Monthly Archives: December 2015

Flash Movie Review: Concussion

It still can have disastrous effects and doesn’t make things better, but at least there were no ill intentions associated with it. As part of my banter during my classes I do public service announcements, a portion of it is listing any product recalls. There have been some that were not due to human error; for example, a bad circuit board installed into a motor vehicle or a food item that did not receive all of its ingredients due to a glitch during the automated manufacturing process. I understand things can happen. The issue I have is when individuals willingly keep the status quo though they know it could be dangerous for the consumer. Listen to these product recalls I have previously announced in class: a paper lantern that could catch on fire because the votive candle holders were too close to the lamp’s sides or how about the children’s swing set where the seats hung too low, causing kids to scrape their legs on the ground when swinging. You are telling me no one bothered to inspect the product before selling it? It has been drummed into all of our heads that time is money; no one wants to spend a lot of time on something if it affects the bottom line. I find it sad and miss the old days (listen to me) when people cared about their products and even other people. This is why I was so taken aback by this drama.    FORENSIC neuropathologist Dr. Bennett Omalu, played by Will Smith (I Am Legend, Hancock), worked at the coroner’s office in Pittsburgh. When the corpse of one of the Pittsburgh Steeler’s star football players arrived, Dr. Omalu could not understand why such a relatively young person had suffered such ailments and was now dead. It was a mystery he was determined to solve. This film festival winning sports film played partially like a thriller. Based on a true story I have to give credit to Will Smith. The character Will portrayed was such a gentle, down to earth man that one just wanted to root for him. Maybe the accent was weak but Will made this role one of his best performances I have ever seen. With Alec Baldwin (The Departed, 30 Rock-TV) as Dr. Julian Bailes and Albert Brooks (Drive, Defending Your Life) as Dr. Cyril Wecht, the supporting cast did a fine job with their characters even though they were not written with much depth to them. There were a couple of scenes that felt forced, where the writers wanted to inject an element of suspense; they were only a distraction for me. On the other hand I will say as the pieces of this mystery were being discovered there was one particular scene that was powerful and put everything into place for me. After seeing this picture I honestly cannot imagine a parent, who has children playing in some type of sports activity, not questioning their decision to allow their children’s participation.

 

3 stars

 

 

 

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Flash Movie Review: Daddy’s Home

I have seen so many outcomes I still do not know whether it takes luck, fate, work or a combination of all three to create a blended family. From a young age I learned family does not need a genetic bond. There were children in the neighborhood who were adopted or had a stepparent. Some kids would call their parent mom or dad even though they were not a biological parent; others would refer to their parent as a stepdad or stepmom. I found it curious why they were labeled differently. As we grew older I started getting an inside peek into the dynamics of what people consider to be a family. When both parents came from a previous marriage that produced children, sometimes there was a rivalry between the different sets of kids. I actually saw blatant favoritism from one parent with their biological child over their stepchild. Where I can see the challenges of blending a family I also know there can be advantages. What about an only child that suddenly, through the remarriage of a parent, gains brothers and sisters? In fact, I know someone whose biological parents each had children from a previous marriage. This person technically has half siblings, but one would never know because they are all so supportive of each other; it is a beautiful thing. Each of them feel the same way about their siblings and the parents are united in creating a healthy, loving environment for all of the children. There is no competition involved unlike the parents in this comedy.    BRAD Whitaker, played by Will Ferrell (The Other Guys, Get Hard), was working hard to show he could be a dad to his stepchildren. His plans took a major detour when the children’s biological father Dusty Mayron, played by Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, Lone Survivor), decided to come pay a visit. The idea for this story was a valid one; I have seen where a parent essentially tries to buy the love of a child. From the trailers one can see this appears to be the premise for this film. If you did see the trailers then you saw the best parts of this picture. I thought it started out slow as it moved into scenes of one-upmanship between the two dads. This type of schtick got old real fast. There really was nothing new or fun in this comedy; however, I liked the way the story turned, making the last part of this film more interesting and bearable. If the writers would have introduced this aspect earlier this movie would have been better in my opinion. As it stands, some of the scenes were ridiculous and unnecessary. Of course, if one is looking for a light mindless fluffy film then this one would fit the need. The idea of showing a family trying to blend together was a good idea; this mishmash of a movie did nothing with it.

 

1 3/4 stars

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: The Hateful Eight

There was a time where it was considered a palace. With Moorish trappings and an abundance of wrought iron railings the building stood tall over all other ones within several blocks. I was lucky enough to get inside of it, though it had lost its moniker by then. This place was a movie palace; an old fashioned theater that had one single enormous screen, covered by a set of red velvet drapes. The rows of seats were bolted to a sloping floor that looked like a swelling wave, particularly if one stood either at the front or back of them. The theater was built decades before anyone thought of putting stadium seating into an auditorium. I remember the time I visited this place and was fascinated with the fine details of the theater lobby. There were candelabras on the walls with fake candles that looked like they were dripping white wax from their amber colored, flickering lightbulbs. To the right of the candy counter was a grand staircase that swirled up to a balcony that was perched just below the mosaic tiled ceiling. Before the movie started there as a low audible rumble throughout the theater. Slowly rising up from the stage in front of those velvet drapes, was a huge pipe organ being played by a man dressed in a tuxedo; it was wild. I imagined that in its heyday when a new movie was being shown in this theater it was an event…and today’s movie could have easily been on the schedule.    BOUNTY hunter John Ruth, played by Kurt Russell (Tombstone, Death Proof), and his prisoner Daisy Domergue, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Machinist, Road to Perdition), were forced to hole up in a roadside establishment until a winter blizzard passed by. They were not the only ones who had the same idea. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2), this mystery thriller was an experience to be seen. Nearly 3 hours long, there were no movie preview trailers; the film started on time with an overture and there was a planned intermission. The crowd was handed a complimentary program; I was taken aback. The filming  and soundtrack were incredible to see and hear as the story was set in Wyoming. With Samuel L. Jackson (Chi-Raq, The Avengers franchise) as Major Marquis Warren and Bruce Dern (Nebraska, Monster) as General Sandy Smithers among the cast, this film had a great script with wonderful dialog. Yes, there was what I refer to as the Tarantino blood and violence scenes but there was not as much as his previous films. The story took some time to get into because it started out slow with long drawn out shots. I felt some scenes could have been eliminated or at least shortened. As with his past films Quentin did a beautiful job of paying homage to past celebrated directors. Watching this film festival winning western was truly an experience. There were scenes with blood and violence.

 

3 1/4 stars

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Sisters

Sitting up on a shelf in the pantry sits a platter that has special significance for me. There is nothing special about it if one is just looking at it. With its edges bordered by two small bands of gold and burgundy that have formed minute cracks over all these years and a multi-colored rosette at its center, this platter reminds me of the home I grew up in. It was only used on special occasions, being the vessel that carried out the main course for all sitting around the dining room table to devour. Besides this platter I have two other items in my possession from my childhood; a pair of scissors and a candle holder. I know what you must be thinking, such random items. You are correct they are random but each one of them comes with very distinct memories from my youth. Since then I have lived in several places yet, what I believe would be true for most people, that first one’s memories are the most vibrant in my mind. So much had happened there that formed the person I am today. From the neighbors to my friends from the block, it was essentially growing up with an extra large family. Was I sad when the time came to move out from it? You bet it was, however it never left from inside of me. Certain things I did to the next place were done in such a way to mimic those things left behind. Looking back, the transition may have started out hard but it was not as traumatic as it was for the sisters in this comedy.    Coming home to visit their parents sisters Maura and Kate Ellis, played by Amy Poehler (They Came Together, Parks and Reactions-TV) and Tina Fey (Muppets Most Wanted, Admission), discovered the home they grew up in was up for sale. Before the house was to be sold the sisters decided they had to do something that would create an everlasting memory. There is no denying Tina and Amy work extremely well together; they have so much history between them. Besides them and some of their old cast mates from SNL like Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids, Grown Ups franchise) as Brinda, there was Dianne Wiest (Footloose, I Am Sam) and James Brolin (Catch Me if You Can, Marcus Welby, M.D.-TV) as Deana and Bucky Ellis. All the actors were fine for this picture. But I have to tell you this movie was a mixed bag. There was a mixture of fun zaniness, witty sarcastic dialog and off the wall humor; however, there were stretches where things became crude and silly. I did not think the story was all that original. It was easy to figure out what sight gag was about to happen or joke told. Because of who the two main stars were, this film needed a much stronger script. I did not have a problem leaving the theater after the movie ended.

 

2 stars

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Don Verdean

No matter where you look, from a corporation to a charitable organization to a health care facility, there will always be someone there who has the power. I have seen so many times where an individual changes once they get themselves into a position of power. It takes a strong internal makeup not to get corrupted by its force or to use it for one’s own advantage. At a former company where I worked there was an individual who did any and everything to get a particular title attached to their name. They did some sneaky and underhanded things to other employees just to get ahead in their career. The thing that really got me was when their actions were questioned by any of their co-workers (the ones that even talked to them) they would claim they had to act that way because it would benefit the company. This was rarely the case as far as I could tell. Even on the world stage haven’t we all seen individuals who claim their actions were for the greater good? I have such a hard time listening to people who claim to be righteous but they do not act it. I know an individual who is active in their religion and is quick to use their activities as proof that they are devout in their belief. However if you heard some of the prejudicial remarks that came out of their mouth you would never believe they were a religious person. To top it off, I have seen their friends who all believe this individual is the poster child for goodness. Do you think their title of vice chairman has anything to do with it?    BIBLICAL archaeologist Don Verdean, played by Sam Rockwell (The Sitter, Seven Psychopaths), was approached by Pastor Tony Lazarus, played by Danny McBride (Your Highness, This is the End), to form a partnership where Don’s discoveries would go on display at Pastor Lazarus’ church. The pastor believed this would greatly increase the size of his congregation and Don did not want to disappoint him. This comedy had a well seasoned cast; besides Sam and Danny, it had Amy Ryan (Escape Plan, Gone Baby Bone) as Carol Jensen and Jemaine Clement (What We Do in the Shadows, Men in Black 3) as Boaz. The story was a satire or more precisely a spoof on people’s willingness to believe anything depending on how it is presented to them. I thought the idea for this comedy was okay but as the movie continued I realized nothing was making me care about any of the characters. As the story played out it dropped into a madcap mode that came across as ridiculous. The actors did try to help but by the end of the film I was left with a blah feeling; there was nothing great or bad about this picture, it was innocuous if you can believe it.

 

1 3/4 stars

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip

I always know what to expect whenever I stop at one of these places. The only time I go to one is when I am out of town on vacation. You see when I am exploring a new area I do not want to spend time sitting down at a restaurant, waiting for someone to take my order and then having to wait further for my food to come to my table. This is why I will quickly grab something at a fast food establishment. I save eating at a local restaurant for dinner time. The only time I partake in fast food is when I am traveling out of state. If I have planned my day full of activities and sightseeing, I do not want to spend a lot of time taking in food. To me food is just fuel to continue my pace for the afternoon. The reason I eat fast food is because no matter where I am the meal is reliable; there are no surprises, nor do I have to think about how my body is going to react to something foreign. However, based on recent news there are reasons to worry about certain foods we eat these days. The meal is quick and adequate; I do not have to devote any thought to it, just consume and get out of the place. I know actually what to expect whenever I venture into such restaurants. I see my logic can be applied to other areas of interest, such as movie franchises.    AFRAID Dave, played by Jason Lee (Chasing Amy, My Name is Earl-TV), was going to leave them once he proposed to Samantha, played by Kimberly Williams (Father of the Bride franchise, We are Marshall), Alvin and his brothers decided to follow Dave to Miami to stop the proposal. From the very beginning of this film I knew what to expect from the story. There was going to be the same type of humor, similar big song and dance numbers and an antagonist; in this case it was Tony Hale (Stranger Than Fiction, The Heat) as Agent Suggs. With the addition of Josh Green (Fair Haven, The Girl in the Book) as Miles, the story was set and off went the chipmunks. There was essentially nothing new to this latest installment of the franchise. Little children should still enjoy it though there were a couple of scenes that may not be appropriate for them. Except for one good dance number I was bored through a majority of this picture. I found it pretty predictable for the most part, besides the repetitive use of some sight gags. It seems to me this franchise is just following the same formula setup from the past films; there was nothing new or different. As long as the viewer knows what to expect once they get into the theater, I guess this movie serves some kind of a purpose.

 

1 2/3 stars

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

It has been years since we first got together; has it been decades already? Old friends who have seen and lived through so much together all these years. I remember when we first met; I was standing in a long line of people outside on a cloudless day. Though you were not native to the area we soon discovered we had things in common and became fast friends. Our conversations were never forced; in fact, we were comfortable enough to say anything because neither of us ever judged the other. Even when you were having father issues I was there for you. There were periods of time where we did not get to see each other. Remember when you went away to that remote place to find yourself? I will never forget when you found out you had a sister; you were over the moon. When I look back at the times we spent staring up at the stars, wondering which ones looked like they were in the throes of death, we really have experienced a lot together. And like any close friendship, no matter how long it has been between visits, we pick up right where we left off as if we had just seen each other yesterday. There is a certain comfort that comes with our conversations. Though we view things with older and wiser eyes, I still see younger images of us whenever we talk. To tell you the truth, memories of our past years always accompany you so that I always get a sense of home whenever we meet.    THE years of peaceful harmony that followed the defeat of the Empire were about to be threatened from a new evil force called the First Order. Their plan involved the use of the dark side. This action adventure fantasy directed and co-written by J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Star Trek franchise) had the perfect balance between the past and present. Not that someone unfamiliar with the past Star Wars movies needs to see all of them, but it would help with some of this film’s humorous dialog. With relative newcomer Daisey Ridley as Rey, Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year, Ex Machina) as Poe Dameron and Adam Driver (This is Where I Leave You, What If) as Kylo Ren; I can say with certainty the franchise has been placed in capable hands. These three actors especially Daisy were powerful on screen. Is the story perfect; no, I do not believe so. I found a few parts to be a rehash from past films. There were also some scenes that shared a similarity with past ones. However, the overall movie viewing experience was really special. The entire audience acted and reacted in identical ways, from cheering at the unbelievable battle scenes to the sly remarks from past cast members. As a stepping stone for a new story arc, this picture will fulfill many viewers’ hopes and dreams. Things look good for a new force to take fight.

 

3 1/2 stars for Star Wars fans       3 1/4 stars for everyone else

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Youth

It never occurred to me but the two attributes really do sit opposing each other on the scales of justice. On one side sits youth, ah youth the golden period where one feels invincible, has less fears, can survive on little sleep and has an indestructible skin that quickly removes any cuts or bruises. Settled on the other side is wisdom; now this one can be a bit elusive for some folk. Wisdom has a better understanding of one’s emotions; years of experience has ripened wisdom, allowing a majority of one’s decisions to become rational. I am sure like me you have heard a variety of ways people talk about aging, such as “youth is wasted on the young” or “growing old is not for the weak.” In my younger years I laughed at these outlooks, now I understand. Getting together with friends and family now includes conversations about medical issues. We compare drug prices or what new drugs we are taking, how many times we get up in the middle of the night, our new physical limitations; all such things are becoming constant companions to us. I am not saying I am smart by any means, but with the wisdom I have gained in my life I sure wish I still had a youthful body holding it. Not that I want to sit and wish I were younger, but it would be nice to have youth and wisdom share more time together instead of a fleeting moment as the scales of justice pass each other while slowly traveling to opposite sides.    LIFETIME friends Fred and Mick, played by Michael Caine (Harry Brown, Inception) and Harvey Keitel (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Piano), spend every year at their favorite resort in the Swiss Alps. While Fred is a retired conductor and Mick is always working on a new screenplay, the two friends were never too old to learn something new. This film festival winning drama had a wise cast of actors. Including Rachel Weisz (Oz the Great and Powerful, The Fountain) as Lena Ballinger and Jane Fonda (Nine to Five, Georgia Rule) as Brenda Morel, the acting was terrific in this pretty looking movie. Some of the outdoor scenes were breathtaking, where I wanted to go visit the place. Luckily this was a big plus for me because I did not care for the script. I not only found myself getting bored during several scenes, but some parts of the story seemed out of place to me. The story did not flow, it staggered along. I certainly appreciated the concept and idea of aging friends, but I was not feeling any deep connection between the characters. I have to tell you I was conflicted here. The wonderful acting, scenery and story sounded great but together it did not work. I have seen enough movies in my life to know the difference between an entertaining one or not and this one did not make it for me.

 

2 3/4 stars

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Red Beard

Knowledge is acquired by studying, practicing, being taught or experiencing something. It took me some time before I realized I was a visual learner. I cannot tell you how torturous it was for me to be in a classroom where the teacher would sit and just read to us straight out from our textbook without any type of dscussion. My mind would try to create images of what was being told to us, but after a time my brain would start to venture away from the subject. You could say I was an active daydreamer. Listening to my friends talk about the way their children are currently being taught, it amazes me how different times have changed since I was in school. It is curious to me when I see a child acting out, especially in a way that borders on hatefulness or prejudice. Where does a child learn such things? If I had to guess I would say they learned from example. I have always been a firm believer in explaining choices to children. For example if they choose to act a certain way, explain to them what the consequences would be for that type of behavior. Even as adults we all have the ability to make choices. When I think about those times where I would get angry over something and make everyone miserable around me, I now cringe about it. I had a choice back then on how to act and I made a poor decision. It is so true how one learns from example.    ARROGANT and upset when he arrived at the clinic Doctor Noboru Yasumoto, played by Yuzo Kayama (47 Samurai, The Sword of Doom), did not want to have anything to do with such a poor facility. No matter what Doctor Kyojo Niide a/k/a Red Beard, played by Toshiro Mifune (Throne of Blood, Rashomon), had to say about the patients and staff, Dr. Yasumtot did not care. It is what he saw that made a difference. This film festival winning drama by acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Ran) had such a simple story that was told in a beautiful way. Filmed in black and white, scenes were presented in a clean creative way with a heightened use of shadows. I almost found the dialog secondary as the actors actions were more pronounced. Set in 19th century Japan this DVD had a long viewing time. At first I felt the pacing of the film was slow; however, as the story progressed things started to fall into place for me and I was won over. I felt because the emphasis was placed on the physical aspects of the characters the story had to stay at a slower pace throughout the film. This movie offered teaching moments without having to say a single word. Japanese was spoken with English subtitles.

 

3 1/3 stars — DVD

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: The Letters

How enriched does one’s life become when they are the recipient of an act of kindness. Through the centuries there have been extraordinary people who have given more to others than themselves. Present day there are moments where a kind gesture can change the entire day if not just our mood. I have one individual who remains vivid in my memory as an incredibly kind person; it was a former teacher of mine. After going through a long span of difficult times in school, I was desperate to find someone to talk to about a small group of predatory students. This particular teacher was the most approachable out of my instructors. I still remember the look on her face when I finally overcame my embarrassment and told her what was happening to me. She became a mixture of mortified anger and immediately took me to one of the vice principals of the school. Once there she took over and explained my situation, demanding action against the students. I was terrified that all of this would come back to bite me, that the students would seek vengeance. When the vice principal questioned me further, I had to express my concerns. They both assured me there would be no retaliation from the group of students; I was not convinced. The next school day did indeed turn out to be a better day. The teacher made sure she was outside of the classroom before and after class every day to watch me as I walked down the hallway. To me, her act of kindness was saintly.    THROUGH her life Mother Teresa, played by Juliet Stevenson (Bend it Like Beckham, Mona Lisa Smile), kept correspondence with her spiritual advisor Celeste van Exem, played by Max von Sydow (Robin Hood, Shutter Island). Her letters were the basis for this film festival winning drama. There is no denying Mother Teresa was a very special human being; there have been many stories and reports about her life which included winning the Nobel Prize for Peace. Not as familiar with her early years, I was interested with the beginning of this film. The script went back and forth between Celeste and Benjamin Praagh, played by Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner, The Reverend), discussing Mother Teresa in the past tense to actually seeing scenes of her life in chronological order. Unfortunately the script did a big disservice; it was void of emotion and details. I never got a sense of Mother Teresa’s motivation or even her thoughts; this was a poorly written story. The picture was for the most part bland; nothing stood out whether it was the acting (which in some scenes was almost comical) or the directing. It played more like a mediocre television movie. Actually, what the studio created here is one of those painted felt pictures of a religious figure that you would see being sold on the side of the road. Mother Teresa deserved so much more than this picture.

 

1 2/3 stars

 

 

 

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