Monthly Archives: July 2014
Early exposure to the art of magic gives us permission to draw outside the lines. When we see something that defies logic it opens us up to accepting additional possibilities to a situation. Some people may say this directly affects our minds, while others will say it definitely stirs our hearts; either way magic certainly can influence us. I can remember my first exposure to magic (not taking into account peek-a-boo) happened when I was nearly 3 years old. There was a relative who would always grab my nose then show it to me sticking out from their closed fingers. I would inhale as much air as my little lungs could hold, to try and get back my nose. It wasn’t long before I realized by relative’s thumb and not my nose was poking out between his clenched fingers. There was another relative however who really performed magic or at least I thought so. Anytime he was visiting he would come up to me and ask me what was sticking out of my ear. I would rub my ear but never found anything. He would reach down, touch my ear then show me the quarter he pulled out before handing it to me. I would always check my ears afterward to see if I could find any money in them, but never did. BELIEVE it or not magic played a central character in this dramatic comedy. Written and directed by Woody Allen (Sweet and Lowdown, Midnight in Paris), this romantic film was about a magician and a soothsayer. Colin Firth (The Railway Man, A Single Man) played Stanley, a man who pretended to be a Chinese magician. When not in costume Stanley was considered the expert in disproving psychics and fortune-tellers. Hearing news about a young, incredible soothsayer named Sophie, played by Emma Stone (Easy A, The Amazing Spider-Man franchise), Stanley set out to show the world she was a fake. Both the music and sets were beautiful in this movie that depicted a bygone era. I thought the acting was quite good, especially from Jackie Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook, Animal Kingdom) as Grace. There were 2 major issues I had with this picture. The first had to do with Colin and Emma; their characters did not come across as a believable couple. Yes they both acted well but I found the idea of them being in any type of relationship just odd. My other concern was the story itself. Though the concept was good, the execution came across a bit tired to me. It felt more like a rehash of Woody’s previous films. There were times I found this film dull. For a movie about magic, I really wished it would have magically taken me out of my theater seat and into its story.
2 1/3 stars
It is getting so hard to trust anyone, let alone anything these days. I may not be one to talk since I do not easily give out trust; it is something I have always felt gets earned. My trust was originally formed as a solid unblemished mountain on protected land. Through the years each untruthful statement whipped at the outer layers of my trust like pelting rain, eroding the surface away. Being told I was your friend only to find out I was not; being told the product I was purchasing would be compatible with my other devices only to find out it was not; being told I was the only one only to find out I was not; each of these hit my trust, leaving a gaping dark hole that became impossible to traverse. If all the negative news about recalls, stolen credit cards and fraud was not enough; the stories I see about people doing bodily harm to others scares me more. The way individuals gain access to places so they can do damage alarms me terribly. I am afraid to answer my front door unless the screen door is locked and I know I am not the only one who feels this way. TRUST was heavily tested in this thriller based on John le Carre’s novel of the same name. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master, Doubt) played Gunther Bachman, an agent in a highly secretive German government agency. After Issa Karpov, played by Grigoriy Dobrygin (How I Ended the Summer, 4 Days in May), illegally arrived in Hamburg to claim his father’s estate; a clandestine race of cat and mouse began as German and American agents attempted to find out Issa’s true intentions. This film festival nominee was one of Philip’s final completed films. It saddens me to say he was outstanding in this role because seeing him only reminded me there would be no further performances. He helped push the cast to a higher standard, where everyone was so believable they kept the viewer guessing through each scene. Part of the cast included Willem Dafoe (The Fault in our Stars, Out of the Furnace) as Tommy Brue, Robin Wright (Forrest Gump, Rampart) as Martha Sullivan and Rachel McAdams (Midnight in Paris, About Time) as Annabel Richter. The major disappointment about this movie was the script. The first half of the film was muddled and slow; I sat wondering when it would get exciting. Finally by the last half I got into the story, appreciating the acting even more. Due to the actors and plot source I trusted this movie was going to be an intense thrilling picture. It did not quite make it all the way, but Philip certainly would have had nothing to apologize for regarding his performance.
The strongest ones seemed to be the biggest jerks as far as I can remember. They were athletically inclined; able to throw or hit a ball harder than anyone else. If a ball was not available, which was usually the case during the rest of the school day; they had no problem knocking a student down in the school’s hallways. If nothing else then anything a student was carrying was fair game; it was not uncommon to hear textbooks smacking the floor between periods. I was one of the larger boys, but it was not from muscles. As a result my negative perceptions of those who were strong were formed quite early. It was not until new neighbors moved in across the street when I met an exception to my mindset. He was my age but taller than most of the students in our class; English was his 2nd language but no one would know. I would hear the way his family talked to each other whenever I bumped into them outside our apartments. There was a politeness about him that was foreign to most of the athletes in my class. During any contact sports, he would be the only one who would offer a hand to a fallen opposing teammate. Yet no one ever picked on him as if his unusual name and mannerisms made him mysterious; no one wanted to take a chance by confronting him. I had this crazy notion that as long as I could reach and step into his expansive shadow, no one would pick on me. HERCULES in this action adventure film reminded me of my former neighbor. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Pain & Gain, Snitch) went through a grueling workout regimen to play the part of the Greek demigod, Hercules. Directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour franchise, Tower Heist), this fantasy film was all action with a story similar to a graphic novel. Hercules was a muscle for hire, who with a close band of friends, agreed to train Lord Cotys’, played by John Hurt (V for Vendetta, The Elephant Man), soldiers even though they sorely lacked fighting skills. The unprepared troops were forced into a battle that Hercules was not sure they could win. Though the fight scenes were big and over the top, the story was weak in my opinion. I felt there was such a disconnect between the battles and the drama that I became bored with what appeared to be the same thing happening over and over. Too much brawn and a poor script made this just an okay film; nothing that will muscle it into the top spot at the box office. There were scenes of violence and blood.
2 1/4 stars
It is funny; I originally planned to start this review out talking about the times where too much education may not be a good thing. When overhearing two people talk about their health issues and I can tell they are not aware what their symptoms mean but I do, makes me feel sad for them. Living in a highly litigative society has forced manufacturers to list every conceivable symptom or warning on their products these days, to the point where I do not want to think about all the possibilities how something could go wrong if I use or ingest their product. So instead of this movie review taking that path I prefer steering it towards my belief that education has a direct affect on one’s quality of life. I believe once a person stops learning, they stop growing and their mind begins to narrow into a stagnant state. There is my friend who is the assistant principle of an alternative school where the student body consists of students who were expelled or dropped out from their previous school. This school is their last chance and she does everything she can to show these kids the possibilities they could have by staying in school, acquiring knowledge. When one has an education there is nothing that can stop them from achieving their full potential. PROOF of this can be found in this crazy science fiction film. Scarlett Johansson (Don Jon, We Bought a Zoo) played Lucy, a woman who found herself the victim of an international drug plot. However, as she began to acquire knowledge Lucy was able to fight back and take control of her destiny. Written and directed by Luc Besson (The Family, Taken franchise), this action movie made little sense. As long as you knew that going in then the film was just fun to watch. The main reason for this was due to Scarlett Johansson; she was great in the role. I especially enjoyed the way she had a no-nonsense approach; in essence, turning the character into a strong female leading role. In a perfect match of casting the producers had Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, Last Vegas) play Professor Norman. He was the grounding force to this otherwise silly film. The last part of the story was the most ridiculous for me; I found it so unbelievable. Considering the story, I do not know why I should be so surprised. In spite of all the looniness I do believe this film will make Scarlett even more bankable than she was before; she is very smart with her film choices. There was blood and violence throughout the movie.
2 1/2 stars
The sudden unexpected passage a person travels to death from life delivers a debilitating punch to those who remain behind. In that moment of stunned disbelief, memories pour down from your mind trying to fill the space emerging where the walls of your heart are crumbling into brittle chunks. There was no way you could have prepared yourself since the signs of dying never emerged from the individual. It is different when someone has been suffering from an affliction. You see the person morphing right in front of you into a stranger that bears little resemblance to who has been residing in your thoughts for all these years. In society we are led to believe the older generation is supposed to go first, followed by the next; it is the natural order of things we are told. I have experienced both kinds of death and though neither are easy, after seeing the one who had suffered a long time, I felt a sense of relief when they were done. If I were given the choice of knowing or not knowing when I was going to die, I honestly do not know if I could choose. SADLY that was not the case for young mother Ann, played by Sarah Polley (Dawn of the Dead, Splice). After being told she only had a short time left to live, that jolt of information was what she needed to finally live her life. This film festival winning drama had an eclectic group of actors to help keep the story from turning into a melodrama. Musical artist Deborah Harry (Elegy, A Good Night to Die) played Ann’s mother, Scott Speedman (Underworld franchise, The Vow) played Don, Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction, Girlfriend) played Laurie and Mark Ruffalo (Begin Again, The Avengers) played Lee. Out of this cast I have to say Sarah and Mark were the best with their roles. It was interesting to me how the entire film had a general look of resignation due to the locale, the jobs and people’ attitudes; yet, there were strong connections made between the characters. Obviously Sarah was the focal point to the story, but her strong sense of practical resolve and determination helped to keep the story engaging. There were a few scenes that felt out of place to me, a couple of which were to the point of being non-believable. I know for myself this picture had an affect on me regarding my avoidance in thinking about the course of my life; it would be pretty hard not to think about it. Not that this was a bad thing, I felt this movie showed a true and honest way in dealing with one’s own mortality.
3 stars — DVD
More than likely it is not its intentions, but life’s daily requirements can put an added burden on living. It can be tough on one person; however, if there are more people involved it can be harder. I have seen and been a victim to the aftermath of a relationship that suffered under the weight of life’s pressures. Some people can lose motivation and become lethargic. They may become depressed, feeling as if they are running on a torturous racetrack without an exit ramp. No matter how in love two people are, there is always a big adjustment when they form a union and begin to share responsibilities. It is similar to living in a balloon where the two of you are working hard to keep it inflated with your dreams, aspirations and hopes; but the outside world keeps demanding too much time from you and with you being occupied, your balloon begins to show signs of soft loose wrinkles. I now know going into a relationship my hectic schedule presents an immediate challenge. My class time depletes the finite amount of free time I have available to socialize. This is why I feel it is extra important to communicate and make sure I setup down time where the two of us can come to a place where we can talk, share, express and experience life in a way that adds to our growth. ANNIE and Jay, played by Cameron Diaz (There’s Something about Mary, The Other Woman) and Jason Segel (This is 40, The Muppets), were at a similar place in their relationship in this comedy film. The energy they wanted to devote to each other was being used towards their jobs and children, leaving little time to be romantic. To help in that department, Annie and Jay came up with the idea to film themselves being romantic; but a screwup made their lovemaking public on the internet. The mortified couple would have to go to extreme measures if they wanted to keep their dignity. Here is an instance where the movie trailer tells it all. Though the setup to the movie was good, nothing else was offered but a series of stunts to garner a laugh. I chuckled at a couple of things, but I did not find anything different or original to make me laugh. Rob Lowe (The Invention of Lying, The West Wing-TV) as Hank was the most fun character out of the cast. If you feel this movie will offer you some relief from your daily grind then by all means go see it; personally, I would find a better diversion.
Finding an outlet to let go of life’s daily irritations is the way to stay sane in today’s world. Maybe it is just me but it seems as if everybody has shorter fuses these days. I can easily rattle off a variety of incidents where I find myself becoming irritated. There is the person in the theater texting during the movie; the driver who cut me off to be the last one to cross the railroad crossing before the gates came down and I had to sit for over 10 minutes as a freight train went by; the person at the help desk who was of no help in trying to locate where my cashed check was applied; I can go on, but the point is I find a way to release the collection of negative emotions that simmer and boil inside of me. The first thing I do is tell myself I cannot control those things that are out of my control. This has served me well for many years; there is no reason to devote energy to something I cannot change. If that doesn’t work I always have my reliable backup and that is watching a movie. Mmm, I hope no one assumes I must be teetering on the edge based on the amount of films I view weekly. I know what I would become if I did not have a way to release pent-up stress or anger and I have a pretty good idea what the world would look like if everyone held on to their negativity. They would be doing what the people were doing in this horror thriller sequel. ONCE a year the government made all crimes legal and let the citizens participate in an annual purge of the population. Frank Grillo (The Grey, Warrior) played the character Sergeant, a mysterious man who instead of killing people wound up helping mother and daughter Eva and Cali Sanchez, played by Carmen Ejogo (Pride and Glory, Alex Cross) and Zoe Soul (Prisoners), survive the night. This action film was filled with violence and blood. If this movie was to be a true parody or satire, I did not get the full effect because the story made little sense. Sure one could comment on the disparity between the wealthy and poor people depicted in this film but the script had no substance to assist in such a discussion. I found the movie played more like one long video game, just scene after scene of chases and violence. It became a boring experience for me. What I found scarier was the mother who was with her underaged son, sitting near me in the theater. Why would someone bring a child to see this brutal film; what kind of lesson was she trying to teach him?
1 3/4 stars
Without purpose life would be a continuous cycle of sleeping, eating, working and repeating it all over day after day. This procedure becomes automatic with the absence of thought, similar to being a robot. There is a price one pays when they fall into this mode. The synapses of their brain curl and wither like gnarled arthritic hands, losing movement as they become frozen in one pointless position. Purpose is what adds new colorful landscaped roads to the continual construction site of the mind. These roads can lead one to uncharted territories that spark and reveal a new concept or idea that adds fuel to one’s journey in life. One of the reasons why I decided to become a fitness instructor was due to how I was treated in phys ed classes. Not being athletically inclined, I yearned for a gym class where everyone would be treated equally; no one would be made to feel inadequate or be the butt of cruel jokes. I had a good pitching arm back then but no one looked beyond my physical girth. From that time I found a purpose that put me on my life’s path and continues to bring me unlimited joy as a fitness and yoga instructor. THIS animated adventure film offered a similar message. Dane Cook (Mr. Brooks, Dan in Real Life) voiced the character Dusty Crophopper, a world class champion racer. Discovering he had an engine problem that could end his racing career, Dusty decided to join the aerial firefighter squadron led by Blade Ranger, voiced by Ed Harris (A Beautiful Mind, The Abyss). The major challenge facing Dusty would be to see if his engine could withstand the extensive training required for the job. Visually, this movie was fun to watch with its sense of depth and variety of airplane models, but there was nothing I would consider groundbreaking. The majority of actors voicing the characters were fine in their roles, There were really no standouts except for Fred Willard (Ira & Abby, Anchorman franchise) as the Secretary of the Interior. Though this picture was listed as a comedy, the humor would only appease young children. I found the puns old and corny, not able to recall uttering a single chuckle. The biggest issue I had with this film was its lack of creativity. It was so formulaic and stereotypical that my overall feeling towards this movie was one of tiredness. I think this could have easily been released straight to DVD, there was a blandness to the whole thing. It was such a shame, because the message it was trying to convey was certainly a positive one that shined a light on a noble profession.
No one has the right to tell you how you should feel is one of my strongest mantras. Among all the individuals within the circles of connections in my life, everyone knows there is no reason to cover-up, modify or hide one’s feelings. If someone is in a foul mood, so be it. I am not one to offer platitudes like “things will get better” or “it will be a brighter day soon.” When I am sad or depressed I certainly do not want someone around trying to cheer me up. I just want someone to be accepting and understand this is how I am feeling right at the moment. The phrase “misery loves company” comes to mind and there is some truth in it. I have noticed a stronger connection forms between 2 people when they are commiserating about similar circumstances. It is true for me when my friends and I are at a concert or on a trip, shared excitement only accentuates the experience. The same holds true during a somber or sad experience. It all comes down to the ability to relate to another being, to know there is someone else who is feeling the same way as you. COINCIDENTALLY, the four individuals in this comedic drama accidentally discovered they were each feeling the same way with the same idea. It was New Year’s Eve and expecting to be alone Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ; played by Pierce Brosnan (Love is All You Need, The Ghost), Toni Collette (The Way Way Back, Little Miss Sunshine), Imogen Poots (Jane Eyre, That Awkward Moment) and Aaron Paul (Need for Speed, Breaking Bad-TV); all found themselves on the top of a high-rise building at the same time with plans to jump off the roof. Instead of ending their lives that night, they form an unusual pact to help support each other through their troubled times. Based on the novel by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy), believe it or not this film offered a few amusing moments. The subject may be morbid for some; but I found the script did a decent job of handling the subject matter, mixing doses of lightheartedness with darkness. Though the acting was this movie’s strongest feature, it could not help save this dramedy. I found the story jumped around too much, never allowing time to offer further explanation to the scenes. With things coming across piecemeal, the story never fully developed and fell flat. Not that I expect you to agree with me on every one of my movie reviews, but I feel comfortable there will be many who will feel the same way I do after they see this film.
1 3/4 stars