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Flash Movie Review: Leave No Trace

THERE COMES A TIME WHERE A child realizes their parent is only human. Some children reach this conclusion with hardly a notice while others discover it in a flurry of drama. There was a kid in my old neighborhood whose parents were born and raised in a different country. They spoke English with a heavy accent which I did not know kept them from socializing with the other families on the block. I rarely saw them for the years I lived there. Their son, I knew, felt embarrassed by them. Though I could understand his reasons why, I did not agree; English was not their first language, so who cared if they spoke with an accent? There was another family in the neighborhood where I remember the exact time their child realized their parents did not know everything; it was during a study session, where a small group of us were studying for class. When we got stuck trying to figure out one problem in our study guide my friend asked his parents. They came in and looked at what we were trying to solve. After a few minutes reading and re-reading the problem they told us they did not know. That was the moment we realized parents did not know everything.      WHERE I FELT THE SADDEST for a kid was when they had a parent who was not fully functioning in reality. During the middle grades there was a new student who had recently moved into the neighborhood. Come to find out it was their 13thmove in 9 years. The fact that they could keep up their studies while moving back and forth across the country was amazing to me. None of us believed the excuse given for all the moves; we could tell there was some embarrassment about it. Now there was a girl I knew whose mother had serious mental health issues. If this had happened presently I believe she could have received the proper care; but back then she was constantly going between her house and a mental health institute. Some of the kids would call it an “insane asylum.” I felt bad for her because sometimes her mother had to be removed from their house strapped down on a stretcher, with the ambulance lights piercing the night sky. All the neighbors knew what was going on without peeking out their front windows. I am sure it was not easy for anyone, especially when one needs their parent to act like a parent. This film festival winning drama brings a new definition to what is a parent and a home.      ALL THEIR NEEDS WERE BEING met as war veteran Will, played by Ben Foster (The Messenger, Hell of High Water), was raising his daughter Tom, played by Thomasin McKenzie (The Changeover, Shortland Street-TV), in the middle of a national park, that they called home. Written and directed by Debra Granik (Winter’s Bone, Stray Dog), this movie was exquisite. The story slowly rolled out allowing the actors to shine with the sparse script. Ben and Thomasin were beyond good; they brought realness and rawness to their characters, making them come alive. With Dana Millican (Lean on Pete, Portlandia-TV) as Jean and Jeff Kober (Sully, Sons of Anarchy-TV) as Mr. Walters, this was a film for adults. I absolutely enjoyed the experience which included the viewers at my showing. All were adults and not one of them looked at their cell phones the entire time the movie was playing. The filming was beautiful with the story being set in Portland, Oregon and I felt the director took full advantage of the surroundings to let the actors truly discover themselves. This picture was a magnificent way to show a relationship between a father and daughter.

 

4 stars          

 

 

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Flash Movie Review: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

THERE WAS SOMETHING SAFE, NURTURING and comfortable about growing up in an apartment building. I never felt like I was missing out on anything by not living in a single-family home. My earliest memories contain the assortment of wonderful neighbors who lived in our building. Before I could even walk I learned how to crawl down 2 flights of stairs to one neighbor who always welcomed me into their home and gave me cookies. I know, you must be thinking I was trained like Pavlov’s dog for those cookies; but honestly, I was not. When I grew older no one had to teach me to open doors for people carrying in groceries or packages; all of us in the building did it to help each other. We lived on the top floor so I got to use the landing of the wrap around staircase as my personal playroom. The same could be said for our back porch; I was always outside on it either playing or reading a book. In fact, I had a little table and chairs set out on the porch; so, you could say I had my own personal, outdoor deck.      FROM ONE NEIGHBOR OF OURS I learned important history lessons about war and concentration camps. She was a survivor who shared her story with me whenever I would ask her a question. Her son was one of the musicians in the building. While he would practice playing his accordion, there was another neighbor who played the drums; add that to my piano lessons and we covered a variety of musical genres. I would love coming home and hear the music playing as I walked up the flights of stairs, accompanied by an assortment of cooking smells that wafted through the hallway at various times. There was never a need to worry about running out of something, like a food ingredient or toilet paper, because everyone in the building was willing to borrow from each other. Something that I feel that was truly valuable for me was learning at an early age how to conduct myself in public. Everyone was polite and friendly which was a wonderful example to show me how to interact with people. It was a time before texting so we each had face to face conversations and I learned how to listen. I cannot say that is an attribute that everyone has in them these days. Living in an apartment building was wonderful training on how to deal with people. Everyone worked at finding amicable solutions to any issues that would arise. We were our own special neighborhood inside of our apartment building.      FROM OSCAR WINNING DIRECTOR Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom, The Music of Strangers), this film festival winning documentary showed me a neighborhood that had similarities to my childhood home, but I did not know existed. Debuting on television in Pittsburgh 1967, it soon became a national broadcast. I have never seen the show so my enthusiasm about this film may be more than someone who was familiar with Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. What struck me about Fred Rogers was his gentle kindness and progressive thinking. I was amazed at the quiet way he would make a relevant statement about an event taking place in the world. Learning about the history of the show along with the personal information about his actual and television family, it was quite apparent there was a genuine love and affection for each other. Here you have people from all walks of life who worked together in a civil and respectful way. I must tell you if Fred was alive and wanted to run for office, I would vote for him based on having seen this movie; what a wonderful picture about a beautiful human being.

 

4 stars

Flash Movie Review: The Shape of Water

PIZZA IS ONE OF my favorite foods; I love pizza. Except for 2 pizzas, one from an independent stand alone restaurant and one from a national chain, I have not met a pizza I did not like. For me pizza is that type of food that can be eaten at any meal and then some. Cold pizza in the morning is just as good to me as a fresh out of the wood burning oven kind for lunch or dinner. With some friends or family members I have no problem ordering one large pizza for the 2 of us since we have similar tastes in toppings; and if not, we can just ask to add or subtract the differing topping off one side of the pizza. On the other hand there are some people I go out with where they have to get their own pizza because there is nothing I like about their topping choices and they will not strip their pizza down just to a basic cheese so we can share it.     RECENTLY I WAS OUT to dinner with a friend who ordered a pizza that looked like an abomination to me. It was a chipotle pizza with sausage and ranch dressing, extra ranch dressing I might add. Yuck, it looked horrible but here is the thing; they only know I do not like those toppings because I do not make a scene. I do not grab my neck with both hands showing the universal sign for choking or start gagging just as the pizza is placed on the table. Do you know why I do not make a scene? It is because they have just as much right to love their pizza toppings as I do with my choices. I am not going to taste their pizza and get indigestion or heartburn; their pizza has no affect on my choices in pizzas or how my body interacts with it. Seriously who am I, or for that matter who is anybody, to force their personal tastes on another pizza lover. I say go ahead and dig into whatever pizza makes you happy; I am not here to judge you. I am glad you have love in your heart for pizza because our ability to love is one of our greatest assets.     IN THE MIDDLE OF the cold war during the 1960s, the United States had a secret laboratory where they had in their possession something the Soviet Union desperately wanted to get. No one knew there was someone working at the lab who was also interested in this special cargo. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth), this film festival winner starred Sally Hawkins (Never Let Me Go, Maudie) as Elisa Esposito, Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals, Midnight Special) as Richard Strickland, Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Gifted) as Zelda Fuller, Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, LBJ) as Giles and Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Steve Jobs) as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler. Everyone in the cast did an outstanding performance; Sally and Michael truly are a gift to filmdom. I was absolutely taken away into this beautiful and meaningful film. Almost every scene allowed the viewer to have an emotional response and I loved the message that I interpreted from the script. It should be obvious I was totally into this dramatic, adventure fantasy and all I ask of you is if you plan on seeing what I feel will be a multiple award nominated picture this season then go into this movie with an open heart.

 

4 stars

Flash Movie Review: Maudie

SITTING in the waiting room there was a woman near me who was feverishly knitting. I could not tell what she was making but I was fascinated with the dexterity of her fingers; they looked like spider legs that were spinning silk into a massive web. Normally I would not have paid much attention to her since I know many people who take their knitting with to work on pieces when they have free time. There was something different about her though; her pace I can only say was caffeinated. However I noticed one of her legs was deliberately shaking up and down, like a mini pneumatic power jack. This is something I do when I have excess energy but I also know people do it when they are nervous or anxious. To tell you the truth she did not look relaxed at all; there was an intensity about the way she sat in her chair and there were no clues on her face telling me she was relaxed. I do not know maybe knitting was her therapy; it was a valid point.     HOWEVER a person deals with stress is their business; I give them credit for finding an outlet to eliminate it as best as they can from their body and mind. When I had access to a piano it was my “go to” place whenever I was troubled or under stress. Creating music was a soothing experience where I could get lost and forget the reality I was experiencing. I would assume almost every person has some outlet that provides them a peaceful place. For some it may be participating in or watching sports programs, others may take long walks. Teaching yoga these past years has provided me another outlet where I can experience calmness. That is the key when it comes to disconnecting the mind from a stressful situation; one has to focus on the thing they love and stick with it. It is because of that I found myself intently following the story in this film festival winning movie based on a true story.     MAUD Lewis, played by Sally Hawkins (A Brilliant Young Mind, Blue Jasmine), loved to paint. No matter what anyone thought or did to her, her painting brought her comfort. No one thought much of her work except one person. This biographical romantic drama had a pure beautiful story. With Ethan Hawke (The Magnificent Seven, Training Day) as Everett Lewis, Kari Matchett (Civic Duty, Cypher) as Sandra, Gabrielle Rose (A Dog’s Purpose, The Sweet Hereafter) as Aunt Ida and Zachary Bennett (Hacker, Jack) as Charles Dowley; the acting between Sally and Ethan has to be seen to be believed. Sally was incredible and deserves to be nominated for a film award. I never heard of Maud Lewis but I absolutely enjoyed the arc to this film’s story. The depth and the transformations displayed by the characters kept me engaged throughout the picture. Set in Nova Scotia, I thought the natural beauty of the landscapes created wonderful opportunities for the filming process. Simple scenes were still able to convey emotions clearly. I did wish the writers had provided a little more background information for Maud and Everett, particularly Everett because I was not sure what was motivating his emotions in the early parts of the story. However this was a mild concern. The human character is amazing and seeing what a person can create out of troubling situations is a beautiful feat.

 

4 stars

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Hidden Figures

HIS attendance was perfect; he never missed a day of work. The quality of his work was outstanding and it showed in his yearly performance review because he never received a below average mark in any of the performance categories. However, he never received an above average mark either; but, he did not complain about it, grateful he had a job. The travel time for him was long; it required 2 buses and a train to get to the office. The company had over 200 employees but he could not call one of them a friend. Some individuals would only talk to him if they had to for business; he was used to the blank or condescending looks he would get for nearly every action he took.   SHE was in love and it did not even take her long to realize it. They had met at a coffee shop one afternoon. Over their drinks they did not strictly make small talk; they ventured into deeper subjects and it was apparent there was a unique kindness being shared between them. Over the next several weeks a mutual fondness grew between them. Each was starting to think they found the right one they wanted to be with for the rest of their life. With the blossoming love they shared they became more affectionate with each other. Simple things like holding hands at the movies or a quick kiss on the cheek, actions everyone in love has done from time to time. When they were affectionate they did not realize people around them would stop what they were doing to watch the happy couple. The look on these strangers’ faces was usually a grimace, a look of disgust. Nothing the happy couple did was inappropriate but it did not matter, there was another reason. And the reason could be found in the color of a person’s skin.   LOSING the space race to the Russians was not acceptable; it would take effort from every single person at NASA to get astronaut John Glenn up into space. But if you were not the right color, you did not count to some people. Based on a true story this is a must see drama. Starring Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Empire-TV) as Katherine G. Johnson, Octavia Spencer (The Help, Snowpiercer) as Dorothy Vaughan, recording artist Janelle Monae (Moonlight) as Mary Jackson and Kevin Costner (Black or White, Draft Day) as Al Harrison; this film festival winning movie was unbelievable. Let me start with the story; what an amazing achievement during a time period that most of us had never known about while history was being made in getting a rocket into space. The acting was wonderful from everyone; even minor characters fit right in without missing a beat of the story. As a movie viewing experience I had a great time clapping and cheering with the audience during a few scenes. Knowing how the story was going to end, since it is a part of US history, did not take away from the enjoyment in watching the amazing feats being achieved by the people in this movie. The space program has come so far from blasting John Glenn into space; now if only we could elevate our thinking about judging a person on their abilities instead of their color.

 

4 stars    

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

One of the main motivations for breeding an animal is to make money. From my college studies I learned how much thought and detail goes into deciding which animal should be bred. Whether a farmer or racehorse breeder they each spot specific traits they want to be carried down to the offspring of their herd. I still remember a course I had where we were taught to look at a pig and figure out their most prominent traits for breeding purposes. Some of you who follow race horsing may already know a winning horse is worth more in retirement when they go out to stud. Aren’t you glad we are not animals? But I have to tell you I am just as fascinated by family traits as I was in animal science. The gene pool to me is this vast reservoir of a family’s history; it is a game of chance when a couple has a child. What traits will the child acquire from the parents? I am always curious when a business establishment is family owned and has been handed down from generation to generation. It makes me wonder whether each new generation has acquired the same set of skill sets to make the business a continued success. Even when I witness a child doing the same thing as one of their parents, like being a tennis player or painter, it amazes me how that talent filtered down to the younger generation. Though I have to tell you I know of a family that has a business that has been handed down and the latest generation involved with it dislikes being a part of it. They wanted to be something else but their family essentially forced them to follow in the footsteps of their parent. Gratefully that was not the case in this gorgeous animated adventure film.   KUBO, voiced by Art Parkinson (Dracula Untold, San Andreas), never knew his father and could not understand why his mother insisted he be home before dark. She had a very good reason. With a mixture of claymation and CGI effects, this family film was magical and enchanting. The actors such as Charlize Theron (Young Adult, A Million Ways to Die in the West) as Monkey, Matthew McConaughey (Mud, Dallas Buyers Club) as Beetle and Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash, Harry Potter franchise) as Moon King were wonderful voicing their characters. I do not know if the story was actually from Japanese folklore, but the script was something special. The way it brought in the topic of ancestors was beautiful. I felt there was the right balance of humor, drama, danger and thrills to create a connection to any age group watching this film. Not sure why but there is something about the art of claymation that attracts me. Maybe it is because I know how much effort has to be made to make the characters move seamlessly; the figures are just more dimensional to me. I do not know what else I could tell you except after seeing this picture I had wished I was part of Kubo’s gene pool.

 

4 stars

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Gleason

One of my mantras in life is no one has the right to tell someone how they should feel. Everyone has the right to feel the way they wish without judgment. I feel all emotions are valid; there are no good or bad ones. There was a portion of my life where this was not the case and it had to do with the emotion of sadness. There were many reasons for this but there was a time where I would never cry. Hearing taunts such as “crying is for sissies” or “you’re such a crybaby” affected me and taught me I better hide my emotions if I did not want to become a target. Seeing a baby bird fall out of its nest and die is sad to me. I have always found it curious why people would comment by telling you not to cry. At one point in time (I hope no one still believes this) it was assumed girls were more emotional, so that is why they cry. Boys were perceived to be tougher if they did not cry. Can I ask you; where did this idea come from? Why was it important that boys be tougher than girls? I could get into a lengthy debate about stereotyping but I prefer not going down that path at this time. I feel it is healthy to express one’s emotions. In fact, when I see someone laughing, crying or feeling depressed I feel a kinship with them. I felt this on such a strong level while sitting in the movie theater watching this incredible documentary.   FORMER New Orleans Saints football player Steve Gleason found out he and his wife Michel were going to be parents a week after he was diagnosed with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis a/k/a Lou Gehrig’s disease. He wanted his child to know what type of man was its father. Written and directed by Clay Tweel (Print the Legend, Finders Keepers), this film festival winner was extremely hard to watch; but it was so worth it. Not being a team sports fan, I have to tell you the way the director interspersed sports footage with current reality was the ideal way to blend the two aspects of Steve and I was quickly sold early into it. On one side there was the hero Steve who sparked a city into healing civic pride after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation and the other side was Steve watching his body shutting down. It was such a stark contrast, but what the movie audience saw was this thoughtful, insightful, inspirational human being. As I mentioned earlier this was a tough picture to sit through; not only was I crying, there was out loud sobbing from audience members. Everyone was experiencing the same emotions at the same time. By the way sadness was only one of many emotions; I do not want to paint a picture of us sitting and crying the whole time as if we were at a funeral of a loved one. Though this film may be challenging to watch it is worth seeing, just bring a handkerchief with you.

 

4 stars

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

It takes more than blood to make a family. Love, support and care would be some other elements needed for a family unit. I am aware the word family had a more traditional minded definition years ago, but it has evolved along with the times. I wanted to see how it is presently defined and this is what I found online: “A social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group.” Another definition I read stated it this way: “A group of persons who form a household under one head.” If I were to define the word “family” I would also add the option “persons of equal status.” The reason I say this is because after I recently left a lunch date with a close friend I was driving home, thinking about how similarly minded the two of us were in our ideas and beliefs. I not only felt comfortable with her, but easily saw her as the sister I never had. We have each shared such personal details about our life that I simply consider her family. There is some type of saying that goes something like this, “You can choose your friends but you cannot choose your family.” Another one is, “Friends are the family you choose.” Both of these sayings have validity; family starts with the heart and mind. Now when it comes to children and the things I have seen and heard, I believe children come into this world with a clean slate, totally innocent. The individuals who bring them in may not always qualify to be a parent. This film festival winning adventure movie will show you an example of what I have been saying.   GOING from foster home to foster home Ricky, played by Julian Dennison (Paper Planes, Shopping), had one chance left to make it work when he arrived at the home of Bella and Hec, played by Rima Te Wiata (Housebound, Full Frontal-TV) and Sam Neill (Jurassic Park franchise, Event Horizon). Not everyone was on board with this arrangement. The story line in this comedic drama may seem familiar to many viewers; however, I am guessing very few of you have experienced a movie of this caliber. First the setting was so incredibly beautiful I just wanted to be there. Secondly, with the inclusion of Rachel House (Whale Rider, Boy) as Paula, the acting was excellent. I thought the script did a wonderful job in the mixing of humor and drama. There were laugh out loud parts, scary parts, touching parts; I absolutely was drawn into this picture for it was the complete package of what a good movie should be. Only for the briefest of moments I had a hard time understanding what Ricky was saying, but once I had a sense of his lingo I did not have any type of issue. Another thing that stood out for me was the direction. I enjoyed the way the story was filmed, giving actors the opportunity to express real emotions without having to say anything. Watching this movie was a joyous experience for me and I would not mind if some of the characters became part of my family.

 

4 stars  

 

 

Flash Movie Review: The Jungle Book

When something that has only been created in a novel or been seen on television comes to life it can be a miraculous experience. Think about it, for those who saw Santa Claus sitting in his big chair with a line of children waiting nearby to tell him their wish list of toys; it had to be an amazing event. Depending on a child’s age seeing characters from their video games brought to life must also be a heady experience. I remember the first time I went to the zoo; having only seen household pets, squirrels, birds and a couple of farm animals; I was so excited to see all the exotic animals that were living in the zoo. My very first stuffed animal was a chimpanzee dressed in red overalls. Now I was seeing what I thought were all of his cousins jumping and swinging around in their own habitat. I have mentioned previously how I prefer reading afterwards the book a movie was based on, due to the author’s choice of words are usually better than the finished film project. With that being said I have to say there has been many times where I love seeing stories, historical events and folklore coming to life on the big screen. When done right, a movie can provide the voices of the characters one has made up in their heads of the ones in a novel. They can also bring to life an event that took place years ago but still has an importance in one’s life to this day. Today’s review is about a movie that brings new life to a classic story.   WHEN it suddenly became dangerous to stay at home the man-cub Mowgli, played by newcomer Neel Sethi; was taken by the panther Bagheera, voiced by Ben Kingsley (Learning to Drive, The Dictator), who would take him to a safer place. Mowgli’s journey would be life changing. This adventure drama was absolutely unbelievable to watch on the big screen; in fact, I may go back to see it in 3D because the CGI in this film was beautiful and realistic. Kudos to Neel Sethi because he was utterly believable as Mowgli; keeping in mind he was the only live person in this fantastical family film. Now that does not take anything away from actors such as Bill Murray (Rock the Kasbah, The Monuments Men) as Baloo the bear and Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation, Thor franchise) as Shere Khan the tiger who were perfect voicing their characters. Having read the Rudyard Kipling book and seen the animated film years ago, I was totally taken into Mowgli’s world from my theater seat. I still love the first film but I have to tell you this version has every right to be considered a Disney classic on its own merits. It will not matter if you are familiar with this story or not because either way all the characters in this picture will draw you into their “real” world and you will be glad you were able to visit it.

 

4 stars

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: The Hunt

It may have only been a snippet of a conversation or a brief moment seeing someone in the middle of an activity, but it was all you needed to make an assumption. With all the ways humans now can communicate with each other, I feel we lost the most important part: face to face. For me face to face provides the adjectives or better yet the emotions, the intentions to a person’s conversations. However, there is a pitfall embedded in this way of communicating. Have you noticed how people tend to believe someone if they talk louder or give an impassioned speech? I abhor talking or mentioning politics, but I have only recently noticed that after politicians debate or give speeches, the news services provide a fact check on the politicians’ claims. It is amazing to me how many falsehoods these news sources reveal. The scary part about this is how some people do not care if things are true or not, they just want to be part of a group or majority. I still remember a fight that took place after school hours. One of the combatants had spread a rumor about the other; so there was a small crowd circling the two fighters, cheering and yelling. They believed the rumor was true. It looked like a school of piranha for the scene turned into a feeding frenzy, where bystanders were adding punches and kicks when the opportunity presented itself. You know it only takes one person to plant a seed of an idea into people’s minds before that group mentality mindset takes over to motivate individuals to become joiners. As adults we should know better, but what if that seed came out of a child’s mouth?    STRUGGLING to get back on his feet after a bitter divorce Lucas, played by Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Hannibal-TV), had a steady teaching job and was fighting for equal visitation rights for his son Marcus, played by relative newcomer Lasse Fogelstrom. Plans changed when the principal of the school heard what one of the students named Klara, played by newcomer Annika Wedderkopp, said about Lucas. This Oscar nominated and film festival winning movie was an intense, thought provoking drama. With Thomas Bo Larsen (The Celebration, Pusher) playing Theo as part of the cast, the acting was outstanding. The actors were so good that they kept me glued to the TV screen, tensely wondering what was going to happen next. I can see why this picture was nominated for best foreign movie by the academy. Even the newcomers of the cast were just as convincing as the adults in this story. I have been a fan of Mads for some time and after you see him in this role I believe you will feel the same way. After the movie was over I stayed seated, going over the story in my head. Do not be surprised if you too mull over the story in your head. Danish was spoken with English subtitles.

 

4 stars — DVD

 

 

 

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