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Flash Movie Review: Manchester by the Sea

FOR many people only fond memories resurface when they travel back to their old neighborhood. The discount store that had the best penny candies, the shoe store with the jovial shoe clerk who told the best stories, the house where one’s best friend lived; there could be many places that bring a smile to one’s face. But not everyone may have a similar experience when they go back home. There are some people who tentatively traverse the streets that are fraught with landmines of dark emotions.   RECENTLY I had to travel back to my old neighborhood, the place where I grew up. The street I lived on looked the same except several houses on the block were painted in different colors. The tree in the alley next to my home, where I would climb up to hide, was no longer there; it was replaced with recently poured concrete to add parking spaces. My secret place to hide at school was in one of its parking lots; it was still there. I would wait inside until I felt everyone in the school had gone home for the day, before venturing out from it. Driving east I passed a place that was a few houses down from a relative’s place. That spot nearby was where one time I did not get to their home in time before being attacked. I continued on until the street ended at the beach. Here is where I started developing my creative side, building elaborate sand castles and forts. Alas, some of them were meant to fall once the tide came in. No matter which way one looks at it, each neighborhood has its share of good and bad memories.   RETURNING home due to the death of his brother Joe, played by Kyle Chandler (The Wolf of Wall Street, Zero Dark Thirty); Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck (Out of the Furnace, The Finest Hours), was stunned to find out he was made the guardian of Joe’s son Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom, Kill the Messenger). There was a problem, Lee did not want to move back home. This film festival winning drama had some of the best acting I have seen this year. Casey, Lucas and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Blue Valentine) as Randi Chandler were so good together that my heart ached. The atmosphere for this movie was one of sadness and depression; however, the script was smartly written to allow Patrick to act like a typical high school boy. I enjoyed the scenery of the east coast and never felt the camera work was intrusive. There were a couple of spots where I found the story deflated a bit, but seriously the acting in this picture could get a few nominations this awards season. Let me reiterate this was not a happy story; but it was a moving experience, especially the way the story unfolded. Even if the distance is far, it would be worth your time to travel over to the neighborhood in this winning film.

 

3 2/3 stars  

 

 

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Flash Movie Review: Brooklyn

At some point in time you come to the realization that you want to spend the rest of your life with that person. Was it after you went through your checklist of pluses and minuses, it fit into your time frame or it fulfills a desire? It is interesting, I recently read a survey that listed the top deal breakers in a relationship. The top four reasons were disheveled/unclean appearance, lazy, too needy or lack of humor. Any one of these would be what I call one of my red flags; I tend to pay close attention to the cleanliness of someone’s teeth and fingernails. The way I tend to define whether a relationship has potential or not to be long term is to look at the things that bother or annoy me. I just ask myself if this is something I can live with and if it is then I remain engaged in the relationship. Here is an example: being a credit manager, I do not know if I could be with someone who was not financially conscientious. If they had little regard to paying their bills or bouncing checks, I think over time it would build up and bother me too much. Since love is an all encompassing thing, one cannot choose the parts they like and discard the rest. So I understand where the act of committing may take time. The only time I can see where this will turn into a problem is when the person is making a commitment based only on the positive attributes of a loved one.    MOVING from Ireland to America was the hardest thing Eilis, played by Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Hanna), ever had to do in her young life. That was until she settled in Brooklyn, New York where she met Tony, played by Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines, Beneath the Harvest Sky). This film festival winning drama was a perfect throwback to those old fashioned dialog driven movies Hollywood use to make. The romantic story was exquisite in the way it simply laid out the story of a young Irish immigrant finding her own in a foreign country, besides her journey growing into a mature woman. I thought the acting was outstanding from the main characters and supporting ones such as Julie Walters (Driving Lessons, Harry Potter franchise) as Mrs. Kehoe and Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina, Unbroken) as Jim Farrell. The scenery and costumes especially stood out for me in this 1950s period piece. Another aspect I particularly admired was the strength of the main character. I think many of us are used to having some type of trauma move the story and it really was not the case in this film. If I were to go through my checklist of things that create an Oscar worthy film, this one would certainly fit the bill.

 

3 2/3 stars

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Maybe it takes a passage of time for one’s perceptions to evolve out of a wider base of experiences. Now when I look back at my school years, though some of them were brutal, I see there were parts of it where I was fortunate. Having gone to school at a time when students were not considered bull’s-eyes I can only recall one incident where a student had died. He was the brother of a classmate who was 1 year behind us in school. There were rumors about what happened to him but it appeared as if he had killed himself. Outside of that the only thing that came close was one student who was an epileptic who had a seizure in the middle of a class and another who was a hemophiliac. I remember when the teacher spent half of the morning explaining to us what it meant to be a hemophiliac; we were told to be very careful around her, especially during PE class and recess. As you are probably guessing this was before the HIPAA law came into effect. In regards to these 3 individuals, it was the only time where the different factions (it is the only word that does justice to what my school was like) in the school came together. Whether one actively sought out a faction or was judged and placed in one; after seeing this stellar film, I think all schools have the same factions.    FORCED by his mother to go visit a classmate recently diagnosed with cancer Greg, played by Thomas Mann (Project X, Beautiful Creatures), had no idea what to say to Rachel, played by Olivia Cooke (The Signal, Ouija). Not interested in his pity Rachel and Greg had nothing in common except not being part of a particular group in school. Her journey through her illness would blur the lines. This film festival winning comedic drama was this generation’s coming of age story. With cast members like Nick Offerman (We’re the Millers, Parks and Recreation-TV) as Greg’s dad, Molly Shannon (Analyze This, Life After Beth) as Denise and newcomer R J Cyler as Earl; everyone was believable and gelled so well together. The bond between everyone was cemented by the intelligent script that had street smarts. As I sat in the theater watching this movie, I had various school memories popping up that were similar in theme to what I was seeing on screen. With the outstanding directing that beautifully blended in the absurd, sad, happy and uncomfortable scenes; I was swept into the story of this film and enjoyed nearly every minute being involved with these students. Wow, I wish I could have said the same thing about my time spent during my school years.

 

3 2/3 stars

 

 

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Big Hero 6

When the day consisted of challenges and stress, some individuals find comfort by getting it soaked out of them with one squeeze. Meeting a friend or family member can begin with one of these, reattaching the shared bond of the two’s history together. At a time of grief, it tries to remove the tiredness and sadness from a person’s body. And then there is the special kind that greets you in the morning after drifting off from a romantic night into a deep slumber. A hug may not always be the cure-all but it certainly can come close. There is nothing like coming home after a hectic day at work and fall into a warm, inviting embrace. For me hugs have important therapeutic value; they can bring unconditional comfort and a sense of total acceptance. I still remain in awe on the sheer power a hug can have on us. Remembering a horrible breakup and how a pair of arms encased me as each breath I took was accompanied by a drenching removal of strength to continue standing. On the other hand there were times where a loving hug stretched out to greet and surprise me while tired, standing in line to exit after a long trip away. In its simplest form, a hug has universal appeal for all.    HUGS took on more of a special nature in this exciting animated action film. Hiro Hamada, voiced by Ryan Potter (Supah Ninjas-TV, Senior Project), was content betting on his battling robot until he met at his older brother Tadashi’s, voiced by Daniel Henney (The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), laboratory an unusual looking robot named Baymax, voiced by Scott Adsit (We’re the Millers, The Italian Job). Hiro wanted to be part of this world filled with incredible devices being created by brilliant people such as Wasabi and Honey Lemon, voiced by Damon Wayans Jr. (The Other Guys, Let’s Be Cops) and Genesis Rodriguez (Identity Thief, Man on a Ledge). This movie literally shocked me with its bold new take on action heroes. Written with sensitive and humorous passages, this film provided a whole story for both the adult and kid viewing audience. The characters were average people who just happened to do amazing things in their lives. One of the aspects I appreciated most was the good vs evil aspect of the story without having to shed any blood or perform extreme violence. Now there was an issue about death that made the little 3-4 year old boy next to me cry; I believe he was in the minority. With wonderful visual effects and a strong story line, I left the packed movie theater feeling like I had just received a warm fuzzy hug. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.

 

3 2/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Boyhood

How many of us can say we knew who or what we would become when we were young? During our formative years, the blossom of youth began to mold and form us into the future adults we would become. Family members, friends, peers and even the media played a part in our development. Recently I was sitting with relatives looking at old photographs and was fascinated with their reactions to seeing themselves. The majority scowled, looking like they had just bit into a sour piece of fruit. They would quickly turn the photo over to get it out of their eyesight. As I watched them I was recalling my impressions of them when they were young, compared to who they were now. It was curious to see how our life experiences altered each of us. Where some events seemed major back then, today they appeared inconsequential; however, they did steer each of us in a different direction. If photographs could initiate these thoughts imagine what would happen if your life was being documented year to year.    WRITER and director Richard Linklater (Me and Orson Welles, Dazed and Confused) had an audacious idea for a movie, to film the life of one boy for 12 years. This film festival wining drama was the end result as it followed the life of Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane (Fast Food Nation, Lone Star State of Mind), from a young 6 year old until he reached 18 years of age. Ethan Hawke (Sinister, Snow Falling on Cedars) and Patricia Arquette (Ed Wood, True Romance) played his father and mother, while relative newcomer Lorelei Linklater played his sister Samantha. The story was simple and straightforward as the movie viewer became a witness to the family’s reactions to life throughout the years. I found myself taking a different mindset while I watched this film. There were no surprises or twists to the story; one simply sat and observed this average family dealing with whatever came their way, like most of us do on a daily basis. The acting was amazing considering the cast would come together once a year and have to pick up where they left off the previous year. A tidbit for you from an interview I read with the director: he would not let the younger cast see playbacks on any of their scenes, only allowing the older cast members because Richard did not want the young actors to be influenced from seeing themselves in their roles. I found it especially unbelievable that the scenes seemed seamless as the story aged. There will be some of you who will feel the story dragged at times and I understand. I enjoy seeing anyone’s old family photographs, so watching this film felt like I was an invited guest of this family.

 

3 2/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

It was a time where the words “please” and “thank you” were freely given in a sentence. Kind gestures were evident everywhere we went throughout the building. With passports in hand, a group of us went out of the country for a convention being held in a regal old hotel. Wide and majestic with its granite facade and elongated windows, the hotel had several flags waving above the doorway as if they were greeting every hotel guest. Inside the floor was fitted with a combination of huddled polished gold edged tiles that looked like reflective pools surrounded by the plush, deep red carpeting that swallowed up noises from everyone’s shoes. The lobby had an ample crystal chandelier that cast just enough light to make the room glow as if the sun was setting behind the woven tapestry that hung across the far western wall. For the duration of the convention no matter how loud or rowdy the guests became, the hotel staff never once judged or showed a disapproving face. It was when the Grand Budapest Hotel first appeared on the movie screen in this comedic drama that I recalled my memory of that trip. The difference between the two hotels was that mine sat in the heart of a large city and it did not have a murder occur within its walls. From writer and director Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom), this visually stimulating film grabbed me from the very beginning. No need to worry if visuals are not your cup of tea because the story had a creative zaniness that was elevated by the fine acting from the cast. Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter franchise, Skyfall) was outstanding as the famous hotel concierge Gustave H. Adrien Brody (The Pianist, Cadillac Records) as Dmitri, Willem Dafoe (Out of the Furnance, The Walker) as Jopling and relative newcomer Tony Revolori (The Perfect Game) as Zero Moustafa were only part of the wonderful cast that Wes assembled for this fun film. The story was a story within a story that was easy to follow. When a wealthy guest of the hotel was found murdered, the authorities believed Gustave H was to blame. What took place after were a series of screwball chases and plot twists that hearkened back to the madcap comedy movies made in the 1930s and 40s. Each scene had its own unique individualized detailing where I felt I was looking through a series of paintings. If you are not a fan of Wes Anderson, I think the cast could still win you over.  As far as I was concerned I was willing to book a room at the hotel in this film festival winner.

 

3 2/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: American Hustle

One would think with my love of movies I would see a favorite film more than once. In all honesty it happens very rarely. If there is a movie I just have to own, I will see the film again when I buy the DVD. As far as I can remember, I think there are only 4 movies I have seen twice while they were still playing at the theater. One of those films was The Sting with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. If I were reviewing movies back then I would have given this film a 4 star rating. Everything from the acting to directing to the music was as close to perfect as possible. Now the reason I brought up this film was because this crime film reminded me of The Sting. From writer and director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter) this film festival winning movie was loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal from the 1970’s, which was an FBI sting operation against public corruption. Forty pound heavier Christian Bale (Out of the Furnance, American Psycho) and Amy Adams (Man of Steel, Enchanted) played con artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser. Forced into service by ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, The Words), they discovered their lives could be at risk when some dangerous individuals suddenly became involved. The first thing in this Golden Globe nominated movie that reminded me of The Sting was its story. Besides both being about a sting operation, the story had several twists and surprises. The next thing that was similar was the unbelievable, amazing acting. Everyone in this film held their own with their terrific acting skills. One of the youngest actors in the cast gave such an astounding performance that she should get nominated for an Oscar. That actress was Jennifer Lawrence who played Irving’s alcoholic wife Rosalyn Rosenfeld. I thought her young age would be a hinderance in playing this role, but that was not the case. However, Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, North Country) who played Mayor Carmine Polito looked too young for the part. His acting was first rate, but I felt he needed to look older for the part. Everyone in this dramatic film had equal amounts of screen presence which carried me through the couple of parts I found to be slow. With a little more editing the already fantastic dialog would have been ideal for me. The music and sets were perfect for the times. This movie certainly will get a couple of Oscar nominations and is definitely worth seeing. Now that I have seen it I have this urge to see The Sting again.

3 2/3 stars 

Flash Movie Review: Philomena

Once the heart loses a loved one it never fills up the same way. The empty space in the heart gets filled with memories like air in a balloon until it almost resembles its former shape. But as time goes by the area shrivels due to the memories fading. The heart never deflates completely; as recollections withdraw to the deeper recesses of the mind, it takes more effort to keep the heart aloft. Though it may not be felt right away, life does go on as the heart seeks out a new or different type of love to nourish and return it to a higher place of consciousness. I have experienced such loss (who hasn’t, right?) and understand we each treat loss in different ways. Inspired by a true story, the main character in this dramatic film had been secretly carrying her loss for 50 years. Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal, Ladies in Lavender) was stellar in the role of Philomena, the Irish woman who had her out of wedlock son taken away from her and given up for adoption. Steve Coogan (Ruby Sparks, Tropic Thunder) played investigative journalist Martin Sixsmith who would take and document Philomena’s journey to find out what happened to her son. This film festival winning movie used Martin’s book, “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee,” as a source. First and foremost let me start with the acting in this film. Judi was amazing in the role. It was a different type of character for her, where she gave the impression of being naive, but underneath had a solid core of strength. As for Steve, I was impressed by him taking on a cynical, smart aleck type of character who had a protective fondness for Philomena. Because of their chemistry and acting skills, they never let the script fall into a sentimental mushy state. I was surprised with the turn of events and I have to say it was hard not to become emotional. This was an adult story that captivated the audience to the point I was able to hear people’s emotions welling up. There is a good chance Judi and possibly Steve will get nominated for an Oscar, besides the director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity). None of us may ever experience what Philomena did, but each of us will certainly be able to relate to the love and loss she endured.

 

3 2/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Nebraska

It takes a person with a certain disposition who can enjoy living in a small town. They find comfort in knowing their neighbors, bumping into friends at the local supermarket, having their children attending the same school and living a simpler lifestyle than in a large metropolis. I am so not one of those individuals; in fact, I would probably get claustrophobic if I had to live in a small town. Being born and raised in a large city, I find comfort in the anonymity of being part of the masses. I do not know if it is due to how I was raised or to the hostile environment I experienced in high school, but for years I have always felt safer being invisible and not standing out. Now I will say I do not have a problem visiting small towns. There is something to be said for kicking back and going at a slower pace from time to time. If you can appreciate the attributes of small town living, you might get a quicker kick out of this dramatic adventure film. When mentally confused Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern (Monster, Last Man Standing), received a notice stating he could be a million dollar sweepstakes winner, he was determined to make his way from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up his winnings–even if he had to go on foot. With his youngest son David, played by Will Forte (The Watch, MacGruber), being the only family member to show compassion for his dad, they took off on a road trip that brought them some unexpected surprises. This beautiful black and white film directed by Alexander Payne (The Descendants, About Schmidt) unfolded like the sipping of a sweet tea on a lazy summer day. There were no big or thrilling moments per se; instead, scenes bloomed with satiric wit and touching realizations. The actor that stole ever scene she was in was June Squibb (Meet Joe Black, Scent of a Woman) as Woody’s wife Kate. She was a hoot with her take no prisoners persona. I found myself being drawn into this quirky story as it revealed more and more the realities of small town living. There were several scenes where I laughed out loud as the stellar acting carried us along for the ride. Though I still would not want to live in a tiny residential area, I would gladly go visit this family and sit down to a piece of homemade pie and some iced tea.

 

3 2/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Amour

” …until death do you part” is a powerful commitment. I have seen couples last together to the end of their lives, as well as couples where one of them chose not to be around to see their partner’s last breath. From the time my parents were married, every night at bedtime they would lie in bed holding hands. Even as my mother went deeper into the fog of Alzheimer’s disease, they still held hands. The older generation of my mother’s family were made of couples who had been married for 60 to 70 years. Throughout that span of time each of them faced times of joyfulness as well as sadness. In this moving story the couple in their 80’s had been married for many years. Georges and Anne, played by Jean-Louis Trintigant (The Conformist, Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train) and Emmanuelle Riva (Mon fils a moi, Three Colors: Blue) were retired music teachers, enjoying life as well as each other’s company. Their daughter Alexandre, played by Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher, 8 Women), lived abroad. One day as Anne and Georges were having a meal together, Anne became momentarily unresponsive. From that moment on, the couple’s emerging new reality would constantly test the bond of their relationship. Writer and director Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon, The Piano Teacher) created an unapologetic view of an elderly couple’s life that millions today face on a daily basis. Having just been nominated for an Oscar in the best actress category, Emmanuelle Riva was incredible. I had to keep reminding myself that she was an actress playing Anne because her performance was so starkly real. Playing off of her in a more muted but just as powerful performance was Jean-Louis. My only criticism was the slow pacing in parts. By the time we were into the last quarter of the film I had seen enough. But then maybe that is exactly what the director wanted the audience to experience, to feel time from an elderly perspective. A moving story that reminded me of my uncle’s saying: Growing old is not for the weak. French with English subtitles.

3 2/3 stars

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