blood.

 

1 1/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: St. Vincent

There was a time you could find a commune in the heart of a big metropolitan city. It was called an apartment building; I should know, because I grew up in one of them. Everyone knew everyone else in the building; in fact, it was not uncommon for a neighbor to give a quick knock on the back kitchen door and walk right in since we kept our doors unlocked during the day. Before I was able to walk down the stairs by myself I would scoot down them on my backside to visit a neighbor on a different floor. If someone could not get out to the grocery store, they would easily find a resident who was willing to go for them. Babysitting was simple because there were a multitude of parents who would willingly help each other out day or night. I loved growing up in an apartment building though it did spoil me. When I moved out on my own I just assumed all places were similar to my childhood home. Unfortunately that was not the case. From the time I was born to the time I moved, a change starting to take place. It appeared as if the world was moving faster with less time to socialize. I had some new neighbors who would offer a friendly hello; but I had others who barely acknowledged anyone, wearing an uninviting scowl on their face.    RECENTLY divorced mother Maggie, played by Melissa McCarthy (The Heat, Mike & Molly-TV), had no choice but to impose on her next door neighbor Vincent, played by Bill Murray (Lost in Translation, Moonrise Kingdom). At first glance Vincent would be the unlikeliest candidate to babysit anyone’s child. Maggie’s son Oliver, played by newcomer Jaeden Lieberher, would soon find out Vincent was not like any other babysitter he had before. This film festival winning comedy had a lot going for it. Though I have seen Bill in similar roles, he really took charge and owned his character Vincent. He was a fun, wicked character to watch throughout the story. Melissa finally decided to take on a different kind of character; I actually liked the fact she played a straight role here without her usual schtick that she had done in her recent films. Add in Jaeden’s touching performance along with Naomi Watts (The Impossible, King Kong) as Daka and this picture had more to offer than your typical comedy. There were several scenes that were dramatic and moving for me. I may not have had a neighbor living next door to me like Vincent; but I sure would not mind one now after seeing this super film.

 

3 1/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: The Book of Life

As you turn the page of the novel you find an old photograph stuck between the pages. You see a younger you floating across a lake on an inner tube. Immediately memories flood your mind, flushing into your eyes as you can see and remember how the water was so cool and clear on that hot summer day. Absently you scratch your arm in the same spot where you had that reaction to the bug bite you got when you came out of the water. Besides the common things like photographs or hand-me-down objects that trigger one’s memory, I have always been fascinated with how the mind responds to what seems like random items to stimulate a memory. I can hear a couple of musical notes in a certain order and I get catapulted to a wide white concert hall where a full orchestra is in the middle of playing a romantic symphony. When driving through a densely tree lined street, images of a deceased relative well up into my consciousness because they had given me my first ride in a convertible car. The way the sunlight filters through the leaves, creating sparks across my windshield, reminds me of the car ride we had gone on. He had driven us down a long stretch of road so I could feel how the air would whoosh by me, tickling my ears. It seems as if memories of past relatives grow sweeter and softer as I grow older.    DEATH was a place filled with celebrations, happiness and good food in this animated adventure film. Diego Luna (Milk, Elysiom) voiced Manolo, a man who was willing to die for Maria, voiced by Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy). He would have to fight his way through the dead and living worlds if he had any hope of seeing her again. The cool thing about this movie was the way the writers took the subject of death and turned it into a less scary place. I believe the story was based on the holiday Day of the Dead, though I am not familiar with it. For that reason I may have been at a disadvantage in the way I interpreted this movie. Granted some could consider this an odd idea for a children’s film and it did cross my mind as well. I understand how much easier death would be if we were taught to look at it as a celebratory passage in time and this picture did its best in that regard. The writers treated the subject with sensitivity which I could appreciate. However, I did not find anything special or unique about this picture. Yes the visuals were fun to watch and some of the dialog was cute, but I certainly wasn’t blown away like I had been with other animated films. After a short time has passed, I doubt I will have any memories left of me having seen this animated comedy.

 

2 1/2 stars

Flash Movie Review: Whiplash

Praise, what child does not want to hear it for something they did? From sliding down the big boys’ and girls’ slide to showing off their finished crayon coloring of their family’s house; giving approval is a vital element in a child’s development. Having recently been at a playground with two 4 year olds, I could see how my approving comments encouraged them to explore and figure out how to play with the assorted activities that were laid out around them. Praise from one’s family goes only so far as we grow up. Once children are of school age, one hopes they have teachers who can encourage and support any gifts or talents they see within their students. In my schooling the teachers I had went from one extreme to the other in regards to offering praise and encouragement. From starting out with a 7th grade teacher who told me I would amount to nothing if I continued believing I could be a writer to a college professor who pushed me to produce a written story for class each week; I can tell you with certainty that encouragement gave me the confidence I was lacking for so many years prior.    PERFECTION was expected from each student in music instructor Fletcher’s, played by J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man franchise, The Closer-TV), jazz orchestra. All Andrew, played by Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now, Divergent), ever dreamed of was to be one of the great drummers of his time. His hopes jumped up after a chance meeting when Fletcher walked into the school’s practice room where Andrew was drumming. As high as Andrew’s hopes soared, they came crashing down around him on his first day practicing with the orchestra; Fletcher would not want it any other way. As intense as I found the movie Fury to be, this film festival winner had a similar type of intensity in it own way. First of all the acting was simply brilliant by J.K. and Miles; their scenes together were filled with deep, dark, raw emotion. All I will say is I felt their pain. The biggest surprise for me had to do with the writer and director Damien Chazelle (Grand Piano, The Last Exorcism Part II). Based on his film credits I would never have imagined he could create such an amazing piece of work here. Watching this musical drama was like doing a mini marathon; a constant pace filled with brief rest stops and continuous challenges. For me the terrific soundtrack was an added bonus that finished off this film perfectly. By the end of the movie I knew this would be an Oscar contender at next year’s Academy Awards.

 

4 stars

Flash Movie Review: The Judge

The spoken language is not an exact science. Sure there are rules we follow to aid us in communicating with each other; but some choose their words carefully, others say the first thing that pops into their mind. Then there is the inflection, the way we speak our words; some do so with conscious intentions. However, there are times where the intended remarks may come out in a veiled way that leaves them open for interpretation. By using tone, volume and speed to accentuate the words; they can caress a person’s soul like a velvet blanket or prick their heart with the tip of a sharp dagger. Adults seem to be better equipped to decipher what a person is saying to them. Children on the other hand are a whole different matter. They do not have the skills to navigate the convoluted road of language yet. A child proudly handing his parents a report card filled with all A’s and one B for grades thinks something is wrong when he is asked why he received the B and the A’s are ignored. Being told you are not drawing correctly because you are coloring outside the lines can plant the seeds of doubt in the child’s mind that they will never be an artist.    WORDS hit their mark with precision accuracy in this dramatic movie. Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man franchise, The Soloist) played high-powered lawyer and estranged son Hank Palmer. Robert Duvall (Secondhand Lion, The Godfather franchise) played Hank’s father, Judge Joseph Palmer. When evidence from a crime pointed towards his father, Hank’s conflicted feelings would spill out as he tried to determine if his father was guilty. To this film’s credit the cast chosen for the story was ideal. Besides both Roberts, having Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade, Armageddon) as lawyer Dwight Dickham and Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket, Law & Order: Criminal Intent-TV) as Hank’s brother Glen Palmer on board helped to sustain the story. I found all the actors were believable with their characters. The issue I had with this picture was the script; it was uneven and stale. I found some scenes were memorable, filled with high drama; but then, the drama would fall down into sections of boredom. It did not help that the film was way too long. The whole story line involving Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring, Up in the Air) as Samantha Powell went nowhere for me; I thought she was wasted here. From the trailer it appeared this drama would be filled with high tension and intense chemistry between the characters. Sadly, the evidence proved otherwise.

 

2 1/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Fury

Actions reveal more about a person than their words. There are some individuals who use their words as a way to accentuate the meaning of their actions. Throughout my life I have been reminded over and over that actions speak louder than words. Some people are quick to say things they think someone wants to hear as a way to avoid being an active participant with that person. I have noticed however that actions can quickly bond people together. Spending one’s elementary school years with the same classmates connects them in a special way that can remain for a lifetime. When events are of an extreme nature, they have the power to connect people in such a rapid way that solidifies their relationship on a high level. This makes all of the participants act as one unified force. An easy example of this would be any sports team. Having grown up around veterans from every war since world war II, it is quite apparent they have a unique and special bond that is not found among civilians.    ALLIED forces were making their final push through the European landscape in April 1945. Army sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier, played by Brad Pitt (World War Z, Fight Club), and his tank crew had orders to secure and defend a crucial crossroad against the advancing Nazi troops. If they could not successfully carry out their mission, there was a chance the allied forces would suffer a major defeat in their campaign. This action war film was one of the most intense movies I have sat through in a long time. There will be some of you that will not be able to take the assault on their eyes from the intense violence and blood in some of the scenes. Putting that aside, this drama from writer/director David Ayer (End of Watch, Training Day) was so well done; I found myself holding my breath several times out of anxiousness. Brad and the actors who made up his tank crew, Shia LaBeouf (Transformers franchise, Lawless) as Boyd “Bible” Swan, Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson franchise, 3:10 to Yuma) who was the biggest standout as Norman Ellison, Michael Pena (End of Watch, American Hustle) as Trini “Gordo” Garcia and Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Ghost) as Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis were all so good that I totally took them to be soldiers. If there was any fault to this film I felt some of the violence was overdone. Granted I have never been involved with armed conflict but it started to feel excessive, whereas I would have preferred learning more about each solider. That being said, prepare yourself for battle if you are going to see this intense film.

 

3 1/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Prom Night in Mississippi

A grocery store is the perfect example to show you. Within the store the aisles are broken down into categories. As you walk down let us say aisle 3 you find boxes of cereal, each with its own colorful markings to entice you like proud fan-tailed peacocks. Those boxes are grouped together by manufacturers; however, if you keep pushing your cart down the aisle you will find boxes of cereal that have different packaging but the contents are similar to the first group of cereals you passed. You see each box has something in common; except for a slight difference in its properties, every kind of cereal starts out with some type of grain. After the grain is chosen a variety of ingredients are mixed in with the grains. Depending on the amounts, the cooking time and the molds; the cereals will have varying degrees of sweetness, color, shape and texture. Despite these differences all cereals (Yes, I know I am being kind here) provide the same thing: nourishment. It is the same way I think of human beings. Our outer surfaces may vary from person to person, but our insides come with the same common organs such as lungs, liver and heart; though I have come across some individuals where I questioned if they really had a heart. All I am saying is our bodies are simply rented vehicles to keep our true essence contained within us. To judge someone solely based on what they look like is at the very least abhorrently repugnant to me.    BACK in 1997 actor Morgan Freeman (The Dark Knight franchise, The Bucket List) made an offer to the Charleston, Mississippi school board; he would pay all the expenses if the board agreed to have only one prom for the high school seniors. Up until that time the high school held 2 proms, one for its white students and one for the black students. The school board turned Morgan down. In 2008 Morgan, who grew up in Charleston, returned to town to present his offer again. This film festival winning documentary showed what happened when Morgan met with the school board about his proposal. Maybe I am naive but I was stunned while watching this film. I know the world is filled with discrimination; but to see it at the school level, a place of higher learning, was startling for me. Incorporating interviews with the parents, students and officials helped to keep the story moving forward in an important way. I not only felt this movie was worth watching, I also enjoyed being reminded of my own prom; the difference being I did not have to dress up in a tuxedo.

 

3 stars — DVD

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