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
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
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.
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
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
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
Though pretty much everyone wants to be told the truth, not everyone wants to hear it. When asking someone what they think of your new item of clothing, who really wants to hear that it looks ugly or unflattering on you? I realize there may be times where it would serve no useful purpose to tell someone the truth, such as an elderly parent who is in the throws of dementia that one of their children had died. Similarly, a young child at the center of their parents’ bitter divorce does not need to hear all the sordid details about their mother or father, I would think. My friends tell me I am brutally honest to a fault. I am aware what I say can initially seem hurtful; but I expect the same honesty in return. I cannot tell you how many dates I have had where I asked if they would like to get together again and was told yes. For me it is more hurtful when they never return my follow up calls; I would rather be told right at the start that they are not interested. What is the big deal to say no thank you? I would not take it personally since they do not even know me; however, I realize there are some who feel uncomfortable expressing their true feelings. TRUTH did not come about easily in this dramatic crime film based on a true story. Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Hurt Locker) played investigative news reporter Gary Webb, who stumbled onto a story that would affect the standing of the United States Government on a global scale. I vaguely remember parts of this story since there was another noteworthy event taking place around the same time as this one which involved drugs for guns. Along with Jeremy the entire cast which included Rosemarie DeWitt (Men, Women & Children, The Watch) as Gary’s wife Sue, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Die Hard franchise) as Anna Simons and Oliver Platt (Love & Other Drugs, 2012) as Jerry Ceppos, were all outstanding in their roles. The tightly woven scenes produced a continuous flow of suspense that kept me riveted in my seat. I especially enjoyed the insertion of actual film clips into the scenes as the director kept up a steady pace with the filming. There were only a couple of parts that felt slow to me; however, I understood the reasoning since the story was biographical. In fact, it added an extra level of poignancy to this powerful film and that is the truth.
3 1/3 stars
Luck is such a fickle, fluidic vehicle of fate. You cannot depend on it because it is unreliable, at least for some folks. There are terms you may have heard such as, “Born with a lucky horseshoe up their bum” or “If they didn’t have bad luck, they would have no luck at all,” that describe people who seem to be visited frequently by “Lady Luck.” I have noticed that when luck chooses to visit me in a negative way it usually returns in rapid succession once or twice immediately afterwards. Just this past weekend when I was trying to fly back home I wound up being stuck at the airport due to my flight being delayed. Upon the first delay I remembered thinking just my luck, I will have to find something to eat for dinner at the airport. Now someone could say I was lucky to find something to eat; but in my brain, I was upset because a mixed green salad, fruit cup, snack sized bag of chips and a small bottle of water cost me $21.00. When the flight was delayed for the second time I realized I would miss the opportunity to catch a film on the way home after landing. By the 3rd delay I was getting anxious because I did not know if public transportation would still be running. Finally arriving late at night, I missed the train as it pulled out of the station and had to wait 15 minutes for the next one. Finally exiting at my stop it started raining as I walked 20 minutes to my car, parked at my office. I could certainly relate to the main character of this family comedy regarding having a bad day. ALEXANDER, played by Ed Oxenbould (Puberty Blues-TV), was used to having a bad day. However, when his family members all began to experience one of his typical bad days Alexander was not sure they would be able to handle it. Based on Judith Viorst’s book series, this comedic drama stayed at a steady pace thanks to the director. With Steve Carell (The Way Way Back, The Office-TV) and Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club, Valentine’s Day) as Alexander’s parents Ben and Kelly Cooper, the cast was well suited to handle both the comedic and dramatic sides of the story. The trailer was a good representation of the film; the unlucky events were consistent. There was nothing major in a negative way in this movie; I just found it a bit too fluffy for my tastes and a bit predictable. As for the rest of my day afterwards, this movie did not contribute either way in making it a good or bad day.
2 1/3 stars
Sometimes I wish I could have seen the earlier years of a person I have known or recently met. An individual, no matter how hard they have tried, will still act out a particular way based on past interactions from their life. I am sure all of us have had times where we silently wondered why a person was acting a certain way. It could be something as benign as not liking candles or as wicked as mercilessly teasing a cat or dog. I knew someone who rarely gave an opinion about anything. Being asked where they wanted to eat or what movie to see, they could not voice their thoughts, only say whatever or it did not matter. It wasn’t until I happened to meet their parent that I finally saw the reason why they were acting that way. The parent was overbearing and quick to belittle their child. My curiosity goes beyond people in the present; I would enjoy finding out what transpired with historical people, like Napoleon or Catherine the Great, that influenced or molded them that has not been told in our history books. Purely for entertainment value, I find taking liberties with a known character or actual person an acceptable form; look at the success of Wicked, the story about how the Wicked Witch of the West came to be. VLAD III dubbed Vlad the Impaler, played by Luke Evans (Immortals, Fast & Furious III), was an ideal candidate to use to create an action fantasy backstory. Protective of his family and subjects, not wanting to see the children of his kingdom experience what he had as a child, Vlad would have to look beyond his kingdom if he was going to repel the Sultan Mehmed, played by Dominic Cooper (The Devil’s Double, Need for Speed). His search would lead to a force that could even overpower him. The idea for this dramatic story was appealing to me and I found the opening scenes compelling. Joining Luke and Dominic was Charles Dance (Game of Thrones-TV, Gosford Park) as Master Vampire; all three had a strong screen presence. The special effects were not the greatest but were darkly fun to watch. With a good start it was all the more disappointing that the script got sillier and sillier as the film progressed. Seriously, I was stunned that the writers thought the idea of a blindfolded army going into battle was a good idea. Add in the trendy haircut for Dominic’s character Mehmed and this was a movie sorely lacking the guts for a great backstory. There were multiple scenes that had blood and violence.
1 3/4 stars
Deep within the Amazon Jungle I saw a pair of dark, wide eyes peering out at me through dense, overflowing foliage. A separate time I was able to revisit Florence Italy where I had climbed up to the top of Il Duomo di Firenza, the main church of the city. Friends have told me about their ability to see the birth of a child from across the country. They have also told me some of their horror stories involving deceitful people. In the news recently I heard how retail chains were hacked and their customers’ charge card information was stolen.I did not have to listen because I already knew about it when my credit card information was stolen. Until the credit card company called me to verify a purchase that was being done in a different state from where I lived, I had no idea someone had grabbed my information. All of the things I have mentioned so far were made possible by the internet. Ah yes, the internet; where it can take you to far remote spots of the world to witness the discovery of a rare plant, while its evil side robs you of your identity while you sleep. For me, using the internet is akin to relating to someone with a split personality disorder; it can be so rewarding, yet extremely challenging. PEOPLE have to constantly adjust the way they relate to each other due to the power of the internet. Writer/director Jason Reitman (Juno, Labor Day) assembled a large cast of actors for this drama based on the novel, about the twists and turns people must navigate in their daily lives due to the accessibility of the internet. A few of the actors in this film were Adam Sandler (Blended, That’s My Boy) and Rosemarie DeWitt (The Watch, Rachel Getting Married) who played Don and Helen Truby, a married couple looking for something more than they had in their marriage. Jennifer Garner (Draft Day, Dallas Buyers Club) played overprotective mother Patricia Beltmeyer to her daughter Brandy, played by Kaitlyn Dever (Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now). Out of all the actors in this movie the only two that stood out for me were Kaitlyn and Ansel Elgort (Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars) as Tim Mooney. Their story line and acting were the most interesting to me. I found the rest of the cast somewhat dull but considering the script went nowhere it was understandable. For most of this film I sat in my seat being bored. With the absence to a beginning, a middle and defined conclusions to the different story lines I felt I was only seeing bits and pieces of people’s lives; similar to mindlessly surfing the internet for hours.
1 3/4 stars