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Flash Movie Review: Norman

AMONG the employees he was the “go to” guy, for almost anything you needed. Not for work related issues, it was for almost anything you were looking for personally. You see, it always seemed as if he knew someone; or if he did not, he knew someone who knew someone who could handle any of our requests. If you needed a new sidewalk, he knew someone in the cement industry; if you were looking for a new car, his cousin’s brother-in-law sold cars. I cannot recall ever hearing him declining someone’s request; this guy always had some type of connection to get any of us help. Now I cannot honestly say every person he recommended did the best job, because many times I heard employees describe the work done as fine or adequate; but with the promise of getting the work at a cheaper price, I guess one could say you get what you pay for as the saying goes. When I needed new windows in my basement I used this employee’s connections. I did not think doing glass block windows would be too hard, but I did have to call them back to fix the caulk job on a couple of windows.     HAVING been employed for many years I learned a long time ago it is not what you know but who you know. In my personal life I know a couple of people who have friends in the entertainment industry. They are part of an association that allows them to attend some of the award shows. Since one of my dreams is to attend the Oscar awards telecast, I would have no issue seeking them out. Granted I wish they were friends of mine instead of being friends of a friend. When I have had the good fortune to attend a special screening of a new film, I always try to stay afterwards during the Q & A session with cast members and the director. If there is an opportunity to give any of them my business card, you better believe I will do it; however, I don’t come anywhere near the skills of this dramatic movie’s main character.     ALWAYS coming close but never being a party to the big power brokers Norman Oppenheimer, played by Richard Gere (Arbitrage, Primal Fear), begins to realize something is happening when a politician he had met in the past drops his name. This one connection could change Norman’s life. This film festival nominee also starred Michael Sheen (Passengers, Kingdom of Heaven) as Philip Cohen, Lior Ashkenazi (Later Marriage, Footnote) as Eshel, Charlotte Gainsbourg (Melancholia, 3 Hearts) as Alex and Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, Criminal Activities) as Bill Kavish. The script to this story allowed Richard to shine; he was excellent in the role. The movie for the most part was dialog driven. At first I felt the story was going to become a drag; but the more I saw of Richard’s character, the more involved I became. It was surprising to see this film was also tagged a thriller besides being a drama. Maybe in the loosest of terms was it thrilling; for the most part I took it to be a believable telling of those in power. Not having connections to any powerful bigwigs, I enjoyed getting an up close seat to this party.

 

3 stars

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Born in China

THERE were so many people watching April the giraffe’s pregnancy that the computer servers became overloaded and the park had to shut down the live video streaming. I only saw a bit of it on the news; but I was fascinated with the attention April was getting from all around the world. What is it about an animal giving birth or more directly the immediate mother/child bond that gets formed that makes us humans stop and take notice? One thing that comes to mind is the pureness in animals’ behavior. Seeing the way a mother protects her child is amazing, especially when the animal’s instincts are being formed. The reason I use the word pureness is because I do not recall ever seeing an animal putting its offspring in harm’s way. Every action and reaction has a purpose as far as I can tell; unlike some of the things I have seen human parents do with their children.     PLEASE understand I do not mean to disrespect parents and parenting skills, but there have been times where I witnessed something that was puzzling and/or troubling. Sitting at a casual fast food restaurant I once saw a mother give her infant child a cola drink. The child must have been no more than 2 years of age; am I old fashioned or mistaken in my beliefs that giving a sugary soft drink to an infant is not a good idea? Personally I would never reprimand a child by slapping them across the face, yet I cannot tell you how many times I have seen it being done. And as I have said before children are born into this world without having the awareness of hatred, prejudice or discrimination; it is something that is taught to them. So you see why I say there is a pureness in the animal world that I do not easily find in the human one. This documentary will show you what I mean.     SET in the outer remote reaches of China director Chuan Lu (City of Life and Death, The Missing Gun) follows the lives of three different species (snow leopard, golden snub-nosed monkey and panda) and their babies. Narrated by John Krasinksi (13 Hours, Away We Go) I found his telling of the story was okay; he did not have the dramatic appeal compared to other actors I have heard in similar roles. There were two big reasons why I enjoyed watching this film. The first one was the cinematography; it was not only gorgeous, but exciting for me to see places in China that were so far removed from the familiar locations that are associated with the country. The other reason to see this film was the animals, of course. Sure the movie studio did its spin in creating a human emotional story onto the creatures, but ultimately it came down to the bond a mother and child have with each other. Compared to the previous movies done in this category there was really nothing new; the audience here witnessed the usual animal antics, danger and thrills. However it did not matter too much for me, though I was surprised there was a scene of sadness included in the story. I enjoyed this documentary about three species of animals that may not be residents at my local zoo, but I clearly understood what they were doing for their young. There were extra scenes during the credits.

 

3 stars          

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Colossal

ACTIONS speak louder than words. Sometimes they do more than just speak louder. There are some people who do things with little fanfare, but their actions have a profound effect on many. Recently on the news I saw there was an anonymous donor who provided enough funds to rebuild a charitable organization’s offices after they were damaged by a tornado. Another news source reported on a patient who needed a kidney transplant. A donor had stepped forward after hearing the patient’s story. This donor had no connections to the individual, but after hearing the patient’s story he said he felt it was the right thing to do. He did not want any compensation or recognition for his healthy kidney, nor did he want any fuss. Of course the news sources jumped at the chance to bring a “feel good” story to the public. During these current times I find it refreshing to find individuals doing good deeds without the need to broadcast or brag about them to the world.     LOOKING towards the opposite end of the spectrum, there are individuals who have no idea their actions can have a negative impact on people. How many of us have experienced at work where one worker does something shady or let me say “against policy” that causes the company to install a new procedure that affects all the workers? I was employed at a company where the owner was carrying on an affair with a woman who was not his wife. Luckily I did not get sucked into the drama, but several employees were put in an uncomfortable spot when the wife would call looking for her husband. The employees were put in an awkward place because they had no choice but to lie to the wife if they wanted to keep their job. You might be thinking the affair would not last long and you would be partially correct. Some did not last long but there was always some other woman waiting in the wings. I so wanted to tell the owner to take a look around and see how his actions were affecting his employees. Too bad he did not have the insight that the main character found in this fantasy comedy.     GLORIA’S, played by Anne Hathaway (The Intern, Rachael Getting Married), constant drinking was having an effect on her boyfriend Tim, played by Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, The Guest). She could not see what her actions were doing to him, let alone to people nowhere near her. This film festival winning movie’s story was quite unusual. It started out slow or more to the point confusing to me; however, once I felt I understood what Gloria’s drinking represented I was able to sit back and enjoy this quirky film. Anne did a wonderful job of acting with her character and the bonus was watching her play against Jason Sudeikis (Masterminds, Mother’s Day) as Oscar. He was amazing in his ability to switch back and forth between comedy and seriousness. I honestly do not see this picture going into wide release because I would not consider it a mainstream movie. However the story really had a way of pulling in the viewer; one only needed to suspend reality and watch how actions speak louder than words at times.

 

3 stars      

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Gifted

OUT of all the people I have conversed with who is either a mother or father, the majority of them believe their children are pretty, beautiful, handsome, intelligent and so on. I firmly believe a parent’s duty is to make their child feel loved, special and instill in them a sense of self-worth. Rarely do I hear a parent say their child is not attractive or is not smart. I actually know a mother though who praises one child over the child’s sibling; you should see what the effect of the mother’s negative comments has done to that child, it is so sad. Now for me the words pretty, handsome or beautiful are subjective. Where one person may think a face is beautiful, another individual will think the person’s facial features are just okay. The way my mind is wired, for me to say someone is beautiful they would need to have a good heart (referring to let us say kindness as opposed to plaque) to go along with whatever their visible, physical features may be.     WHEN a student gets straight A’s on their report card, most people will say the student is smart. I agree to a point, but for me there is book smart and street smart; the 2 are very different creatures. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat and listened to a parent go on about how their child is so smart. Here again I wonder how they are defining the word “smart.” I remember there was a time during my schooling where a discussion was in the works about getting away from standardized testing scores. Students were so focused on memorizing statistics and facts; it seems they were not using this limited knowledge to paint a bigger picture of things. There is a teacher I know who had a freshman student who did not fit in with the rest of the class. This student already had an acceptance letter to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The teacher had to teach this special student a different way from the rest of the class without making it appear as if the student was not unusual. It was an important distinction, one that gets addressed in this drama.     MARY Adler, played by McKenna Grace (Once upon a Time-TV, Amityville: The Awakening), had a gift for numbers. Her special ability would become a battleground in and out of school. Starring Chris Evans (Captain America franchise, Playing it Cool) as Frank Adler, Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Shack) as Roberta Taylor and Lindsay Duncan (About Time, Under the Tuscan Sun) as Evelyn; I have to say McKenna’s acting was pretty special. I fell into this story, enjoying the acting and directing. Sure there were scenes to manipulate the viewer and the script was somewhat predictable; but I did not care because the story was relatable for me. My earlier review of the new Smurfs movie talked about being different and things I said there apply to this film festival winner. Feeling different is such a relatable experience for many of us; I certainly have felt it and because of it I understood what the story was trying to do in this picture. Be prepared because including me, there was not a dry eye in the theater. Along with celebrating the things we all have in common, there is nothing wrong with us including our special gifts in the celebration.

 

3 stars  

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast

WHEN I ask why they are attracted to that certain feature of the individual, the answer is never the same. It is perplexing to me how people acquire a particular attraction to a person’s height, hair color or body type. Friends of mine to this day test me because they cannot believe I do not pay attention to the surface details of an individual. They will point at someone and ask me if I would be attracted to that person. Each time I have to tell them I do not know until I have had a couple of conversations with that particular individual. Maybe from my studies in psychology I attempt to rationalize a person’s tastes in potential dates. In some circles of thought one could say one of the reasons a person is attracted to redheads is because they are less available, rarer if you will. This person wants to stand out from the pack. Someone may be attracted to facial hair because it represents a father figure, an authoritarian. There are so many different interpretations, yet they still do not answer my fundamental thought: why should it make a difference what a person looks like? You can have what looks like the most perfect apple in your hand, but it still may be rotten underneath the skin.     TAKING this a step further, I feel the same way about a person’s ethnicity. The only thing a person’s ethnic makeup tells me is what region of the world their ancestors were born. After taking in the cultural differences, I do not find anything different between people of different races. Each group produces geniuses, thieves, liars, bigoted and loving people. I find this whole discrimination thing puzzling and troubling. People are quick to make judgments about individuals solely based on skin color; I just do not get it. From what I have said you may begin to suspect, this fairy tale is one my favorite stories from childhood.     SIMPLY by plucking a single rose off a bush Maurice, played by Kevin Kline (Cry Freedom, My Old Lady), was imprisoned by a monstrous beast, played by Dan Stevens (The Guest, Downton Abbey-TV). If it was not for his daughter Belle, played by Emma Watson (The Bling Ring, Harry Potter franchise); Maurice would have never survived the ordeal. This live action, fantasy musical was based on the animated film version of this story done in the 1990s. With Luke Evans (Dracula Untold, The Raven) as Gaston and Josh Gad (The Wedding Ringer, Jobs) as LeFou, the cast members not associated with singing surprised me with their vocal abilities. Emma took her character and made it a somewhat more modern and determined figure. I do not know if it was because of this or not, but I found her interactions with the Beast emotionally too fast. She never had a sense of revulsion upon meeting the Beast; in other words there was a lack of tension between the two. The same argument could be made with other portions of the film; the story was quickly pushed from one action scene to another I felt. At least the creativity and imagination that went into the sets and individual pieces were thoroughly entertaining. Along with the wonderful musical score and beautiful story, there are more things to like about this film than not. Maybe just do not look too deep under the surface to find the cracks.

 

3 stars

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island

SITTING in the semi-darkened theater waiting for the movie trailers to begin, I was wondering how many different film variations of King Kong I had seen. I believe I saw every one of them and I could even include the robotic one Bette Midler used in one of her concerts, where she played the Fay Wray character who was sprawled out across King Kong’s palm. Thinking about these different versions of the big ape, we really have come a long way from the 1st one to the latest one I was about to see. Of course I was basing it on the movie trailers I had recently seen. Recalling the earlier Kong versions, I can still remember how fake looking he was in the oldest movies. My guess is the writers needed to fine tune their script to keep the audience engaged with the story since an unrealistic looking gorilla would quickly become boring.     SPEAKING of story lines I wondered what the writers would do to keep me interested in this umpteenth time of me watching a King Kong film. More often than not I have noticed when a movie comes out with a well known character that has played before the script is updated to reflect current times. Sometimes it works and sometimes it is a bust. I can remember a group of classic horror monsters like Frankenstein and the Mummy being part of a series of movies that were based in comedy, starring comedians and comedy duos. Personally I found them ridiculous; taking such classic horror characters and placing them in a genre of films that no one would ever consider for them, diminishes their scariness in the public’s eyes. With these thoughts in mind the movie theater lights became dark and I sat back in my seat to see what Kong was up to these days.     FLYING over the Pacific Ocean, bound for a newly discovered uncharted island, a group of scientists and soldiers did not know they would be disturbing the inhabitants to the point of making them angry. This action adventure fantasy succeeded because of the special effects. From all the different versions of King Kong I have seen on film, this was the best looking or should I say the most realistic version of King Kong. The fight scenes were exciting, especially the opening one. If this film had not been so technically advanced I would have been bored by the script. With Tom Hiddleston (Crimson Peak, I Saw the Light) as James Conrad, Samuel L. Jackson (The Legend of Tarzan, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) as Preston Packard, Brie Larson (Room, Short Term 12) as Mason Weaver and John C. Reilly (Carnage, Step Brothers) as Hank Marlow; I only found Hank’s character interesting. Samuel was doing his identical acting thing, so no surprises there. However I was surprised how stiff Tom and Brie were with their characters. This was partially due to the script that offered no insights, along with the direction that kept them one dimensional. Only John C. Reilly and John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane, The Monuments Men) as Bill Randa offered any interest among the cast. If you are into visual experiences then you would want to see this picture inside a movie theater. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.

 

3 stars         

 

 

Flash Movie Review: The Founder

BETWEEN the street corner and an alley a structure was built that changed my life. I remember walking by the construction site on the way to the library. Construction workers wearing hard hats were moving around the site constantly; in a way it looked like an abstract ballet piece the way each of them seamlessly worked together. The outside of the building was made with white tiles; I thought for sure it would have turned to gray within a week from all the exhaust coming out of the cars driving down the busy thoroughfare. Right in the middle of the growing walls a slab of curved metal was jutting out like an awful hangnail. I could not imagine what these workers were thinking of to stab their beautiful white tiled sides with this hollow, arching monstrosity.   OVER the course of a season the building took form and all that remained were a few last details. One day appearing in front was a fenced off area that had round metal tables with big opened umbrellas sticking up from the center. Around the tables were bolted down curved benches. A sign was hung from the building announcing a grand opening. My friends and I were there on opening day and it was crazy with people lined up everywhere. I remember ordering a hamburger, french fries and a soft drink. We each were handed our meal in a paper bag and walked outside to the side of the building where the white tiles were built out to form a ledge to sit on. Prior to that moment I had never had a pickle or mustard on a hamburger, only ketchup; the mix of flavors exploded in my mouth. But what sent me into a caloric craze of complete cherished comfort were the french fries and chocolate milkshake. My affair with those slender strands of potato heaven has lasted all these years. I do not know if they would have had the same effect if I had known the story about the man who brought the restaurant with the golden arches to the world.   SALESMAN Ray Kroc, played by Michael Keaton (Spotlight, White Noise), could not understand the sales order he received from a restaurant in California. Deciding to take a drive out to see the place, Ray was stunned when he came up to this little “food stand” run by brothers Mac and Dick McDonald, played by John Carroll Lynch (Shutter Island, American Horror Story-TV) and Nick Offerman (21 Jump Street franchise, Parks and Recreation-TV). The brothers may not have realized what they had going but Ray sure did. This film festival winning biographical drama succeeded because of Michael’s performance; he played it beautifully to the point where I was reacting negatively to some of Ray’s actions. Having my memories of the fast food restaurants heightened my interest in this historical story. I am not sure how much of the script was truthful, but I enjoyed most of the progression in the story. There were scenes that only implied certain actions that I would have enjoyed better if there was more back story; however, this did not distract me from the story. With most of the earth’s population having knowledge about this company, I cannot imagine someone getting bored with this movie, though you may get a bit hungry.

 

3 stars  

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Split

THE only remaining open seat was next to me. I was sitting by the window gazing at the changing landscape as I was traveling downtown on the train. At the next train stop I did not pay attention to the person who sat down next to me. Before getting to the next stop the man commented on a building that came into view from out our window. I replied in agreement about the modern looking building and from that a conversation ensured between us. It appeared this man had some knowledge about architecture as he explained details about a couple of buildings that we noticed during our travels. I was surprised to hear his comments since I grew up in the city and had never heard about the things he was saying about these structures.   AS we made our way down into the city he made a couple of comments that did not ring true to me. I cannot exactly explain why but some of the things he stated came out with a slight edge to them; do you know what I mean? A twinge of irritation or anger is the only way I could describe it. I did not react to these comments except for nodding my head since I did not want to appear confrontational. It did not matter however since something obviously set him off; his talking increased in volume. It wasn’t soon after that his comments were not making sense to me. Something about one of the buildings he had just commented on was setting him off on a tirade of expletives. Being stuck by the window with him in the next seat, I was getting extremely uncomfortable. If I excused myself to go stand in the aisle with several of the other passengers he may become offended and who knows what he would do. So instead I told him my stop was next. When we reached it I walked out and ran down the train platform to one of the other train cars before the car doors closed, so I could continue on my way. It was such an odd encounter, but at least I was able to leave which was not the case for the students in this horror thriller.   CAPTURED and held against their will Casey, Claire and Marcia; played by Anya Taylor-Joy (Morgan, The Witch), Haley Lu Richardson (The Edge of Seventeen, The Last Survivors) and Jessica Sula (Honeytrap, Skins-TV); needed a plan to find a way out. However there appeared to be more than one kidnapper. This film festival nominated movie written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (Lady in the Water, The Sixth Sense) was a big surprise to me because I enjoyed it so much; this was not the case for his past several pictures. What sealed the deal regarding this movie was the wonderful performance of James McAvoy (X-Men franchise, Wanted) as Kevin and Betty Buckley (Carrie, The Happening) as Dr. Karen Fletcher. The script was straight forward, but the pacing kept up the creepy intensity of the story. Though there were a couple of scenes that had showed blood, for the most part this was a psychological thriller which I enjoyed immensely. Be prepared for several different points of view in this film.

 

3 stars  

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Patriots Day

DURING my daily commute to work I pass 3 makeshift memorials that were set up by the side of the road. What they have in common are floral arrangements, ribbons and sadness. My guess is each person from the memorials perished from an auto accident. How tragic it must be for the family; based on past news articles, I can only imagine the circumstances of the accident. I remember one involved a boy riding his bicycle who was struck by a car that swerved out of the way of a tarp that fell off of a truck in front of them, momentarily blinding the driver. Can you imagine if this took place in front of the boy’s house and the family sees the memorial every day? I do not know how I would handle it, seeing a reminder outside my door every day, even without a memorial.   RECENTLY I was driving through my old neighborhood with a friend who was curious to see my old stomping grounds. Driving through several blocks, I shared memories and tidbits while pointing out various places. As I drove by one particular building I started to tear up from the flood of awful memories associated with the place. My friend saw the change in me and asked what was going on inside of me. Taking a breath I started to tell them about some of the horrible things that were done to me when I was much younger. It felt like I was reliving them as I spoke them out loud. Though I believe each of us learns something from every experience, thinking about that time after all these years still made me feel sad and angry. I do not think I am alone in saying recalling tough, challenging events in the past is a hard thing to do; this is why it was not easy for me to watch this dramatic historical thriller.   FROM an act of terror during the Boston marathon the citizens of Boston united in a powerful way. This film festival winning movie written and directed by Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor) starred Mark Wahlberg (Deepwater Horizon, Daddy’s Home) as Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders, Michelle Monaghan (Sleepless, Source Code) as Carol Saunders, John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane, Love the Coopers) as Commissioner Ed Davis and Kevin Bacon (Black Mass, Elephant White) as Special Agent Richard DesLauriers. I felt Peter presented a thoughtful, reflective story that did not sink into dramatic hyperbole. Because the script was sensitively written I thought the actors did fine in their roles and in regards to Mark he was in his element. Since I was quite familiar with this story, knowing people who were affected by it, I thought I would not have been as engaged in the movie. It turned out I was very much into the film as there were multiple scenes that showed the things taking place away from the public; it was fascinating to watch. I will say it was not easy to sit and watch this movie due to seeing the violence and injuries again. The images I remembered all came up as the story unfolded on the big screen. Let me just say if you have the stomach to revisit this event then it is worth watching this well done film.

 

3 stars

 

 

Flash Movie Review: 20th Century Women

WHETHER there are one or two parents, raising a child is a daunting experience. Some parents use the way they were reared as a blueprint to raise their baby; others use their family members to assist them with their children. From my experiences I have witnessed such a wide variety of methods I cannot say one works better over another way. I have known some parents who worked diligently to shelter their children from everything they did not approve of in the world. Take for example slang words or as some refer to it as “swear” words. There was a couple who forbade their kids from ever uttering such words, to the point of checking every movie first before allowing them to watch it. When the children reached that age where all kids start to enforce their independence, they were ridiculed when they would tell one of their friends they said a “bad” word.   SADLY I knew parents whose children grew up with the same prejudices their parents unwittingly displayed in front of their kids during their formative years. A method I have seen done successfully more times than not is exposing the child to most everything in life and explaining it. When these parents first heard their children say a slang word, they did not show anger or discomfort; the parents sat down and explained why saying such words would be hurtful and ugly. I have been impressed with the parents who take their children to volunteer at soup kitchens and shelters, exposing them to people and things their children may not experience in their local environment. Another thing I have noticed is the difference in children who were raised hearing their given language spoken properly to them instead of being talked to in “baby talk.” To me it seems these kids have an easier time articulating their feelings and thoughts. Being a fan of exposing a child to the world around them I feel I had a better understanding about the mother in this dramatic comedy.   RAISING her son Jamie, played by Lucas Jade Zumann (Sinister 2, Chicago Fire-TV), without his father made Dorothea, played by Annette Bening (Rules Don’t Apply, Danny Collins), decide to expose her son to other points of view. Though they did not know it Julie, Abbie and William; played by Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon, Ginger & Rosa), Greta Gerwig (Mistress America, Maggie’s Plan) and Billy Crudup (Jackie, Big Fish); would all be contributing to Jamie’s journey to adulthood. This film festival winning movie’s story was set in southern California during the 1970s. I thought the acting was excellent with Annette making this one of her best roles. The script did not focus much on the character’s history, instead providing the viewer with snapshots of the characters’ current lives. One of the things about the story I appreciated the most was taking what was essentially a coming of age story and turning it into something new and different. In a way I found the story more authentic; in turn, I felt more connected to the characters. There were some scenes that did not work as well however, but nothing in a major way. I may not have agreed with everything Dorothea was doing in regards to raising her son, but I did walk away respecting her choices.

 

3 stars    

 

 

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