Monthly Archives: November 2014
True friends have the ability to reflect our real selves back to us. No matter how ugly, scary or false we act out; our friends have an open line to the sane part of our minds, reminding us who we are and to stop acting in such a poor fashion. I have a select group of friends who help me cut through the minutiae that spews out of my pinball brain from time to time. As the years stack up for me and my friends, we tend to communicate in a form of verbal and nonverbal shorthand. A simple look can reveal what one of us is thinking. One of the major facets established with these friendships is the supportive aspect. Whenever an event, either of a celebrating or crisis nature, comes up all the friends are right by each one’s side, ready to do whatever is necessary. There really is something to that phrase about “friends from the old neighborhood.” The people who have grown up with us have a special connection that is not affected by distance or time. BEST friends Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private; voiced by Tom McGrath (Madagascar franchise, Megamind), Chris Miller (Shrek franchise, Madagascar franchise), Conrad Vernon (Shrek franchise, Madagascar franchise) and Christopher Knights (Shrek franchise, Madagascar franchise); all agreed to work with a top secret organization called The North Wind. Led by the secretive agent referred to as Classified, voiced by Benedict Cumberpatch (Star Trek into Darkness, The Fifth Estate), the penguins would help to stop the evil Dr. Octavius Brine, voiced by John Malkovich (Red franchise, Secretariat), from wreaking havoc across the world. This animated adventure comedy was filled with a variety of clever lines and visuals, A couple of them went by so fast they easily could be missed if one was not paying close attention. The actors all did a fine job voicing their characters; each with a distinct enough voice to keep the characters separate. As for the story, it was geared more towards a younger crowd; it lacked the sophistication of some of the recent popular animated films. What did not work for me in this movie was the constant chase scenes. It began to feel monotonous to me after a short time. Fortunately I did not have time to dwell on this because I was busy trying to catch the fun twists to the printed words and sight gags flying across the movie screen. With strong themes of friendship, loyalty and commitment; I wound up enjoying this fun animated story. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
It must be something in the blood or maybe DNA that pushes individuals to explore uncharted areas. I have met some of those people and they are fascinating folk. Listening to their exploits of climbing mountains, backpacking across states, camping and kayaking is somewhat foreign to me. I can climb the type of trail that ends at a gift shop with a restaurant and working restroom; but the idea of trekking through the wilderness and camping makes me shudder. Not that I want to be pampered and taken care of, but my idea of camping is staying at a motel where the sink is not in the same room as the commode and the only place to find a meal is at the fast food restaurant that shares the parking lot with the motel. I will say with all the means we have regarding electronic communications and GPS navigating, exploration is much different now compared to years ago. The idea of people willingly leaving their life behind to stake out new territory boggles my mind. The history books we had in school focused more on the big historical events; I had to imagine what life was really like for those people who traveled across uncharted lands to stake out a foreign place to make as their home. They were referred to as settlers. HAVING settled in the territory west of Iowa Mary Bee Cuddy, played by Hilary Swank (Amelia, Million Dollar Baby), lived an uncommon life; she was an unmarried woman who did her own farming. When no one took up Reverend Alfred Dowd’s, played by John Lithgow (Interstellar, Love is Strange), request to transport three “not in their right mind” women back to Iowa, Mary agreed to do it. The trek would be dangerous for anyone, but to have a single woman do it was even tougher. This film festival nominee was a western drama in the true sense. The reason this drama worked was due to the story staying on a personal level. The characters such as Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black franchise, Hope Springs) as George Briggs and James Spader (Lincoln, Boston Legal-TV) as Aloysius Duffy came off as real settlers trying to make their way through life in recently established areas. The acting was solid with extra credit going to Tommy Lee since he directed and helped write the screenplay. This movie grew on me the more I thought about it after leaving the theater. Without major battles or massive emotional outbursts for dramatic effect, the story simply showed a real slice of life for those individuals who were brave enough to start a new life in a new place. I not only admired the effort of the people who made this film but the characters that were portrayed in it.
It would be hard for some to understand the challenge if they did not know the burden. Living under the weight of expectations or in the shadow of an older sibling can add an unnecessary strain to one’s daily life. There have been studies that looked at siblings’ birth order as a means to understand the psychology behind each one’s actions. Quick examples would be the oldest one could become the caretaker or dominant one while the youngest had the least parental restrictions placed on them, becoming spoiled. I remember a college course where we dissected case studies of actual family dynamics. A couple had 2 sons where the oldest was their pride and joy; the other one was always being told to act more like his older brother. After the two boys reached their teen years, the first born was given a gun for hunting. Sadly a year or so later the boy killed himself with the very rifle his parents had given him. The parents were devastated as they plunged into despair and sadness. The living sibling was barely acknowledged at times. However, the following Christmas the parents presented him with a large gift wrapped present. When he opened it up he found the same rifle that his brother had used to kill himself. Think about the message the parents were sending their second child. SUCCESS was hard to acknowledge when trouble was brewing underneath in this biographical drama. Based on a true story, winning the gold medal did not translate into financial success for wrestler Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum (White House Down, Side Effects). Living under the shadow of his older brother David, played by Mark Ruffalo (Now You See Me, Begin Again); David felt he was going nowhere until he received a strange phone call from financial heir John du Pont, played by Steve Carell (Get Smart, Dan in Real Life). David was offered the chance to train and lead an elite group of wrestlers towards gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The acting was incredible in this film festival winning movie. Steve Carell was utterly creepy in this dramatic role. Vaguely remembering the story about John du Pont I found this movie to be more of a psychological sports drama. Though it was directed by winning director Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote); I thought the film dragged, especially in the first half of the story. There were times the screen went dark without sound where I thought something was wrong with the movie projector; it did not help in the entertainment department in my opinion. This film had a thoughtful dark story that did not come up to the same level as the acting.
2 3/4 stars
How the heart swells at an act of kindness generated by love. Simple acts such as a small gift on a random day or a surprise visit to share lunch together expand the love that is shared by two. There are multiply levels for acts of love. Each on is as valid as one from another level; the only difference is the degree of difficulty. I believe a true love is one where the two individuals still maintain their love during life’s challenges. In my opinion, those people who leave a relationship when something hard comes up were never truly in love. For love is unconditional; it will not deflate when a person has a health challenge or disappear when one must travel for work and is gone for weeks at a time. There is the saying love makes the heart grow fonder and I believe it to be true. If love makes up the muscles of the heart then communication is the blood that nourishes it. LOVE was the underlying motivation to the events in this science fiction adventure film. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, Winter’s Bone) reprised her role as Katniss Everdeen for this first of a 2 part ending to the series. Having taken refuge in District 13 headed by President Alma Coin, played by Julianne Moore (Non-Stop, What Maisie Knew); Katniss had to be convinced in lending her voice towards the campaign to keep the revolution alive. When it was discovered Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson (Red Dawn, The Kids are all Right), was alive and living in the capitol, Katniss agreed to be the spokesperson of the cause. However, there were a couple of conditions that had to be met. If you have not seen the previous films to this franchise you may feel a bit lost with this one. Things moved slowly at first which I attributed to the writers laying down the groundwork for the huge finale with the 2nd half of this story. Jennifer was her usual amazing self with this character; her acting was especially notable due to her having to pretend to act badly in a couple of the scenes. Compared to the previous installments there was not much action in this picture. There was more of a cat and mouse nature to the story. I did find it sad to see the deceased Philip Seymour Hoffman (A Most Wanted Man, Doubt) on screen playing his character Plutarch Heavensbee. A question came up for me during the latter part of the film. Since I had not read the books, I was wondering if it was really necessary to split the final book into two films. My guess was probably not but I understand how studios want to get the most bang for their buck. Though I enjoyed the previous film more, this one did not give me a reason to leave the series now.
Humor is the soothing balm that cures the mind’s ailments. A good laugh can expel the dark clouds that build up to weigh down one’s thoughts. My sense of humor leans more toward the satirical instead of cracking a joke at someone’s expense. Since humor is a personal thing it may be hard to know when someone is making a joke when they are not familiar to you. There has been so many times where I have met someone new who said something they thought was funny but I did not get it. I may not understand their joke because when a person tells me something I assume they are telling me the truth until proven otherwise. Now I am guilty of doing the same thing regarding telling jokes to strangers; however, with a straight face I try to say things so outrageous they would be hard to believe. Of course there could be the issue of gullibility; some individuals go through life with a non-skeptical mind. My brain on the other hand has skepticism as its first filter for processing. Once two people understand each other’s sense of humor, the possibilities of eliciting laughter are endless. UNFAMILIARITY with a television show’s humor would lead to dire consequences in this biographical drama. Based on journalist Maziar Bahari’s book, “Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love;” this movie covered the time Maziar Bahari, played by Gael Garcia Bernal (Bad Education, Letters to Juliet), was held captive in an Iranian prison while he was there covering the country’s elections. Unable to make contact with his mother Molloon, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo (The Lake House, The Stoning of Soraya M.), he was only aware of his Iranian captor Javadi’s rosewater scent, played by Kim Bodnia (Bleeder, Pusher). Maziar could not believe his captors thought he was a spy due to what they saw on a television show. Using this story for his screen writing and directorial debut Jon Stewart (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) had a good grasp on what was needed to make an engaging film. With well done cinematography, the pacing was consistent even when a scene would jump to a different time period. The cast’s acting was exceptionally good which I felt made Jon’s job easier. For me the story was one of those stranger than truth type of stories where I sat there thinking how could this have really happened. My main issue with this film was how everything stayed on the same emotional level. It lacked intensity for me; however, I may be projecting here. Considering the scenarios, I thought this movie would have been an intense ordeal; maybe the book went into more detail. No matter, with this being Jon’s first time as a director he has no worries of anyone laughing at his creation.
Pretty much everyone at some time in their life was encouraged to run faster, to throw a ball farther or to jump higher; among other physical activities. Having worked in the fitness industry for many years, I can easily find myself standing in awe as I witness someone doing an incredible feat–incredible at least to me. To this day my favorite sporting event to watch is the Olympic telecast. Seeing the athletes’ dedication and commitment to their sport amazes me. I refer to it as humans doing unhuman things. However, there is another side to each of us besides are physical capabilities and that is our creative side. You know, the ones that flex the right side of their brain. Knowing a variety of teachers I understand things have evolved and students are now encouraged to think outside of the norm. During my schooling there were several teachers who wanted all of us to think the way they did; this always led to a class where a majority of students suffered during the course. I believe everyone has creative ability; it just needs to be exercised like one’s muscles. All one needs to do is look around to see the results of creativity. And I am not even talking about artwork or literature. Things like bridges, appliances, even plastic bottles; all of these things started out with a creative component that led to their birth. THIS film festival winning documentary came with a dual purpose. On one side there was the story regarding the history of modern architecture; on the other, the story revolved around the single photographer who’s photographs promoted a new way to look at structures. The photographer was Julius Shulman, who started taking photos in the 1930s. His passion led him to some of the most famous architects of their time such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra and Frank Gehry. Narrated by Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate, Tootsie), I found this DVD absolutely fascinating as I felt I was taking a walk through history. Iconic buildings that are well known now started out as a person’s idea and Julius was able to frame these objects in such a way that would draw in the viewer. Hearing in his own words how he set up the photo shoot was an added treat. I believe even if you may be unfamiliar in regards to architecture, you still would gain something form watching this beautiful film. For me I felt as if I had just been taught a real good history lesson with awesome visual aids.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
If you happen to trip or fall and break a bone, it usually can get fixed. Joints after years of an active lifestyle are now being replaced with high-tech metal products. However, when the body is attacked by a disease the landscape of the person’s life is forever altered. I am old enough to remember a time when people would avoid talking about their or a family member’s affliction. Those that were children were separated from the general student population; rarely to be seen except for the occasional assembly where they were relegated to a section of seats far from the other students. There were few outlets where adults could get special attention to assist them in achieving or maintaining a level of quality to their lives. It was not unusual for healthy individuals to react with fear and avoid those who were dealing with a physical or mental challenge. In fact, I am going to share with you a tidbit that might surprise you. Kids who were bullied would develop a dislike or even hatred towards disadvantaged peers. You see with the constant barrage of negative comments and physical abuse, the victims would redirect their anger towards an easy target which usually would be a challenged individual. I know this may sound twisted to you; that internalization of not being perfect can warp a person’s perceptions. Gratefully we have advanced and there are people who set a high standard for what can be achieved. PHYSICAL limitations could not stop Stephen Hawking, played by Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn, Les Miserables), from exploring his ideas about the universe. Based on Stephen’s first wife Jane’s book, “Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen,” this film festival winning biographical drama followed the challenges and achievements of two extraordinary individuals. With Felicity Jones (The Invisible Woman, Like Crazy) playing Jane, the two actors were wonderful together. They acted and appeared as these two strong characters who together could take on any obstacles. Eddie was beyond amazing as he physically transformed himself into the brilliant astrophysicist battling a debilitating disease. I found myself at times writhing in my seat with sympathy pains for what I saw Eddie doing on screen. The director allowed the story to flow smoothly whether the scenes were of a scientific or romantic nature; I always felt I was engaged with the characters on screen. If there is fault to be found I felt it was the script. It seemed as if some events were being treated quickly. I would have liked to have seen more story and emotion to them. The satisfying feeling I was experiencing overshadowed this complaint. What an example to see how one man did not let his physical limitations hold his mind back from growing and exploring.
3 1/4 stars
There are people among us pretending they are somebody else due to embarrassment or envy. They want nothing to do with individuals who know their history. Within this group you find folk who were guided into taking on a different persona by a parent or mentor. I knew a few people who transformed themselves into someone different. There was one man who grew up in my neighborhood who went to the same schools I did, bought food from the same local grocery and drug stores and even participated in the same summer camp program. However, it apparently was not enough for him. Out of nowhere he started talking with an accent as if he had spent sufficient time in a foreign country and took on their language. He stopped shopping in the neighborhood and began buying only designer clothing. I never understood the change in him but he never wavered from his new veneer. Within my circle of friends I had a friend who had a mother that acted in a couple of television commercials. She was quite the dramatic character and always pushed her daughter towards acting, even though her daughter had no desire to do it. My friend was constantly being dragged either to auditions or fittings for some, what I thought at least, unusual looking clothing. Thinking about them now, I can only imagine how much energy must have been devoted towards maintaining their transformations. UNCOMFORTABLE and despondent emerging pop star Noni, played by Gugu Mbatha Raw (Belle, Larry Crowne); found herself sitting on the edge of the balcony outside her penthouse suite. Driven by her mother Macy Jean, played by Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting, Barney’s Version), Noni felt she had no other way out until police officer Kaz Nicol, played by Nate Parker (The Great Debaters, Red Tails), tried talking her off the ledge. This film festival nominated drama was written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Secret Life of Bees, Love & Basketball). Having first becoming aware of Gugu in the film Belle, I thought she did an admirable job of acting for this role. There was an easy chemistry between her and Nate. Including Danny Glover (The Color Purple, 2012) as Captain Nicol, I thought everyone’s acting was quite good overall. The script had its moments of real raw emotion that the actors were able to accentuate. Unfortunately the story did not offer any surprises; it was predictable for the most part. There was a familiarity to this film which I realized had to do with it having a similar story to the movie The Bodyguard. Starting out strong, I wished this picture would have stayed more unique and not try to be something else.
2 3/4 stars
It was a long day of intensive studies. We had not seen the outside since we had arrived at 8 in the morning. Before the dinner hour was to arrive we were given an hour to decompress from the day and clear our minds. My partner during the practical applications came up to me and asked if I wanted to take a walk with her. We had only met when we both started our yoga training a few months prior; however, there was an immediate connection. Our sense of humor was similar as our skill level with the poses we were practicing in our studies. As we headed outside the sun was in the latter part of the day, its orange hued rays large and unfocused. We headed down a trail that led us into a forest. With the air cooler inside the green canopied trees, we leisurely started up a conversation that moved us to be vulnerable with each other, laughing at each other’s adventures and supportive as we reported our past hardships. Time had left us behind; the few shadows that had slipped into our darkening green enclave could not catch our attention. When I happened to glance at my watch finally, we were 30 minutes past the dinnertime. In addition we were lost. I tried not showing my nervousness, but it was not easy as I began feeling my hunger pangs becoming aggressive in my stomach. Despite these concerns the two of us kept talking and laughing on a variety of subjects as we treated this excursion as an adventure. We did finally find our way back to our studies that day; but more importantly, we cemented a friendship that continues to this day. Lesson learned, adventures can be more fun with friends. AFTER all these years Harry Dunne, played by Jeff Daniels (Looper, The Squid and the Whale), discovered he had a daughter. When his best friend Lloyd Christmas, played by Jim Carrey (The Truman Show, Bruce Almighty), saw a picture of the girl, he convinced Harry they should try to find her. Their road trip adventure would take them to the craziest places. This comedy written and directed by brothers Bobby & Peter Farrelly (Shallow Hal, There’s Something About Mary), was dull beyond belief. Most of the jokes were either retreads or barely humorous to me. The trailers truly provided the highlights for this film. After 20 years I felt the script should have taken a fresh look at Harry and Lloyd; instead it was a rehash of their previous film. All this movie provided was crude, rude and juvenile jokes for the most part. I wished I had for this movie gotten lost before getting to the theater. If you do go to see this film there was an extra scene after the credits.
1 1/2 stars
This weekend I was fortunate to see a live production of The King and I. Walking into the theater, where I had been to see a variety of plays and musicals many times before, I noticed the walls had been transformed into carved walls of a palace or temple. Hanging above were gold colored pagoda rooftops, placed symmetrically all around the perimeter of the stage lines. As the lights lowered the orchestra began playing the overture and I felt something welling up inside of me. The notes from the music rolled out into the theater; I felt my mind opening up, revealing a memory of me sprawled with a pillow on the floor of the living room from my childhood home. A spotlight opened up from its peaceful slumber; its ray of light illuminating on stage a young boy who was peering through a spyglass. It seemed as if each of my eyes were watching a different story. One eye was observing the activity on stage while my other eye was peering down on the younger me and my family who were placed around our television in the living room. We were watching the movie, The King and I, which was playing on TV. As the actors on stage acted out their scenes I felt myself getting drawn into their character’s lives. When one of them would break into song, I would remember what I was thinking the first time I had heard that song back in that living room.
As the King’s first wife sang the song Something Wonderful, I was taught love was an unconditional gift. Just because someone has a few faults doesn’t mean one has to love them less. Seeing Anna preparing everyone for the grand ball taught me how to find common ground within a diverse group of people. Across the stage Anna and the King were dancing in quick twirls, her satin ball gown with crystal jewels blazing in the spotlights. I not only learned how to be respectful of another person’s limitations, but saw how one needs to have fun in their life. One of the most important lessons I learned when I was that little boy on the floor watching that grand musical movie was not to have regrets; be able to, without fear, verbalize my feelings. During the final scene of the play my eyes which had been bathed in moisture a couple of times prior, opened wide to release their retention pond of tears. With the flood of memories from my childhood resting on me and the actors on stage taking their bows, my evening was perfect. A wonderful production of a great story and revisiting some of the important groundwork I learned from that incredible movie.