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Flash Movie Review: Megan Leavey

EVERY day starts with him coming outside to begin his squirrel watch. He stands still in the middle of the backyard with his head tilted upwards, scanning the tree branches for any movement. If something even twitches for a brief moment, a plethora of barking takes place as my neighbor’s dog begins racing around the tree trunk, daring the animal to take a step down towards him. Having recently celebrated his 2nd birthday this dog is actually a big hunk of crazy love. Anytime I come out of my garage and he is in the yard, he squats down on the ground like an ancient sphinx, waiting in anticipation for me to call out his name. You see he will not run up to my fence until I call him. Now here is his secret; he is being trained to be a search and rescue dog. His owner, my neighbor, told me about one of the exercises he performs with the dog. At the facility’s swimming pool, my neighbor pretends he is drowning. The dog is released and jumps into the pool, swims over to the man, grabs a hold of any piece of clothing or a limb in his mouth and begins pushing or pulling the man to the edge of the pool.     SOME of the other stories my neighbor has told me have been extraordinary. There is such a bond between this man and his dog that is quite noticeable. When both are in the backyard, the man will do exercises with the dog; some are with verbal cues while others are done only with different hand gestures. It amazes me that within the span of 2 years, if even that, this dog has achieved so much with his owner. As I said before just looking at him running around and barking his head off in the backyard, you would think the dog is a hyper bundle of energy. I would love to see him on one of the search and rescue missions, just to see how he focuses on the task. Until then I will be satisfied watching the dog in this film based on a true story.     WITH nowhere to go in her hometown Megan Leavey, played by Kate Mara (The Martian, 127 Hours), enlisted in the army. Assigned to cleanup duty at the dog pound that housed one of the most aggressive dogs, Megan would have to confront her fears. This biographical war drama also starred Tom Felton (Harry Potter franchise, A United Kingdom) as Andrew Dean, Common (Selma, Now You See Me) as Gunny Martin, Geraldine James (Sherlock Holmes franchise, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as Dr. Turbeville and Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods, Scent of a Woman) as Bob. The script was kept simple; there was not much surprising about the story. However, the script with the directing created an engaging story filled with bits of drama, tension, tears and joy. The actual story is incredible; though I felt things were kept more subdued overall in this movie. I think it would be hard for someone not to enjoy watching this picture. For me I honestly never gave much thought to the role dogs play in the military; my only encounter on this type of level would be in the security lines at the airport or city events. When a friend asked me if they might cry watching this film, I asked them if they planned on bringing any facial tissues.

 

3 stars

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Chuck

“YOU should write a book about it,” is a comment that has been directed to me numerous times. The reason has less to do with my writing ability and more with the incredible to outrageous stories I have been involved in or told. I will avoid using pronouns to protect the individuals. There was one person I was involved with whose family history played out like an evening soap opera, television show. One family member was going to be elected to a high political position until their views deviated from the people in power. The person I knew was sent out of the country to avoid any fallout, but to also get a better education. Spending many years traveling the world instead of coming back home, they told me about some of their experiences in foreign lands that I have not even seen done in a movie. One of these stories involved a stalker and a secret intelligence agency; that is all I can say about this individual.     RECENTLY I was involved with someone who had a story to tell me every time we got together. One of the stories was accompanied with photographs; however, they could only show me a select few because they were brought in to oversee a secret government operation. The first photo they showed me was of them standing in front of a posted sign out in the jungle. I immediately knew why they had to be secretive about their whereabouts. Another photo showed how they were transported to this secret location; essentially it was a cargo bay with portable toilets and folding chairs nailed to the floor. It was so not part of my little corner of the world that I did not even know how to respond to any of it. I could go on with so many other encounters I have had that I could actually fill up a whole book. However if I do that then I cannot tell you whether it was worth seeing this biographical drama about a man who was the real boxer behind the famous film character Rocky Balboa.     KNOWN as the “Bleeder of Bayonne” boxer Chuck Wepner, played by Liev Schreiber (Spotlight, Ray Donovan-TV), was a hometown hero even before there was a movie called Rocky. With Elizabeth Moss (The One I Love, Mad Men-TV) as Phyliss, Naomi Watts (St. Vincent, Diana) as Linda, Jim Gaffigan (17 Again, It’s Kind of a Funny Story) as John and Ron Perlman (Poker Night, Hellboy franchise) as Al Braverman; I had never heard about this boxer. Everyone in the cast did a wonderful job of acting. Liev however stood out for me because he was so good in his role, but be prepared there was a lot of blood shown. Not being a big fan of boxing, I was glad that the actual act was secondary to the story. As for the story it was engaging with surprise. The sets, costumes and dialog captured the era; it was interesting to watch the arc of Chuck’s story line. If I had to choose one particular thing that increased my interest in this film it would have to be the connection to Sylvester Stallone and the Rocky movie. I think it helped that this was included into the script because it produced deeper emotional intensity to the story. There are so many people in the world that need to have their story told; I was satisfied that this one came to the big screen.

 

3 stars

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

THE man’s wavy untamed hair in the photograph was the closest looking to his own. No one else in the photo album had hair similar to this man, so there was a good chance that man in the photo could be his father. The young boy would pull out his mother’s photo album anytime he was feeling sorry for himself. Sitting on the sofa with the album in his lap he would stare at this one particular photograph of the man with the wavy hair and wonder what the man was like. The little boy would get lost inside his imagination, placing himself next to his possible father in a variety of scenarios. They would be at the amusement park; sitting side by side in a roller coaster that was about to climb up a steep embankment, their hands tightly clenching their shouldstraps with their legs pressed up against each other. For several years the young boy believed his real father was out there somewhere.      SOME people were born into a family while others created their own. A basic definition of family is a group of people related to one another. It could be by blood or there may be something else in common. I have a friend who has a family by birth. Though she continues to try over and over, her and her family have different expectations or maybe it is just different feelings of what makes a family. She has been disappointed more times than not with her so-called family. The only time they do something as a family is if it is convenient for her siblings; they have never gone out of their way for her. So the windup is my friend has started to create her own supportive family among her friends. This action science fiction film will show you what my friend did in her life.      SETTLING into their roles as the Guardians of the Galaxy, the group of friends encounter strong forces that will test the bonds they have recently formed with each other. This adventure sequel starred Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Passengers) as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana (Star Trek franchise, Nina) as Gamora, Dave Bautista (The Man with the Iron Fists, Spectre) as Drax and Michael Rooker (The Bone Collector, Jumper) as Yondu. Right from the start this picture grabs you with its special effects and action packed scenes. And just like the original movie, this one also had a great soundtrack. I thought the script was intriguing with its strong theme of family. Not wanting to get too deep with this theme the writers did not forget to include the same type of humor that was used in the last film. Now this brings me to my issue with this movie; it unfortunately was not the first one because since we are familiar with the new franchise, this installment did not have the same fresh quirkiness because I had seen it before. I do not consider this a major complaint; I still laughed and enjoyed the action. If you are not a fan of science fiction I am not sure you would get totally into this picture, but I am sure you would not be able to stop your feet from tapping along to the music. There were three extra scenes during the credits and one more brief scene at the end of the credits.

 

3 stars

Flash Movie Review: The Lost City of Z

PEOPLE were lined up since 4 am. The line snaked around the museum’s front lawn. Some individuals had camping gear with them, which led me to believe they had been there since the day before. Everyone in line was upbeat and excited about the new exhibit that had opened at the history museum. From ancient Egypt the advertisements for this show stated the artifacts were nothing like anything on display before; they were in pristine condition, only discovered recently from a king’s tomb. The local newspapers showed photos of the long lines which is why we decided to get to the museum so early; at least we thought it was an early time, but there were a lot of people who thought the same thing. We finally entered the exhibit at 11 am and our agonizing wait quickly faded from our minds because the artifacts were all glowing in their temperature controlled glass cases. The craftsmanship was incredible, with such fine details; you would have thought they were recent copies loaned from the souvenir shop.     THOUGH that exhibit was a long time ago, I still can see many of those objects clearly in my mind. It is fascinating to me how a society from centuries ago can create such incredible objects. Some people may consider ancient civilizations primitive; but I feel one has to take into consideration what was available at the time. These days we have 3D printers making things for us, but back then what did they have, a chisel and hammer? There have been times where I noticed an underlying prejudice of a person or group solely based on their ethnicity from someone who believes they are enlightened. They do not overtly show it but you can see or hear it in the way they communicate; there is a disdain or dismissive quality to their tone. If I am not making much sense then please watch this lush film based on a true story to see what I mean.     DISCOVERING what he believed to be proof of an unknown ancient society deep in the Amazon Percy Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim, Sons of Anarchy-TV), set out to convince the naysayers back home in England. This film festival winner also starred a nearly unrecognizable Robert Pattinson (Water for Elephants, The Twilight Saga franchise) as Henry Costin, Sienna Miller (Burnt, Foxcatcher) as Nina Fawcett and Tom Holland (Locke, The Impossible) as Jack Fawcett. Set in the 1920s this movie had richness similar to director Werner Herzog’s (Fitzcarraldo; Aguirre, the Wrath of God) movies. The story unfolded in a quiet deliberate pace, almost to the point of boredom early on; however, the more the actors moved deeper into the story the more interesting it became. I thought Charlie and Robert stood out in their roles. On one level I sat in my seat in a bewildered state trying to understand how Percy could undertake such a challenging task. It felt like I was being propelled back in time; the directing and cinematography lent itself to this feeling. Another aspect I admired was the sense of respect presented in the script; something that I feel is lacking in these present times. This was like watching one of those old fashioned flicks, letting the setting contribute to the narrative. Though I felt this picture could have used a touch more editing, I walked away with a new respect for the men and women who sacrificed to bring to light the accomplishments of mankind.

3 stars

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Sleight

THREE jobs was the limit for him for he already was working 7 days a week. Each one was part-time and the times were flexible which worked to his advantage. Those of you who are still dealing with your student loans might understand the need for working extra hours to help pay down the debt. This was part of his reason for putting in so many hours, though gratefully there were short spots of down time each day. One of the challenges in keeping up such a busy schedule is to find time for one’s mind to rest as well as one’s body. That constant go, go, go on a person can only last for a short length of time before exhaustion starts to take over. I should know because I found myself in a similar situation. It took place before I became certified to teach fitness classes. Running from one job to another, putting in long hours without a break, I wound up getting a mild case of mononucleosis. Yes I know it is known as the “kissing disease” but I attribute my getting it due to my exhaustion and the possibility of sharing a meal with someone.     ONE of the challenges in maintaining a hectic schedule is staying focused on the end result. When I went back to school to learn yoga I had to keep up with a difficult timetable. Working a full time job, I would go to school at night for class. Besides keeping up my fitness classes at night I had to add the weekend to practice and student teach yoga classes; essentially I was doing something every single day of the week. During that period of time I had to keep reminding myself that in 1 year I would graduate and be finished with such a crazy schedule. It came to the point where I was breaking the months down by weeks, counting off each week I completed. I was convinced once I completed school I could put my education to immediate good use and in the long run have an easier schedule with reliable income. It was a sacrifice I do not regret one bit; unlike what was happening to the main character in this dramatic action film.     WITH their parents deceased street magician Bo, played by Jacob Latimore (Collateral Beauty, The Maze Runner), was left taking care of his little sister Tina, played by Storm Reid (12 Years a Slave, Lea to the Rescue). To make ends meet Bo was doing work at night he was not proud of, but it provided needed cash. I was quickly drawn into this movie by Jacob’s acting skills. The connection his character had with his sister felt genuine, being a catalyst for the story line. Also starring Dule Hill (She’s All That, The West Wing-TV) as Angelo and Seychelle Gabriel (The Last Airbender, Falling Skies-TV) as Holly, I thought the script provided enough balance between drama and danger. Though parts of the script were predictable it did not take away from the overall movie watching experience. The story appeared at first to be similar to others films I had seen before, but I liked the way the writers took some liberties to make this story stand out. Jacob’s quiet strength in the character was the main focus of this picture. I also liked the way the story was left open for the possibility of a sequel to take place. It seems as if all the hard work put in by everyone involved paid off for this film. There were a couple of scenes that had blood and violence.

 

3 stars

 

 

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

 

 

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