Monthly Archives: May 2014

Flash Movie Review: The Immigrant

I wish it was not the case but I cast a cynical eye towards a kind gesture from a stranger these days. Where I first noticed a change had taken place over me was when I used to travel to Georgia. People were saying thank you for the simplest things, besides opening doors for each other. I realized I had not seen such actions for a long time. Then there were incidents I witnessed that began altering my perceptions. I used to know someone who was always eager to share their recipes with anyone who asked for them, but would leave out one small item from the list of ingredients. During my daily commute I cannot remember the last time someone slowed down to let me pull into traffic or merge into another lane due to construction. It seems as if people are becoming more isolated and protective of their surroundings. I partially understand it because of all the news that gets reported on Ponzi schemes, fake charities and internet scams. Last summer I answered the knock at my front door and there was a high schooler who was selling discounted subscriptions for the local newspapers. Yep, you are right; I gave him $20.00 but never saw a single newspaper. Life is hard and I would say it is partially due to the modern world we live in; however, one only has to look at history to see it is not a modern phenomenon. You could also see a horrifying example in this Cannes Film Festival nominated drama. Set in the early 1920s Ewa Cybulska and her sister Magda, played by Marion Cotillard (Contagion, The Dark Knight Rises) and Angela Sarafyan (Paranoia, Love Hurts), traveled from Poland to America to start a new life. During processing at Ellis Island Magda was quarantined, leaving Ewa to fend for herself on the streets of New York City. She had to rely on the kindness of strangers and Bruno Weiss, played by Joaquin Phoenix (Her, Walk the Line), was eager to welcome and help her. Marion Cotillard was made to do this romantic mystery movie. Her eyes alone could have done all the talking for her, she was mesmerizing. The story was filled with many opportunities to create a powerful piece; however, it never gelled for me. I did not believe Joaquin’s character, finding his performance odd. It really was a shame because the sets and scenes were beautifully appointed. Jeremy Renner (American Hustle, The Town) was a welcomed addition to the story playing the magician Emil. I wish I could offer a kind gesture to this film by giving it a higher rating but truthfully it does not warrant it.

 

2 2/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Ida

Some of us wear the identity we were given as a young child, while others wear the one they grew into and became when older. A child who was always told they were bad could grow up to be living proof of that statement. Labeled with a derogatory nickname like Chunky or Four Eyes can remain as part of a person’s identity throughout their lifetime; coloring many of their future decisions. Imagine an only child discovering years later their parent had children from a previous marriage; I wonder what that does to someone’s mindset? Last Oscar awards season after I saw the movie Saving Mr. Banks, I read a startling story about the author of Mary Poppins. If I remember correctly she adopted one child from a set of twin boys and never told her son he had a twin brother. Trust me I still cannot believe someone would do such a thing. You know though, they say there is this thing called karma and here is where it played out with the author. When her adopted son was a young adult his twin brother, after years of searching, walked up to him at a bar. As you may have guessed, the adopted son was stunned to discover he had a twin brother. Where I found this scenario to be tragically triumphant, the story in this alluring film festival winning movie was sadly startling. Set in Poland during the 1960s, newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska played Anna who was an orphan who grew up in a convent. The week before she was to take her vows to become a nun, Anna was told she had a living relative and would need to go visit her before her vows. When Anna met her Aunt Wanda, played by Agata Kulesza (Suicide Room, Rose), Anna found out she was not who she believed she was all these years. This black and white drama was beautiful to watch on the big screen. I found the camera angles told the story as well as the dialog; but the fact that the film made a square frame on the rectangular movie screen, creating an extra closeness with the audience, allowed us an intimate glimpse into the life of these 2 women. The acting was outstanding. The producers must have known these actresses were able to take a somewhat sparsely worded script and provide such richness to the scenes and story. What an amazing film and testament to the ability of humans to choose their identity. The dialog was in Polish with English subtitles.

 

3 1/2 stars

Flash Movie Review: Blended

It is not easy to keep a smile on your face when you are sitting across from a jerk. There have been situations where a friend wants to introduce me to their new boy or girlfriend. I have no qualms meeting them but it can be hard when I see or hear things they say or do that raise a red flag in my mind. What can I say in private that will not offend them about the person they are dating? I have learned to only offer advice if I am asked and to remain supportive towards my friends. It is much harder to do this when it involves family. At a wedding where 2 families have come together to celebrate the marriage of their relatives it can be a challenging time for me. Sitting at a table with a relative from the other family, who is making rude and inappropriate remarks, can be an unpleasant experience. If it was one of my relatives I could say something, but with this virtual stranger, I have to be careful not to start a family feud and later see it all posted on the internet. Hopefully my unresponsive face and silent stare is enough of a clue for them to keep quiet. It can make for an uncomfortable time; but when I am forced to sit with someone who is prejudicial, my silence has served me well in the past. No one in this comedy film was related to me but I still had to sit through it being uncomfortable and bored. After a horrible blind date Lauren and Jim, played by Drew Barrymore (Charlie’s Angels, Big Miracle) and Adam Sandler (Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy), accidentally found themselves at the same vacation destination, both with their families in tow. There would be no way they could avoid each other at the all inclusive African resort. It must have been time for Adam and his real family to take a vacation so this story was set in an exotic location. I enjoy all types of comedy but when you know what the punchline will be to every joke, it is not funny. The infantile script was filled with stereotypes and even used children simply as sight gags. I knew Terry Crews (The Single Moms Club, The Expendables franchise) as entertainer Nickens was supposed to be a parody, but I found his character annoying. Drew was the best part of this movie. It was clear to me that Adam plays the same character in every movie now; I find it pure laziness. If only he could have seen my blank face from the theater audience.

 

1 2/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

The words had just passed my lips when I realized these were not the correct ones to utter at the moment. I inhaled with the same force I use with a straw in a chocolate peanut butter milkshake, but it was to no avail; the words were out in the open for everyone to hear. If only I had the opportunity to do it all over; but then again, there are so many times I wish for that chance. Almost every checkout line I choose winds up with a customer ahead of me who has some type of issue that will require a price check or swapping out a product. Recently I was running late for work. I had just missed the green light at an intersection that has an unusually long wait period between signals. It was a split second decision and I veered off into a restaurant’s parking lot to avoid the wait. As I was about to exit on the opposite side a police car was sitting there waiting for me to leave the lot. If only I could have turned time back, I would have saved myself from a moving violation ticket. I would have a better understanding of time travel if it personally affected me. In movies I get lost by the explanations or logistics of it. However, in this action adventure film I had no problem. Due to a particular event in history, both humans and mutants (individuals with special abilities) were being targeted for elimination. A plan was developed to send Logan/Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman (Prisoners, Australia), back in time in an attempt to alter the outcome of the specific incident, change the course of history and hopefully save mutants in the future. What drove this fantasy film to excellence was the well thought out script and amazing special effects. I especially liked the way humor was injected into scenes without taking away from the building tension. The other main force that made this movie special was the cast. I thought Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, The Hunger Games franchise) as Raven/Mystique, Michael Fassbender (The Counselor, Shame) as Erik Lehnsherr and James McAvoy (Trance, The Last Station) as Charles Xavier were outstanding. One of my few and minor complaints was not seeing enough of Patrick Stewart (Safe House, Star Trek franchise) as Professor X and Ian McKellen (The Hobbit franchise, Emile) as Magneto. Though there were a couple of things where I did not understand the logic, it really did not matter; this fantasy film delivered a high dose of exciting entertainment and suspense. In fact, I would not need the ability to turn back time because I would willingly go see this movie again. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.

 

3 1/2 stars

Flash Movie Review: Chef

The earth’s population is divided into 2 groups, those who eat to live and those who live to eat. I walk a fragile line between the two camps and frequently fall off depending on how the day is going for me. For a majority of situations food is the end result. Speaking from personal experience food can provide unbridled comfort, soothing calmness, vigorous energy, emotional support and a cavalcade of other options. Now since I teach in the health field I have to state this disclaimer: food should only be ingested in moderation. Think about when you go on a date; what is one of the first ideas you think of to do on a date? Usually it is going out to eat at a restaurant. There is something about sharing a meal with someone that builds a sense of camaraderie, budding connections between people. I bet if all negotiations whether in the business place, world stage or personal relationships were done over a meal we would see better results. When you have good food, a great story and a wonderful cast; do you know what you get? You get this sweet and salty fun comedy film. All the burners were working when the movie studio made this film. Jon Favreau (The Wolf of Wall Street, Iron Man franchise) wrote, directed and starred as chef Carl Casper in this enjoyable picture. Not happy with his current position at work and in life, Carl heads back to Miami to rediscover the things he loved about cooking. I found this film to be more than the average comedy; there was a dose of sharpness to the script that made the characters come alive. With a cast that included John Leguizamo (Ride Along, Moulin Rouge) as Martin, Sofia Vergara (Fading Gigolo, Machete Kills) as Inez, Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine, Win Win) as Tony and Scarlett Johansson (Don Jon, The Other Boleyn Girl) as Molly; everyone convinced me they were who they portrayed. It was a real treat to watch them. I want to make special mention about the scenes that involved the cooking and creation of the meals. No way do I consider myself a food guru; heck, I can barely cook a meal. However, watching the food in this film was like watching a whole other movie about the art of food preparation. To me there was such detail given to these scenes without boiling over to a long dissertation, that I was fascinated and inspired to run home and attempt to make a grand meal. Luckily rational thought took over and after the movie ended I went to a grocery story to indulge myself in the produce aisle. Extra scene inserted in the ending credits.

 

3 1/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: The Edge of Heaven

There was no other option because we were hungry. A line of people standing outside the front door was how we determined the restaurant had to have good food. The problem was the way it served the food to the customers. Besides buffets, foraging in a trough or potluck meals; sitting at a table with strangers for family style feeding is not one of my approved methods of eating. I do not like passing a bowl around where people serve themselves. It is creepy when I see someone helping themselves to the food with their own silverware that was just in their mouth. Since there was nothing else around we had no other choice if we wanted to eat. Seated at a large round table with a dozen strangers, the opening conversation focused on where each of us came from then progressed to our reasons for being there. I was not comfortable at the table through the food was good; however, during the chitchat I heard about a part of the city that sounded like a real cool place to visit. No where did I see any mention of this area when I was searching for points of interest. We altered our travel plans to include this place and were quite surprised by it. I felt I had been rewarded for my uncomfortableness during lunch.The story in this dramatic movie had a similar swing of feelings for the main character. Nejat Aksu, played by Baki Davrak (Lola and Billy the Kid, Our Grand Despair), was displeased by his father Ali’s, played by Tuncel Kurtiz (Pains of Autumn, The Wall), choice for a live-in girlfriend; a prostitute named Yeter Ozturk, played by Nursel Kose (When We Leave, My Mother). Due to unexpected circumstances Nejat would have to travel to Turkey to search for Yeter’s daughter Ayten, played by Nurgul Yesilcay (Vicdan, 7 Husbands for Hurmuz). The journey would only be part of the change that began to affect different lives. This film festival winning movie started out with a strong script. I found the story similar to a jigsaw puzzle, where each scene was laid out like a puzzle piece. With chance and circumstance playing a large part in telling this story, the excellent acting only added deeper feelings in my interest to see how things would pan out. This gifted film transcended any language limitations or concerns with subtitles, for it told a complete story. I have to say this film was a great surprise because I had not heard any approving or disapproving remarks prior to receiving it. It now has my approval. There was German, Turkish and English languages used with subtitles.

 

3 1/4 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: Palo Alto

It was only 4 years, except for the 2 who started that riot, but that time in high school was a prelude to adult life. In those years i began to understand there was this invisible ranking system, more like a hierarchy, where each of us were being assigned a place. I had no say in the matter and assumed there were others like me. One of the toughest parts was when students would get stuck with a label. Among teachers I always figured they had their own list of labels they assigned to students; such as difficult, trouble or quiet. However, the words that were used and got stuck to the students had more bite to them. There were girls who had to live with derogatory words like skank, whore or bitch. For some reason the labels given to boys were not as harsh or maybe it was just my opinion. There were those who were called nerds, druggies, queers or jocks. These words were not always based on any factual information; many times it was just an eyeball observation. High school already had its challenges without the added pressure from one’s peers and this dramatic film unapologetically depicted that life during those years. Based on the book of the same name by James Franco, the film focused on several students as each one was working through a personal struggle. Part of the cast included Emma Roberts (We’re the Millers, Hotel for Dogs) as April, newcomer Jack Kilmer as Teddy, Nat Wolff (Stuck in Love, New Year’s Eve) as Fred and James Franco (This is the End, The Iceman) as Mister B. All did an adequate job of acting, coming across in an honest way. I did not have an issue with the directing, but jumping from one story line to another became tiresome. There were a couple of scenes that made me uncomfortable which was the reaction I felt the director was trying to achieve. However, there was not enough story to engage me. After a short time I became bored with the characters, not caring what happened to them. I did not read the book, but I have to assume the stories read better than being depicted here on the big screen. Some of you already know my high school years were filled more with nightmares than pleasant dreams, so I wanted to make sure I was not reacting to this film on a deeper, personal level before beginning my review. The answer is I am far removed from that chapter in my life and this movie did not offer anything new from what has been done before.

 

2 stars

Flash Movie Review: Million Dollar Arm

Maybe I should have listened better when I was being told I was good with numbers. I say this because I have been seeing more examples of things being reduced to a number. There is the weekly box office results that list the top 5 grossing movies for the weekend. Reaching this list contributes to whether a film can be considered a success. However, I have seen numerous pictures that were excellent and they never made the list. Think about all the different food items that have been introduced only to be pushed off the grocery shelf for something bigger or better, at least according to the manufacturers. One of the more troubling aspects to this numbers game is when human beings are reduced to a number, a commodity. It is safe to say all of us have either experienced or known someone who has gone through staff reductions at their place of employment. It is hard for me to think of something worse at the workplace than having one’s dignity taken away by becoming a statistic in a company’s formula on how to save money. Knowledge and experience used to mean something but I fear numbers have beaten them down. In turn, don’t you find people who base decisions on how the numbers benefit them as being less humane? I do and this movie based on a true story shows what happens when numbers are considered the most important thing. Jon Hamm (The Town, Mad Men-TV) played sports agent JB. When he lost out on his last chance to sign up a sports celebrity, JB came up with an idea to hold a contest to look for potential baseball pitchers. His idea would take him all the way to an unlikely place. The story in this dramatic sports film certainly had potential. Jon played a believable character and had the good fortune to have Lake Bell (In a World, Black Rock) play his tenant Brenda. She was such a likable and convincing character. Sadly I could not say the same for Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) as Rinku and Madhur Mittal (Slumdog Millionaire, One 2 Ka 4) as Ninesh. The script reduced them to cartoon characters; I never felt a sense of who or what they were in this biographical picture. This contributed to the whole film being too sanitized and generic; there was no emotional depth that would allow me to care about any of them. At the beginning of this review I said you could see an example when numbers are a factor; let me clarify, the example was the studio playing it safe by sticking to the numbers instead of letting the story come to life. Added photos and videos of the actual people were shown during the ending credits.

 

2 1/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: Godzilla

There was a period of time where I witnessed the destruction of property and the killing of people. On weekends, there was a small movie theater that played a variety of matinee films that showed all types of creatures trying to destroy parts of our world. My friends and I would meet there often, usually right after we all received our allowances, to watch in awe these huge monsters fighting some spectacular battles. Once we were finished seeing the movie we would stop at the local ice cream and candy shop to talk about the different scenes, marveling at how human ingenuity saved us yet again. The shop was our go to place because the owner knew us and would let us sit in a booth for as long as we needed. There were glass jars filled with different kinds of candy sitting on wooden shelves that had the varnish worn dull from use. This all took place from a different, innocent era, where shop owners knew their customers and kids used their imaginations to create fun times. This action adventure film had some of that throwback feel to it, even with its updated story. When an experiment went out of control, mankind soon discovered they were not the strongest species on the planet. The script took a fresh approach in telling the story of Godzilla, bringing in more of a scientific element. There were times where I felt I had reached my limit of facts, but it was a minor distraction. Visually the movie had incredible special effects and I thought the camera angles were unique. It looked as if we were watching scenes from the cast’s perspectives. Personally I would have preferred a few more long shots when it came to the fight scenes; however, the battles that took place in the heart of the city were quite exciting. A steady tension could be felt throughout the movie and part of its success was due to some of the actors. Elizabeth Olsen (Oldboy, In Secret) as Elle Brody, Bryan Cranston (Argo, Breaking Bad-TV) as Joe Brody and Ken Watanabe (Inception, Unforgiven) were the standouts for me. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Savages, Kick-Ass franchise) was a poor choice as a leading character due to his limited acting ability. I would have switched and made Elizabeth the main lead. She would have brought more to a leading role. The whole feel of the movie was one of excitement and fun. Part of me had those same feelings of wonder and amazement like I had when I was a kid. The only difference was I did not stop for an ice cream cone afterwards.

 

3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Belle

Searching through several sources I did not find where the word “different” was defined as being a bad thing. Some of the items I read said different was not being identical or alike in character or quality, to be separate or distinct; I did not find anything that conveyed a negative connotation. What I found troubling was when being different evoked hatred. Unaware of what started this phenomenon or even when it began; I just found it to be vulgar and ignorant. One of the scary aspects of this different/hatred connection is when an individual is filled with hatred. I hate sauerkraut but that hatred does not fill my veins up, fueling me to go off on someone who likes that shredded jellyfish looking stuff. It is disturbing to witness someone treating a person with disrespect simply because they are different. In my previous review I talked about being a disposable society; I was referring to manufactured products. What struck me in this movie, based on a true story, was how people could be considered disposable. The script for this film festival winner began when the writer saw a painting she found odd. Her exploration into the creation of that artwork spurred her to develop this amazing story. Matthew Goode (Stoker, Watchmen) as Captain Sir John Lindsay was the father of an illegitimate, mixed race daughter named Dido Belle Lindsay, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Larry Crowne, Odd Thomas). Soon to command a ship in the royal navy, Sir John Lindsay had to leave his daughter with his aunt and uncle, Lady and Lord Mansfield, played by Emily Watson (The Book Thief, War Horse) and Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton, The Lone Ranger). The presence of Belle would be a concern for Lord Mansfield who happened to be the chief justice for the British courts. Why this beautifully told drama was special was due to the story being set in England during the 1700s. Slaves were a commodity that could be bought, traded or discarded. The richly detailed scenes and the way the story unfolded swept me in, filling me with emotions. I believed in the characters due to the strong acting from the cast, which also included Miranda Richardson (Empire of the Sun, The Crying Game) as Lady Ashford and Sam Reid (The Railway Man, Anonymous) as John Davinier. With strong elements I found it surprising how the story was still able to convey a certain delicateness. Still fresh in my mind after the movie ended, my thoughts lingered on how we have advanced as a society. However, I am very much aware there is still a deep hatred prevalent towards those who are different.

 

3 1/3 stars

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