Some of the best family stories are the ones that border on the edge between reality and fantasy. With so many storytellers in my family telling and rehashing family events, one has to question the validity of the tales being told. One story I remember hearing had to do with a great uncle of mine. Furious at a nephew who was mistreating another nephew of his, my great uncle broke into the house of his nephew, catching him in the middle of taking a bath. It did not stop my great uncle. He went right up to him, pointed a gun at his head and told him to leave the other nephew alone. My great uncle turned around and walked out of the bathroom, leaving the frightened nephew sitting in a ever expanding pool of yellowed water. Now how much of that was true, I will never know. Truthfulness aside, I love the use of story telling to pass down a family’s history through each generation. Oscar nominated writer/director Sally Polley (Mr. Nobody, Dawn of the Dead) had a gold mine of family stories to sift through in making this remarkable documentary. Using actual footage and reenactments of family events alongside interviews with family and friends, the film was not your typical documentary; it played like a good dramedy with a wild story. Sally’s mother was a colorful Canadian celebrity which I found funny when compared to Sally’s deadpan style of interviewing. It was fascinating to see where the line of questions started and where they wound up taking Sally and her family, delving into the history of the rumors and tales each had heard growing up. As I watched this movie I was reminded of a children’s game called “Telephone.” It is a game where a group of kids sit in a circle and one child whispers a message into the next child’s ear. Then each proceeding child whispers the message to the next one until the message makes its way back to the first child’s ear. The message always evolved into something else as it was whispered along. I was thoroughly entertained by Sally and her family. If for no other reason than to listen to another family’s story.
3 1/2 stars
Everyone has a breaking point; it is just the reactions that are different. Some people quietly remove themselves from the situation that pushed them over the edge; others may explode with anger. I have been working to separate myself from the latter group, trying to teach myself to walk away when I get angry. It has not been easy. When I get pushed past my breaking point a floodgate opens up, releasing years of stored anger and hurt that sears through my veins before erupting out of my mouth. If I am fortunate to have a friend with me, who has the ability to read my face and see the subtle telltale signs of my transformation, they will try to diffuse the situation before I go over to the dark side. Age may have something to do with it, because as the years have gone by the intensity levels have diminished. I cannot say the same thing for the main character in this crime mystery, inspired by true events. A talented actor was needed for this role and Ryan Gosling (Drive, Gangster Squad) was eerily perfect playing David Marks. Son of real estate magnate Sanford Marks, played by Frank Langella (Robot & Frank, Frost/Nixon), David did not want anything to do with the family business. He thought he could succeed on his own when he met Katie, played by Kirsten Dunst (Upside Down, Melancholia), a tenant in one of the family’s buildings. Settling into what appeared to be an idyllic life with Katie, it would not take long before mounting pressures pushed David to the brink. In one of her best performances, Kirsten was wonderful playing an intelligent woman of simple means who experiences life on a new level. Frank was great as he oozed with entitlement playing the chairman and demanding father. I wished the script would have been better because there were spots int the story that I found perplexing. Not that I was bored at all; the powerful acting kept me watching what essentially was a love story mixed with a murder mystery. There is a fine line between rational and irrational behavior. It all depends on where we place the breaking point. A couple of brief scenes with blood.
2 3/4 stars — DVD
No matter what profession a person has studied in, they could have graduated at the top or bottom of their class. Even with my high regard for the teaching profession, the same holds true. I have had an assortment of teachers that ran the spectrum from inspirational to looney. There was one teacher I had who was an alcoholic. When he walked into the classroom with a beet red face, all the students knew he had been out drinking somewhere. A scandal was caused when my social studies teacher started an affair with one of the gym teachers. Out of all my teachers, my 7th grade teacher was the most bizarre. She avoided talking to students by keeping a pack of flash cards with her at all times. I do not know if she had the cards specifically made for her, because they each had different messages such as “Bring that to me” or “Please sit down and stop talking.” All I can say is, there are some teachers who are mentors and there are some who should have never chosen teaching as a career. In this dark mysterious comedy from France, the instructor took his mentoring to an extreme. Fabrice Luchini (The Women on the 6th Floor, Paris) played Germain, a frustrated writing teacher. When student Claude Garcia, played by Ernst Umhauer (The Monk), showed talent in his writing, Germain encouraged the young man to explore and push the topic further. However the subject happened to be Claude’s classmate Rapha, played by newcomer Bastien Ughetto, and his parents Esther and Rapha Sr., played by Emmanuelle Seigner (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Ninth Gate) and Denis Menochet (Robin Hood, Inglourious Basterd)s. When boundaries get pushed to create good story, consequences cannot be too far behind. I found parts of the story witty and amusing, enjoying Fabrice’s performance and that of Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient, Gosford Park) as his wife Jeanne. There were some sections of the story that seemed too crazy to even be possible. I would be the first one to praise the teaching profession; I just would not use the teacher in this movie as an example. French with English subtitles.
I would have been angrier if I had seen this documentary a few years ago. Having survived the global financial crisis of 2008, I know I am one of the lucky ones. Seeing co-workers being let go, consoling friends who lost their homes to foreclosure, worrying about uninsured family members with health issues; I do not recall ever being so overwhelmed with all the negative news. Every generation grows up with the expectation to have an easier life than the previous group. For the very first time in modern history that is no longer the case. Because the wealthiest group of people make up only a small percentage of the population, the average citizen may not have an understanding of derivatives or credit default swaps; I certainly have no need to pay attention to such things. However, I do know what the words greed, selfish and power hungry mean. This Oscar winning film presented the crisis in laymen’s terms without choosing political sides. Not that I now understand the financial markets any better, but at least I can see how people’s thirst for money and power nearly brought down the world economy. The hardest part was seeing how these people barely suffered the consequences of their actions. Director and writer Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight) did an incredible job piecing together the events that led up to the financial meltdown of 2008. Matt Damon (Promised Land, Contagion) was the narrator, taking us through charts and interviews with politicians, economists, professors and former chairmen to name a few. Now you may think this all sounds like it would be dry and boring to watch; it was not the case. I credit the style of questioning that was done. Interviewees were either asked straightforward questions or requested to comment on their past speeches and published articles. I will say there were times I liked seeing some of these individuals squirm when their past conclusions or actions ran contrary to current facts. There is nothing I can do to change the past; I can only use history as a teaching tool as I try to live each day in a responsible way. It was a shame other people did not have the same idea.
4 stars — DVD
It is not necessarily based on their outer appearance or what they may have said, you just get a negative feeling about the person. Though there was little talk about it, there was a boy in grade school who did mean things to animals. I knew to keep my distance from him. My instinctive radar has helped me steer clear of evil people through my adult life. There have been times where I have met someone and immediately got a negative reaction from them. Looking into their eyes is how I confirm the feeling. If I see a dark murkiness in there eyes, where light does not reflect off of the surface; I know there is something festering inside of them that is cold and brutal. To give you an example, take a look at the star of this crime thriller, Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, Mud) as Richard Kuklinski. Michael is such a gifted actor; his performances always come with a deep intensity. Based on a true story, Richard Kuklinski was hired as a contract killer by crime boss Roy Demeo, played by Ray Liotta (Identity, Smokin’ Aces). The movie followed Richard’s dual life: doting father and loving husband during the day and cool killer at night. Winona Ryder (Black Swan, Edward Scissorhands) was wonderful playing Richard’s wife Deborah, who was completely unaware of her husband’s real profession. Though the script was weak in telling the story fully, the incredible acting kept everything moving forward. With Ray matching his acting intensity to Michael’s skills, I was never bored. In addition to these stellar actors there was Stephen Dorff (Public Enemies, Blade) as Joey Kuklinski, an almost unrecognizable Chris Evans (The Avengers, Sunshine) as Mr. Freezy and Davide Schwimmer (Nothing But the Truth, Friends-TV) as Josh Rosenthal. Each of their performances contributed to the overall tour de force acting done in this film. Playing the deep duality of a ruthless killer and family man should earn Michael Shannon an Oscar nomination in my opinion. Whether it is from birth, childhood or environment; there are people who are simply evil. I have seen this evil and it was in Michael’s wicked performance of a cold heartless killer. Multiple scenes had violence and blood.
When the opportunity presents itself I take a drive through the neighborhood where I grew up. I see ghosts of my youth everywhere I look. Playing hide & seek or selling lemonade on the corner, my memories waken from a long sleep. They are refreshed and vivid allowing me to visit with the younger me, showing events that contributed to who I would become as an adult. It is that history that reminds me how I currently arrived at this point in my life. Director J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Lost-TV) treated the history of Star Trek with the utmost respect for this 2nd movie in the relaunched franchise. The story was brilliant as we found the Enterprise crew back on Earth, unaware they would encounter a dangerous villain close to home. Besides Chris Pine (This Means War, Unstoppable) as James T. Kirk and Zachary Quinto (Margin Call, Heroes-TV) as Spock, there was the addition of Peter Weller (RoboCop, the Hard Easy) as Marcus and Benedict Cumberbatch (War Horse, Atonement) as John Harrison. In this go around; the characters were more complex, filled with deeper feelings. Zachary was so incredible that I forgot about Leonard Nimoy for the moment, the original Spock. Chris earned my respect with what he did in this movie. I could almost hear William Shatner cursing at Chris’ exemplary performance. The nonstop action was exciting and evenly balanced to allow flourishes of drama and honestly, giving the movie goers a chance to catch their breath. I cannot add anything further to this review without giving away hints to the plot. Hopefully when people talk about this movie and they will, they do not say much about the story or cast. The added suspense, at least for me, made the time fly by. Also, I felt emotionally spent. Whether you grew up in the world of Star Trek or not will not make much of a difference in loving this film. History is what makes us who we are today; I tip my hat to the current custodian of the historical vaults of Star Trek, J.J. Abrams. A nice touch in the beginning of the credits. There were brief scenes with blood in it.
3 2/3 stars for Trekkies 3 1/2 stars for non-Trekkies
When I hear the words “I want you to meet my family” a sense of dread begins to creep up on me. I know it goes with the territory when you are in a relationship and things are going good, but meeting family and friends is like taking an exam. You get graded on several categories from appearance to job history to personality. I find it stressful and depending on who is doing the testing determines the intensity of the questioning. I have found the easiest group to meet are the brothers. They are the most laid back and usually only care about finding out what common interests we share. However, watch out for the oldest brother; he tends to be more protective. The toughest group is a toss up between the sisters and the best friend(s). These two sects have no qualms grilling for detailed information as they literally stare you down. More than likely the best friend will reveal an embarrassing tidbit about the person you love. Be careful, because they are only telling you so they can judge your reaction. If you react in a positive way when hearing about an embarrassing incident involving someone they dated, the best friend will consider you in a negative light. From my years going through this interviewing process, there was nothing I found new or funny in this comedy. Craig Robinson (The Pineapple Express, The Office-TV) played Wade Walker, who wanted to meet his girlfriend Grace Peeples’, played by Kerry Washington (Django Unchained, Ray), family. For some reason Grace had been hesitant to introduce him, so Wade decided to surprise her by showing up at her parents’ front door. I was embarrassed for S. Epatha Merkerson (Lackawanna Blues, Law & Order-TV) playing the mother Daphne and David Alan Grier (Jumanji, In Living Color-TV) playing the father Virgil. There was no originality in this film except for Craig’s dancing. I did not mind him in his role, but I was surprised Kerry agreed to do this movie. It just seemed too low brow for her to waste her time and talent. Either, I have been introduced to too many family members and friends in my dating experiences or this film had stale and unfunny humor in it. Which one do you suppose is the correct answer?
1 2/3 stars
Wisdom comes with age and if that is the case then I am still a teenager. Well at least it does when it comes to my driving since I visited South and North Dakota, where they have no posted speed limits. If no one is in the car with me, I am an assertive driver. I cannot understand why cars want to keep getting in my way. Now before you think I am some reckless maniac, I at least do not text or brush my teeth in the car. Except for the driving thing, I was never one for acting out in public. Who knew how true it was when my folks, along with my aunts and uncles, told me I would understand when I got older. If I only had the sense back then that I think I have now. After seeing this dramatic thriller, I wondered if the characters could say the same thing. I do not know if it had to do with not being a party animal or part of the popular group, but I felt old watching this movie. The parties I attended in high school and college were nothing like the ones shown here. Chace Crawford (The Covenant, Gossip Girl-TV) was drug dealer White Mike. Ever since his mother died of cancer, White MIke had stayed on the fringe with his peers. He purposely kept his childhood friend Molly, played by Emma Roberts (Nancy Drew, Wild Child), in the dark about his drug dealing, telling her he worked at his father’s restaurant. When his cousin was murdered, White Mike’s life began to unravel, the effects being felt all around him. I found individual scenes interesting; but when pieced together with Kiefer Sutherland’s (24-TV, The Reluctant Fundamentalist) narration, the drama waned. The acting was decent from Chace and Emma, along with Rory Culkin (Signs, You Can Count on Me) as Chris, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (Real Steel, Morning Glory) as Lionel and Esti Ginzburg (Movie 43) as Sara Ludlow. Part of the problem was director Joel Schumacher’s (The Phantom of the Opera, Phone Booth) reliance on the story being told to us instead of showing it. If teenagers really act like they did in this film, then I am glad I am old. A couple of brief scenes with blood.
2 stars — DVD
There has not been a wedding I have attended where there was not at least one character in the crowd. It never fails that there is one person who has had too much to drink. Since I am a people watcher, I am fascinated with what people wear to such occasions. I remember attending a wedding ceremony where I swear a woman was dressed up like an entertainer from a gentleman’s club; if you get my drift. There has been several wedding receptions where one person refuses to sit near someone else, making the wedding planners crazy as they try to accommodate the requests. These days I attend these functions assuming I will be getting dinner and a show. In this romantic comedy I felt I was one of the guests at the affair. The difference was I did not know a single soul. However, by the end of the movie I knew a lot about those in attendance. Pierce Bronson (The Ghost Writer, After the Sunset) played British company owner Philip. His son Patrick, played by Sebastian Jessen (Nothing’s All Bad, Rich Kids), was engaged to marry sweet Danish woman Astrid, played by Molly Blixt Egelind (Okay, Fighter). Finished with her last treatment for cancer; Astrid’s mother Ida, played by Trine Dyrholm (A Royal Affair, The Celebration), was well enough to travel to the wedding taking place in Italy. Ida was going alone since she refused to travel with her husband Leif, played by Kim Bodnia (Bleeder, Pusher). Maybe it was because I was not related to either family, but I had a good time watching this film. The fact that it was mostly filmed in Italy did not hurt either–the scenery was breathtaking. There was more heft to the story than the usual romantic comedy movies I have seen. Trine’s face was so expressive that I could feel her emotions. The chemistry between her and Pierce had a mature realness. Except for Patrick’s aunt and cousin, I thought the writers created believable characters, while avoiding cheap humor for a quick laugh. Just like a real wedding, this film gave me a reason to laugh, to shed a tear and to smile; I was glad I attended. Some Danish and Italian with English subtitles.
Pushing the human body towards its ultimate limit is a marvel to witness. Whether it is a performer from Cirque du Soleil, an athlete competing at the Olympic Games or a senior citizen; I admire a person’s dedication in asking their body for more. Watching a gymnast or a ballet dancer, the control they have over their body amazes me. When I think how each muscle has to fire up in unison, withstand an opposing force and contain the applying pressure; it truly is mind blowing. This is one reason why I can sit down and watch a martial arts movie; there is a certain physical art created by the fighting scenes. In this film, the story was predictable but I did not care. I do not recall ever seeing the martial art of Muay Thai; so, this movie surprised me. The story was about a bad man who dealt in stolen Buddhas. When the head of a village’s Buddha was stolen; the village leader sent Ting, played by Tony Jaa (The Protector, The Bodyguard), to Bangkok to retrieve it. The straight forward story was really only a map to go from one fight scene to the next. First I have to say I got a kick out of the retro look used for the fight scenes. I am sure it was unintentional since this movie was made in 2003. No wires or CGI effects; Tony Jaa was unbelievable with his flexibility, his power and his tumbling ability. I felt I was watching a little bit of Jet Li mixed in with Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal. In addition, showing some of the same martial art moves from different camera angles was a great idea. I chose to watch this DVD in English so I did not have to miss the action by reading the subtitles. The only problem was listening to the ridiculous dialog with the exaggerated inflections. I considered turning the sound off at one point. Compared to some of the current martial arts films, where the fights are meticulous to the point of being sanitized; this gritty, raw throwback was fun to watch. You have to admire the power a body can generate. Several scenes with blood in it. Thai with English subtitles.
2 1/2 stars — DVD