After all the different styles and methods I have seen, I have to wonder if it comes down to just doing your hardest and wishing for the best when it comes to raising children. When I was a child I used to hear adults say so and so is a bad kid; now when a child is acting up I hear adults say the parents are bad. Sadly I still see some parents hit their children or make outrageous, unrealistic demands on them. Things like, “If you do that one more time I will take all your toys away and burn them,” or “If you take 2 more bites of your food, I will give you $5.00;” yes, I have actually heard these comments. Now I do not want to paint a dire picture here; I have witnessed some solid well thought out child rearing techniques. There was a person I knew who when it came to potty training her child explained the benefits of using the bathroom. She also talked about the negative aspects of walking around in a dirty diaper. I was fascinated by the discussion and the child’s reaction. When the child was told no one would want to play with her if she was wearing a dirty diaper, the child forgot her fears and started telling her mother every time when she had to go to the bathroom. I found it extraordinary since I had never seen that technique before. As for the methods used in teaching the children in this comedic drama, they were as foreign to me as the present world would be for them. HOLED away in the Pacific Northwest Ben, played by Viggo Mortensen (The Road, The Lord of the Rings franchise), was teaching his 6 children how to survive in their little corner of the world. The skills the family was learning could only teach them so much. This film festival winner allowed Viggo to shine in his role as the father. Not that the other actors such as Frank Langella (Robot & Frank, The Ninth Gate) as Jack, Ann Dowd (Side Effects, Garden State) as Abigail or George MacKay (Defiance, How I Live Now) as Bo were less skilled; they all blended well together just like the kids did in this drama. The beginning of the story started out a bit slow for me; I felt like it needed more action. However as things moved along I started to appreciate what the script was laying out for the characters. Let me add the drama increased when Frank’s character Jack came into the picture. I felt the intensity building in the story and admired the range of emotions Viggo performed. With the story lines and buildup that took place I was somewhat disappointed at the ending. I may have been reacting to a particular character, but I sort of felt I was wishing for something different to happen. Nonetheless I can see this story being a catalyst for many discussions between people, especially for those who have children.
My faith was shaken from the sentences I had read. How was it possible that a textbook could get the story so wrong? I was reading about a famous historic event but the facts were different from what I was taught in school. The book I was reading from had been published in a different country; that was my first clue. Maybe I had grown up naïve but it was not until college that I discovered published words do not always equal absolute truth. The college course I was taking was taught by a history professor who came from a different country. The textbook he was showing us was the one he had used in his studies. From our discussion groups I learned that a country’s citizens could learn a different version of history. The question that came up was how do you tell which version is accurate. Because I was interested in history I had to process this new information; the only thing I kept thinking about was this idea that there were people walking around in the world who formed opinions about countries based on what they learned in school. Just think about it, a person grows up loving or hating a country based on someone else’s interpretation (or purposeful omission) of events. Since that revelation back in my college years, whenever I am reading or watching something that claims to be a true story, I quietly question the validity of it if I did not actually have the opportunity to witness it. When it comes to movies based on true events I take them with a grain of salt, but do not let my doubting mind affect my enjoyment of the unfolding story. As for today’s film based on a true story, it is the first time I have ever heard of such an event . WORKING in occupied Poland for the French Red Cross Mathilde Beaulieu, played by Lou de Laage (Breathe, The Wait), agreed to return with the desperate nun back to her convent. The patient waiting for Mathilde was a pregnant nun. This film festival winning drama had a simple but striking visual look to it. I thought the camera shots complimented the cast which also included Agata Buzek (Redemption, Valerie) as Maria and Agata Kulesza (Ida, Rose) as Mere Abesse. The actors did a wonderful job portraying their parts as the director’s pacing offered enough time for each cast member to shine in the scene. As for the story it is startling, at least for me since I never read about it in my history books. I felt the script did a wonderful job of layering the various components taking place during 1945 Poland and presented all of it as a powerful piece. The subtitles were not a distraction to read, at least for me. Because of the history involved in this story, this foreign film lingered long after I viewed it. I believe there are no accidents, that there is a reason for everything; but I have to say, this story could shake up a person’s faith. Polish, French and Russian was spoken with English subtitles.
3 ½ stars
It takes more than blood to make a family. Love, support and care would be some other elements needed for a family unit. I am aware the word family had a more traditional minded definition years ago, but it has evolved along with the times. I wanted to see how it is presently defined and this is what I found online: “A social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group.” Another definition I read stated it this way: “A group of persons who form a household under one head.” If I were to define the word “family” I would also add the option “persons of equal status.” The reason I say this is because after I recently left a lunch date with a close friend I was driving home, thinking about how similarly minded the two of us were in our ideas and beliefs. I not only felt comfortable with her, but easily saw her as the sister I never had. We have each shared such personal details about our life that I simply consider her family. There is some type of saying that goes something like this, “You can choose your friends but you cannot choose your family.” Another one is, “Friends are the family you choose.” Both of these sayings have validity; family starts with the heart and mind. Now when it comes to children and the things I have seen and heard, I believe children come into this world with a clean slate, totally innocent. The individuals who bring them in may not always qualify to be a parent. This film festival winning adventure movie will show you an example of what I have been saying. GOING from foster home to foster home Ricky, played by Julian Dennison (Paper Planes, Shopping), had one chance left to make it work when he arrived at the home of Bella and Hec, played by Rima Te Wiata (Housebound, Full Frontal-TV) and Sam Neill (Jurassic Park franchise, Event Horizon). Not everyone was on board with this arrangement. The story line in this comedic drama may seem familiar to many viewers; however, I am guessing very few of you have experienced a movie of this caliber. First the setting was so incredibly beautiful I just wanted to be there. Secondly, with the inclusion of Rachel House (Whale Rider, Boy) as Paula, the acting was excellent. I thought the script did a wonderful job in the mixing of humor and drama. There were laugh out loud parts, scary parts, touching parts; I absolutely was drawn into this picture for it was the complete package of what a good movie should be. Only for the briefest of moments I had a hard time understanding what Ricky was saying, but once I had a sense of his lingo I did not have any type of issue. Another thing that stood out for me was the direction. I enjoyed the way the story was filmed, giving actors the opportunity to express real emotions without having to say anything. Watching this movie was a joyous experience for me and I would not mind if some of the characters became part of my family.
I tried throwing out several different topics but they would always steer the conversation back to their job. If I made reference to something that happened to me they would match the experience with someone in their office. Have you ever met a person who brings their work home with them? Maybe because from my day job I go and teach evening fitness and yoga classes, I have an easier time of letting go of the workaday world. I am a big believer in employees finding a way to let go of their job stress and not carry it through their daily life. From my yoga classes I have seen what stress can do to a person’s body and mind. There have been some participants walking into class for the first time who are so tightly wound up they look like they could break on their very first yoga pose. It is funny but I actually offered a free yoga class to the individual I was referring to earlier but they declined. The reason I suggested it was because I could see their shoulders rise up towards their ears as soon as they started talking about their work. It was obvious to me they could not let go of their stress. Sadly this was not the only person I knew who brought their work home with them; I have been exposed to quite a few individuals who live to work as opposed to work to live. Feel free to take a look at the guy in this crime drama and tell me if he is bringing his work home with him. DISCOVERING an opportunity to make a huge drug bust against a major drug lord meant Robert Mazur, played by Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, Argo), would have to go undercover and put off retirement. Too bad Robert did not know if it would be worth the trade-off. Based on a true story this biographical film started out slow for me; but just like undertaking a building project, it kept getting bigger and deeper. The acting was first class by everyone including John Leguizamo (Chef, Vanishing on 7th Street) as Emir Abreu, Diane Kruger (Unknown, National Treasure) as Kathy Ertz and Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality, The Lesser Blessed) as Roberto Alcaino. One may expect Bryan to be terrific but I was impressed even more by Diane and Benjamin. Their performances were the most believable for me. I thought the directing not only gave depth to the characters but it also added intensity to various scenes. Besides the beginning of the film there were a few slow parts, along with a couple of things that seemed out of place compared to the major story; however, the acting was so good I did not feel these few things took too much away from my experience watching this picture. The other thing I want to mention is the actual story. It was so out of the realm of my world that I had moments of disbelief, but it was not a distraction. I may be intense at times but I have to tell you after seeing this film I am just thankful I can leave my work behind at the end of the day.
The street festival provided an opportunity to relive the memories of the old neighborhood of my youth. Walking the residential streets was a revelation for the homes were now freshly painted in colorful hues. Old porches and stairs that previously yawned in tiredness looked confidently strong now; I doubt they would utter a peep. The biggest surprise was the amount of foliage everywhere. As a kid I remember flowers were something one would find mostly in a backyard, not many households had them in front. Bushes covered the bottoms of houses; some planted to form a straight hedge across, others looking like tossed green gumdrops. Now as I traveled down several streets, flowers and ornamental trees were blooming everywhere. The trees that remained from my childhood had expanded and grown as if someone had pumped them up with air to look like inflated balloons at a Thanksgiving parade. When I finally reached the heart of the business area there were a few stores I remembered though they were dressed up with new signs and banners. The grocery store was replaced by one of those dollar stores and the local drugstore was now a currency exchange. Sitting in the same place was the diner I used to go to at least once a week. I had to go in and though no one looked familiar to me, the furniture had not changed. I ordered my usual and watched the cook make it as I sat on one of the dark red stools at the counter. The food came in those same plastic baskets freshly lined with wax paper. I was excited as I took my first bite, taking in the earthy aroma wafting off the pile of fries. Sadly my memories tasted better than the actual meal. The same thing could be said about this version of a comedy classic. STRANGE occurrences started popping up around New York City but only two people understood what they could be. Scientist friends Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates, played by Kristen Wiig (The Martian, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) and Melissa McCarthy (The Boss, Spy) were convinced there was finally proof to substantiate their research. After all the talk of this science fiction fantasy reboot having a female cast it all came down to the script for me. Kristen, Melissa and Leslie Jones (Trainwreck, Saturday Night Live-TV) as Patty Tolan were subdued compared to Kate McKinnon (Life Partners, Saturday Night Live-TV) as Jillian Holtzmann; she was terrific which is saying a lot since the story was bland. I did not have any laugh out loud moments and felt the story needed some caffeine. The villain of the story was so dull with a tired story line that I sat in my seat and wondered what the writers were thinking. Even the special effects were nothing special; after all these years since the original film, you would think the movie studio would want to dazzle the viewers with special effects. Overall this movie was not the worst; it just did not taste as good as the original I remembered. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
The first time I saw an Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window, The Birds) movie it was on television. I never made it all the way through because it scared me too much; the film was Psycho. It caused nightmares and made me afraid of the bathroom shower curtain when I was a little kid. Not until I got older did I finally see the movie in its entirety. Back then I did not understand the genius of Alfred Hitchcock. When I got older I started to appreciate the way he directed his pictures. His movies like Vertigo, To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest were a marvel to watch even on the small screen of a television. I remember when I learned Alfred always did a cameo in his films; searching for him added to my enjoyment level. If memory serves me correctly I believe Alfred had a weekly television show. I have a vague memory of him standing on a box or chair with a noose around his neck. His show bordered on the macabre I believe. As my love of movies grew and I was exposed to other directors I never quite found another director who had a similar style to Alfred. Not until I saw a Brian De Palma (Dressed to Kill, The Untouchables) film did I recognize familiar traits and here is the funny thing, no one ever told me Alfred was Brian’s idol. Just from watching one of Brian’s movies I saw such a resemblance to those old Alfred Hitchcock pictures, I immediately became a big fan of Brian. For someone who has admired his work through the years, this documentary provided an oral history to his films. SITTING in front of a fireplace it seemed as if Brian was spending the day telling me about his movies. As the consumer I was thrilled to listen to him talk about the back stories to some of his famous films such as Carrie and Blow Out. Directed by Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha) and Jake Paltrow (Young Ones, The Good Night), the two directors for the most part let Brian sit and go through his films in chronological order. There were no actors or other directors doing any tributes or dishing, it was just Brian alone and I have to say he was very entertaining. If one is not a big movie lover I feel this documentary may become tedious after some time, though there were a variety of film clips shown where he explained what they had to do to achieve a certain affect or look in the scene. For me this was a treat and I could appreciate the hard work it must have taken since CGI was not available back then to the standard it is now. I find it amusing that yesterday’s movie review talked about listening and for this film listening would be a requirement. Except for the film examples there was no action or drama, simply a man discussing his passion for making films.
3 ½ stars for movie aficionados 3 stars for the average moviegoer
There was a time where they were used for something more important than displaying jewelry. I do not know if it is a passing fad or a new trend but I have seen them being stretched with round rings of a metal or plastic nature. Maybe it is still being done now but I remember some children would have small tubes stuck in their ears to help them with their hearing. Hearing used to be important and there was an art to being a good listener. Yes, being a listener was an important and admirable quality in a person. From a comment I recently read on one of my reviews and seeing this film, it dawned on me that fewer people take the time to listen these days. I cannot tell you how many times I have introduced myself and the person either doesn’t remember or gives me a different name within our initial conversation. The comment I was referring to earlier mentioned wherever you go there are always people just looking down at their phones, not interacting with anyone around them. I can do one better; having met someone at a movie function we texted back and forth to set up a time to get together. After a few texts back and forth I decided to call them because I get more out of having a conversation than a series of abbreviated words and emoticons. The voice message I left was the last communication between the two of us; I never heard from them again. I ask you, why are people so afraid to talk to one another. Being able to talk and express feelings can be therapeutic and healthy, just see what happens in this dramatic comedy. DESPERATE and alone Hank, played by Paul Dano (Prisoners, Ruby Sparks), was about to end his life until he saw a body that had washed ashore. This film festival winning adventure picture had one of the most unusual story lines I have ever seen. With fellow cast mates Daniel Radcliffe (Now You See Me 2, Harry Potter franchise) as Manny and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane, Kill the Messenger) as Sarah; I initially sat in my seat perplexed by what I was watching on screen. As the uneven story progressed I started to understand what was going on and wound up enjoying this film. The acting was not only good but interesting; that is all I can say about it. There were parts that were humorous, parts that were touching and all finely threaded to keep the message on track. I do not know if this is a film for everyone, though I will say the story was certainly original. Instead of telling you this picture was more like an independent art film; I think it would be better to say this movie was not a mainstream one. If memory serves me correctly I believe at its showing at one of the film festivals some of the audience was cheering while others walked out. I chose to go see this film and listen to what it was trying to express.
Weddings bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. What is supposed to be a happy occasion can dissolve into a grudge match between family members or guests. A friend of mine recently told me about a wedding they attended for one of their family members. Evidently there is a cousin who becomes belligerent after having a few drinks. As I was listening to this story I quickly came to the conclusion this cousin was essentially a bully. He wound up trying to pick a fight with a cousin from the bride’s side for no apparent reason; however, that cousin was a black belt in the martial arts. As soon as the drunken bully threw the first punch he was immediately thrown onto his back by the martial arts expert. Family members from both sides rushed to the scene, picked up the cousin from the floor and took him away. That type of entertainment I could do without at a wedding; my experiences have been less dramatic at the weddings I have attended. What I have found at weddings are relatives who feel it is appropriate to ask, not only the bride and groom but other family members both married and single, personal questions about when they will have children or when will they settle down and get married. Or better yet, they will go up to a single person and ask them why they are not married yet as if something is wrong with being single. Oh I just remembered this one wedding I went to where the parents of both the bride and groom hated each other and did not hide their feelings about it to anyone. This is why I said what I said earlier about weddings and the people who attend them. I could easily understand the concerns the family had in this comedy. THE parents of hard partying brothers Dave and Mike Stangle, played by Zac Efron (Neighbors franchise, The Lucky One) and Adam Devine (The Intern, Pitch Perfect franchise), demanded their sons each bring a date to their sister’s wedding to keep them in check from riling each other up. The brothers felt they could find respectable girls with an online ad. Inspired by a true story this comedy came with some strong language. The other thing it came with was a cast that was skilled in comedic timing. Along with Zac and Adam there was Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods, Cake) as Alice and Aubrey Plaza (Dirty Grandpa, Safety Not Guaranteed) as Tatiana. These two women were exceptional in their comedic abilities. There were some laugh out loud moments in this adventure romance but after a while the script turned into a series of crazy events that did not offer anything new for the viewer. If it was not for the cast performing so well, I probably would have been bored through parts of this film. Outrageous, loony with poor judgments and lots of alcohol; some of you may be grateful you did not get an invite to this wedding.
2 ½ stars
On the way back from vacation I was able to stop and have dinner with a long time friend; we go back many years. For all this time I never heard a word from them about wishing or wanting a pet. I cannot even remember them ever stopping to pet a friend’s dog or cat. So here we are sitting at a restaurant catching up on what was new in each of our lives when he tells me I have to see this video. Taking their phone out they click on a couple of buttons then hand the phone to me. I am watching a video of two dogs playing in a back yard. Without seeing the video, only listening for audio cues, they narrated the different scenes in the video. Not only were they telling me what I was watching, they were sharing the dogs’ thoughts with me. The dogs’ thoughts? I heard how one of the dogs runs outside and lets everyone know they are there, racing up and down while barking. The other dog was a thinker; he would observe everything around him before acting on it. I sat there in disbelief as my friend went on about these 2 dogs, placing human emotions and thoughts on them. Not that I am judging, being an animal lover I absolutely got it; but I was amazed I never saw or heard a clue my friend would be so in love with these dogs that they babysat 2-3 times a week. This is the power pets have over some of us. MAX, voiced by Louis C.K. (Turbo, Blue Jasmine), was living an idyllic life with his owner Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper (Bridesmaids, Sex Tape), until one day she came home with Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet (Identity Thief, Modern Family-TV); who was to become his new brother. Max did not want this dog as his brother. This animated comedy had a well chosen cast of actors such as Jenny Slate (Obvious Child, Girls-TV) as Gidget and Kevin Hart (Central Intelligence, The Wedding Ringer) as Snowball to voice the memorable characters. I enjoyed the beginning of this family movie and thought the story was fun; the idea of pets having a secret life was brilliant. However when the story line changed and focused on Kevin Hart’s character I felt the story lost some energy besides the fun factor. Despite some fun lines and excellent animation I found myself getting bored during several places. Maybe my reaction to this picture was due to the high caliber of recent animated films, but this film was missing a sweetness to it. The humor was never at a laugh out loud type of level and not that I expect all animated films to have a learning moment in them, but I was left with just an okay feeling towards this movie. I will say the next time I am around someone’s pet I will be watching them closely to see if I can figure out what they are thinking. There was an extra scene in the middle of the ending credits.
2 3/4 stars
There is a saying that I have seen in numerous places recently; it goes, “Being kind is easier than being mean.” I have noticed it on social media sites, T-shirts and heard it talked about on television talk shows; it seems to be everywhere. Now here is my question, “Why?” Why are so many people (at least to me) talking about kindness? I can remember a time where it was polite to hold the door open for someone, to give up one’s seat to someone else on public transportation or let a person enter in ahead of you. Really, how much of a burden would it be to do any of these acts? Something happened that has turned kindness into a rare gemstone; days could go by before I would see an example of it being done. There certainly is a layer of distrust that has permeated our consciousness. A good example of why this is would be the time I signed up for a newspaper subscription from a high school student who knocked on my front door. They took my money but I never received a paper, finding out the newspaper company never solicits subscriptions in such a way. Another reason I feel is due to the electronic revolution we have been embracing. With the fraud now associated to our ATM and charge cards, a good portion of us are afraid to click on any email links. That simple click could unleash a virus on one’s electronic device that will steal our identity, wipe out our savings and possibly lead a path for the virus to seek out our contacts. I have gone through at least half a dozen times where my bank has called me due to fraudulent activity on my charge card. It is enough to make a person go back to the old days and pay cash for everything. Stuff like this is only one part of the factors that cause a person to hold back from doing a kind act. Then again, see what happens when one does something kind in this movie thriller. LITTLE did Perry, played by Ewan McGregor (Star Wars franchise, The Impossible), know that the offer of a drink by Dima, played by Stellan Skarsgard (The Avengers franchise, The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo), would have such an effect on his life. This story based on John le Carre’s (A Most Wanted Man, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) novel had a good mix of actors that also included Naomie Harris (Skyfall, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) as Gail. Stellan was outstanding in the role to the point I felt he dominated the movie screen. The story started out slow and though I did not read the book, I found myself able to predict where the story would lead next. Being able to figure out the story was kind of a drag on my enjoyment level while watching this film. At least the acting quality was at a good enough level for me to stay interested in what was going on. I guess this is my way of being kind to this picture.
2 ¾ stars