GOING to someone’s house to share a meal and celebrate a holiday should be an easy thing to do, you would think. Normally you would not be expected to shop for ingredients that the cook needs to prepare the meal, vacuum or clean their whole house; however, you might bring a dish to share or assist in the cleaning process afterwards. All in all it is a relative easy experience. One big factor that could change everything is whether you enjoy the company you will be with for the celebration. Imagine how you would feel if you knew several of the guests there annoy you. THERE was a sense of dread that weighed you down as you pulled up to their house. The hosts were lovely people, sweet and very accommodating to their guests. So their culinary experiments never turn out good; usually there is a total bland taste to the food or at the other extreme, a pungent foul flavor that makes the food barely edible. An easy fix has been to eat something before you show up at their place then eat lightly (and carefully), saying you are not very hungry. At the party the host’s cousin shows up bringing their untrained dog unannounced. The dog is jumping on everyone until it smells the food, then it takes constant monitoring from the guests to make sure this dog does not stand up at the table to grab some food. Another guest that is familiar to you is the man who tells inappropriate jokes at the dining room table. He usually has some prejudiced or sexual comment accompanying his humor. Then there is the narcissist who grabs your attention and will not let you go as they talk on and on about what they recently bought, how much they spent and their recent dating exploits; you see why there is a sense of dread every time you show up to one of these parties. A similar sense of dread welled up in me as I was watching this comedy sequel. STILL drunk and obnoxious Willie Soke, played by Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade, Our Brand is Crisis), could not resist doing another job with the man who tried to kill him. This crime dramedy also starred Kathy Bates (Titanic, American Horror Story-TV) as Sunny Soke, Tony Cox (Oz the Great and Powerful, The Hustle) as Marcus and Christina Hendricks (Life as We Know it, Mad Men-TV) as Diane Hastings. The biggest shock for me was seeing Octavia Spencer (The Help, Fruitvale Station) doing a cameo as Opal and that is all I will say about it. The script for this movie was very basic; the jokes were easy to spot and for the most part were crude. I was quickly bored by the story; not that I am offended by the humor, I just found it uncreative. There may have been a couple of times I chuckled if I remember correctly. If you were a fan of the first film you may have a better time sitting through this sequel. For me the novelty of the first one was not part of this picture. I just had to trudge through to the very end so I could review it.
1 ½ stars
THERE are some people who grow into their identity while there are others who seek out one and take it on. I have become more aware of people’s choices on how they describe themselves and/or how others do it for them. Let me ask you, how often do you hear these days individuals being described as kind, compassionate or sweet? The adjectives I have heard recently are mostly of a negative nature such as racist, workaholic or sexist. Then there are others I have heard that are associated with the person’s career. A banker, a flight attendant; they all seem to come with preconceived notions. AS a matter of fact I know a guy who is a lawyer who used to be a pleasant person. Something about the job changed him however. He turned into all the negative, stereotypical features assumed for a lawyer. He became brusque, cutting off anyone who was not giving him a fast enough answer to his query. Oh and heaven forbid if an item advertised on sale did not ring up the lower price on the cash register; he would cut down the checker who probably had no idea the item was even on sale. It was ugly to watch as he would not let up even when a floor manager would come to override the price. Maybe my small, little world is not representative of society as a whole, but there seems to be a heightened intensity or harshness to people’s personas from what I can tell. I cannot tell if these traits were inherently buried inside the person or outside influences such as career had this effect on them. SUCCESSFUL businesswoman Michele Leblanc, played by Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher, Amour) found her life taking on aspects of her company’s work after she was attacked in her home. This film festival winning dramatic thriller directed by Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Total Recall) was all Isabelle’s stage. She was unbelievable in the role as she dominated over other cast members Laurent Lafitte (Little White Lies, The Crimson Rivers) as Patrick, Anne Consigny (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, A Christmas Tale) as Anna and Charles Bexling (Summer Hours, Ridicule) as Richard Leblanc. Don’t get me wrong they were all good, but Isabelle was amazing as Michele. As for the story all I can say is it was a twisted tale. I found each story line interesting and surprised myself when I came to the realization that 2 of them were in a way mirroring each other. The script was well done, putting in a bit of humor here and there to balance out the levels of intensity. Now I will say there were a few scenes that seemed odd that left me feeling puzzled. It was after the film was over when I thought I figured a couple of them out, but nothing concrete. The subtitles were not a distraction, nor did they interfere with the ability to view the action in the scenes. There were a few scenes of violence that were uncomfortable to watch. This picture did make me wonder if life was imitating art. French was spoken throughout with English subtitles.
MY enjoyment in learning something about a celebrity’s life predominantly comes from only one source. Actually hearing about an individual’s personal experience or shall we say exposure to a celebrity piques my interest. Sure there maybe something reported in the news or entertainment shows; however, I never pay attention to the gossip magazines. Let me show you what I mean without sharing the celebrity’s name just so I do not get sued or something. THERE is a friend of mine who was an extra on a popular television show. He had direct contact with one actor in a scene that had a few extra tapings with different camera angles, over a couple of days. It took place mid morning and my friend told me the actor smelled of alcohol each day before they even started to film. In fact, when my friend was pouring fake drinks for the scene, this actor insisted his drink has real liquor. Now gaining this little insight doesn’t change my opinion of the person unless he does something stupid, like driving, while under the influence. However, if I discover a celebrity is prejudiced against any type of minority I discard them totally. Some of you may already know there are a couple of actors whose films never get reviewed by me because I will not support them in any way, especially by giving them money to see their pictures. Putting that aside, one other thing I get a kick out of are the movies that have for at least part of their story a portrayal of an actual famous person. The fun factor in this comedic drama for me was seeing the “life” of Howard Hughes. RECENTLY transplanted to Hollywood, California Marla Mabrey and Frank Forbes, played by Lily Collins (The Blind Side, Mirror Mirror) and Alden Ehrenreich (Blue Jasmine, Beautiful Creatures), wound up working for the same employer; the famous Howard Hughes, played by Warren Beatty (Bonnie and Clyde, Dick Tracy). Working for the billionaire meant they would have to follow certain rules. This film festival winning romance written and directed by Warren had a great cast of actors such as Matthew Broderick (Glory, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) as Levar Mathis and Candice Bergen (Miss Congeniality, Murphy Brown-TV) as Nadine Henly. I thought the sets and costumes were accurate and visually pleasing. As for the story there were parts of it that captured the essence of those madcap comedy films from the 1940s; however, there were times where the script got bogged down. It felt like there was so much going on that the viewer was only getting the highlights of the characters’ lives. I found the story line involving Howard to be more entertaining; in turn, a stronger presence on screen in my opinion. Maybe because of my interest in real life individuals I was more interested in Warren’s scenes, though I thought he did a good job of acting. Just now it occurred to me that Warren’s kinetic performance partially mirrored the pacing at times during this film. Overall I enjoyed watching this movie, wondering if any of the scenes involving Howard Hughes were based on any real life events besides the obvious ones shown.
2 ½ stars
A feeling comes over you, familiar in an unpleasant way. Your body has overpowered your mind, making its presence known to distract you from your surroundings. There is a weight pressing on top of you that makes your body slump back but there is nowhere else to go in the space you are occupying. What started out soft around you is becoming stiff and unyielding. The images being shown are unfamiliar, but something about them triggers a memory. Thoughts from the past may be from a different place and a different time, but there is a budding familiarity that cannot be translated in your mind yet to make sense. And one of the most dominant changes has to do with time. YOU were aware of the length of time this experience would take before you entered into the place; in the scheme of things being occupied for a couple of hours would be nothing for you. In this instance time has slowed down to a crawl as if the turn key on the alarm clock is making its last rotation before the second hand comes to a complete stop. I have experienced such an event sporadically and every time I walk into a movie theater I do my best not to pre-judge a movie I am about to see. However with today’s film review I was tipped off; so to remain totally transparent, I want to tell you prior to going to this movie, I had read the film studio did not release this picture early to the film critics. In my experiences this has never been a good thing; I have always assumed the studio knows they have a poor product and wants to try and get it out and earn some money before word spreads, sealing the fate of their dud. This is what happened to this movie, at least in my opinion. VATICAN representative Camilia, played by Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace, Fast Food Nation), felt only one person could help in determining if a young boy named Cameron, played by David Mazouz (The Games Maker, Gotham-TV), was truly being possessed by an evil being. Scientist Dr. Seth Ember, played by Aaron Eckhart (Bleed for This, Thank You for not Smoking), was her choice because he had a unique way of entering a person’s mind. This horror thriller also starred Carice van Houten (Repo Man, Game of Thrones-TV) as Lindsay and Emjay Anthony (Bad Moms, Krampus) as Jake; the acting was nothing special though it was obvious Aaron and Carice were trying their best with the lines given to them. I thought the script was a mess with the various story lines that were not followed through in a complete way. The story was basic and one that had been done many times before, so to stand out this film needed a different angle. I was bored for most of this picture and have to tell you the few special effects were laughable with their poor quality. Honestly, this film came across like a school class’ amateur production. At the end of the film I was weighed down with tiredness, wondering how long did I suffer through this movie.
1 ¼ stars
THERE is nobody I know who wants to hear “bad” news. I do not think anyone would like to receive such news. What I find interesting is the way people react to such news. There are families who do not acknowledge news of a loved one’s illness. They may hear a relative was diagnosed with cancer but they do not know how to react or act on such news. The relative may go on their journey towards death without having the support and love of their family members, not out of hate only ignorance, who do not know how to make things better. Sadly you cannot always make things better; however, lending an ear or bringing a cup of ice chips to the dying relative could make a world of difference. WHEN it comes to the general public I am not sure if “bad” news is always reported honestly by the media. Sure they are quick to report a tragedy, let us say an earthquake or flood, but the focus seems to go to what will grab a viewer’s attention or heart strings. A small child saved from the roof of their home would make good story; but not an individual who was struck with a debilitating injury from the catastrophic event, who will no longer be able to perform their job, facing a life of poverty. Now I know there have been times where this is not the case, just recently seeing these “Go Fund Me” pages would be an example of getting the word out. I think the influx of reality television shows and the various social media outlets have warped people’s perceptions of basic truth. It is because of this movie that I have been thinking about this subject. We may want to only celebrate and focus on the positives, but the reality may not always match the cheering. RETURNING to the states for a short victory tour Billy Lynn, played by relative newcomer Joe Alwyn, had one person who did not want him going back overseas after the celebrations; his sister Kathryn, played by Kristen Stewart (Café Society, Still Alice). This film festival winning war drama directed by Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Taking Woodstock) was filmed by a new process using a high frame rate. It made this picture look like a live television show is the only way I can describe it. Personally I found it a big distraction and did not like the look it created on screen; there was a harsh sharpness to the scenes, but that is simply my tastes. With Garrett Hedlund (Pan, Unbroken) as Dime, Steve Martin (The Pink Panther franchise, Cheaper by the Dozen franchise) as Norm and Vin Diesel (The Last Witch Hunter, Fast & Furious franchise) as Shroom; the acting was good but the script did not provide enough for the actors. At times there were scenes of brilliance but then another scene would fall flat. I did not think the story offered much for the viewers; I was left with a bored feeling, wishing I knew more about certain characters and their motivations. Overall the viewing aspect was not pleasant to me and if this technique of shooting a film is going to be a reality, then I want fantasy.
1 ¾ stars
FOUR years attending the same school taught me more about social dynamics than any of my classes. I am not sure this applies to every school; but going into high school I was not prepared for the pecking order that was established for the student body. It could easily have been called a caste system because there were the “haves and have nots.” Within a short time one group that quickly formed were the popular kids. This class was made up of jocks, cheerleaders and anyone who the majority of students deemed beautiful or handsome. From my experience this was the alpha group. STUDENTS with the best grades, who did not qualify for the alpha group, formed their own clan known as the “brainiacs” aka smart students. Now this group used their collective intellect to thwart the jock group as a counterbalance to their top status. This group tended to be more receptive in allowing classmates to join them. If one was not fit for either of these two groups then there was a lower status group known as the “good students.” Though not as high in status, the students in this group never got in trouble, did nothing to standout in an inappropriate way or clash with any of the other groups. Continuing down the food chain so to speak there is the group referred to as the stoners. For anyone displaying behavior associated with drunkenness or high on drugs, this was their group. They did not care about the status of the other groups, barely acknowledged them or did not care at all. There are sub groups and such but down at the bottom were the leftovers in the student body and they were considered the losers. The kids in this group had to be on guard because they could be easy targets for any of the other groups. The toughest part of this caste system was trying not to carry it with you as your time served was ending. ALREADY not feeing connected to her fellow classmates Nadine, played by Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, Begin Again), at least had one good friend. However that was not going to be enough considering her brother Darian, played by Blake Jenner (Everybody Wants Some, Glee-TV), was a star football player. This coming of age comedic drama was not like the other films that have been done in this category. With Woody Harrelson (Out of the Furnace, Now You See Me franchise) as Mr. Bruner, Kyra Sedgwick (Gamer, The Closer-TV) as Mona and Hayden Szeto (The Unbidden, Chop Shop-TV) as Erwin; this cast not only performed well together, they appeared authentic in a modern way. My experiences both helped and hindered my involvement into the story. On one hand I understood the dynamics perfectly, but then some of the scenes did not seem real to me only because I had never encountered them when I was in school. There were a couple of times that my disbelief took over which lost the scene for me. However the acting was sharp as was the script; so I was able to get back on track with the story. Having seen this movie only confirmed my belief that high school is not meant for the weak.
FOR many people only fond memories resurface when they travel back to their old neighborhood. The discount store that had the best penny candies, the shoe store with the jovial shoe clerk who told the best stories, the house where one’s best friend lived; there could be many places that bring a smile to one’s face. But not everyone may have a similar experience when they go back home. There are some people who tentatively traverse the streets that are fraught with landmines of dark emotions. RECENTLY I had to travel back to my old neighborhood, the place where I grew up. The street I lived on looked the same except several houses on the block were painted in different colors. The tree in the alley next to my home, where I would climb up to hide, was no longer there; it was replaced with recently poured concrete to add parking spaces. My secret place to hide at school was in one of its parking lots; it was still there. I would wait inside until I felt everyone in the school had gone home for the day, before venturing out from it. Driving east I passed a place that was a few houses down from a relative’s place. That spot nearby was where one time I did not get to their home in time before being attacked. I continued on until the street ended at the beach. Here is where I started developing my creative side, building elaborate sand castles and forts. Alas, some of them were meant to fall once the tide came in. No matter which way one looks at it, each neighborhood has its share of good and bad memories. RETURNING home due to the death of his brother Joe, played by Kyle Chandler (The Wolf of Wall Street, Zero Dark Thirty); Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck (Out of the Furnace, The Finest Hours), was stunned to find out he was made the guardian of Joe’s son Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom, Kill the Messenger). There was a problem, Lee did not want to move back home. This film festival winning drama had some of the best acting I have seen this year. Casey, Lucas and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Blue Valentine) as Randi Chandler were so good together that my heart ached. The atmosphere for this movie was one of sadness and depression; however, the script was smartly written to allow Patrick to act like a typical high school boy. I enjoyed the scenery of the east coast and never felt the camera work was intrusive. There were a couple of spots where I found the story deflated a bit, but seriously the acting in this picture could get a few nominations this awards season. Let me reiterate this was not a happy story; but it was a moving experience, especially the way the story unfolded. Even if the distance is far, it would be worth your time to travel over to the neighborhood in this winning film.
3 2/3 stars
AFTER seeing and experiencing it with my own eyes, I understand the reasons why one should not make any major changes in one’s life during an upheaval. The big life changers one could experience are divorce/breakup, relocation or job loss. I had a job for some years at a company that went through a downsizing and my position was eliminated. One of the first things I thought I needed to do was put my house up for sale. Luckily a friend talked me out of it. Eventually I did find a new job and was grateful I had listened to my friend. THERE is a friend of mine who tended to make rash decisions in her life. After being with her boyfriend for several years they broke up; she took it very hard. I made myself available, being her support during the difficult time. Well imagine my shock when she told me in a relative short time she had met someone. I thought maybe this would be a distraction for her to pick herself up and move on; however, within several weeks she comes to tell me she is getting married. Carefully I chose my words to her and asked a few questions about her reasons and such, but nothing deterred her pending nuptials. You might have figured out by now where this story is going. The wedding was lovely, small and intimate with lots of flowers everywhere. But just as flowers have a short lifespan so did this marriage. After 3 or 4 years they got divorced and from the stories she told me I was surprised the relationship did not end sooner. So you see when it comes to big lifetime events, I feel they need to sit out and ripen like a beautiful piece of fruit to yield the strongest taste. ASSIGNED to a secret mission in North Africa intelligence officer Max Vatan and French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour, played by Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, World War Z) and Marion Cotilard (The Immigrant, Inception), had to pose as a married couple for the plan to succeed. They did not realize emotions could rise during wartime. This action drama drew me early into its story. With Jared Harris (Lincoln, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) as Frank Heslop, I thought the acting was good; though it became obvious Marion was the best out of the group. The buildup of action was well done by director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future franchise, Flight). As for the sets, scenery and costumes; they were picture perfect, adding a beautiful style to the romantic aspects of the film. Unfortunately by the midway point the story started to fizzle out. I felt the picture needed more intense drama. Part of this I believe fell on Brad and Marion; there was some chemistry between them but I felt for this story they needed to smolder and burn brightly. Together they were more like two candles instead of a blazing fire. As the last half of the movie played out I found my mind started to wander which is never a good sign. I had to think about the rating I would give to this film since I liked the first part better than the second and I never want to make a rash decision.
2 ½ stars
THERE is no shame in having or wanting a savior in one’s life. Depending on what has or could happen there is nothing wrong with getting help. Imagine an individual who had been unlucky in love to the point where they shut down their heart, putting up ironclad walls around it, to avoid any more pain. Then unexpectedly someone comes along who has the magic key to unlock the heart’s defenses, releasing the pent up love to be shared by two. Wouldn’t you say that person with the key was a savior. I know the word savior is used in a religious context, but it also can refer to a hero. The funny thing about heroes I have noticed has been the change or to be more precise the evolution of what is a hero today. YEARS ago heroes were considered to be handsome and male. At least it was in the movies, which was a reflection of the public’s perceptions of a hero. They were usually virile masculine figures who rode in to save the day. If you do not believe me just take a look at the animated films Cinderella and Snow White. As perceptions changed so did our heroes. They soon were not always the epitome of beautiful or handsome and more importantly they were not always male. One of my early saviors was a woman, so I was glad to see gender was finally being taken out of the equation regarding heroes. Some of you might remember the hoopla in the press surrounding the first American female astronaut. And there might be several of you out there who remember when the Starship Enterprise was commanded by a female captain. The times are changing and in this animated comedy there is a new hero to add to the list and her name is Moana. HOPING to correct a wrong that has plagued her father’s village; Moana, voiced by newcomer Auli’I Crava, set off across the sea on a perilous journey. This comedy adventure story was set in ancient Polynesia and I have to tell you the animation was an outstanding palette of colors. With Dwayne Johnson (Central Intelligence, Pain & Gain) voicing Maui, Rachel House (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Whale Rider) voicing Gramma Tala and Temuera Morrison (Star Wars franchise, Once Were Warriors) voicing Chief Tui; the stars of this film were Auli’I and Dwayne. Auli’I had a beautiful singing voice which had the good fortune of singing songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, Into the Heights). As for Dwayne his comic timing added a fun element to his character and the story. I thought the script was well written and appreciated the influence of real mythology into the story. Overall there was a familiar template that was followed for these types of animated films but truthfully I did not mind it much. I think the message it was conveying was a worthy and important one that demonstrated the image of a female hero. Except for one scene that might be scary for very young children, this film would be something the entire family could enjoy. So feel free to be a hero for suggesting this fun film.
3 ¼ stars
AFTER so many years teaching in the health industry you would think there is nothing left to surprise me these days. It is not often I encounter a long distance runner but when I do I still am fascinated by the person’s dedication/determination. Personally there is no way I would let my feet pound pavement that long. And if that is not enough reason to avoid running, the individuals who run outside in winter simply baffle me. There was one person I spoke with who ran every day no matter what the weather was outside. They had to get new running shoes every three months. I asked one time what they got out of running every day and they said it was peace of mind. If there was one day they could not run, they felt oft-kilter the entire day. On a certain level I had to admire the person’s drive. DO you know how you can see traits in other people that you do not recognize in yourself? Regarding my film reviews, everyone who knows me knows I have to be at the movies over the weekend. When talking to a friend about getting together I cannot tell you how many times I have said I need to see a movie first. The response I get from them is this, “You do know you do not HAVE to go; you choose to go.” I usually say it is my job because that is how I look at writing reviews; the best job by the way. The way my mind is wired this is something that I have to do. Some of you might remember when I first started posting reviews my goal was to write one review a day for 365 days and I achieved that goal. Afterwards I posted comments that going forward there would be times where I would miss posting a review; there was no need to worry. I dialed back to find balance once again in my life. It is funny how I realized I am no different than a marathon runner; we both have the drive and determination. It has given me a whole new appreciation for anyone who single mindedly has a need to achieve something. BASED on a true story world champion boxer Vinny Pazienza, played by Miles Teller (War Dogs, Fantastic Four), did something no one believed he could every do. Evidently no one knew the drive Vinny had to achieve his goal. This dramatic sport story worked because of its amazing cast. Besides Miles there was Aaron Eckhart (Sully, My All American) as Rooney and Katey Sagal (Married with Children-TV, Sons of Anarchy-TV) as Louise who were both on par with Miles. I was not familiar with this biographical story but I have to say it truly was incredible. What was missing for me was more detail in the script. We all have seen boxing movies and this one had a basic floor plan that was a bit predictable. I would have appreciated more details into Vinny’s life and family life. As it stood, the movie was interesting though there were scenes that had blood and violence in them. As I mentioned earlier it was the acting that made this film and with seeing this story, one has to admire this boxer’s determination.
2 ¾ stars