IT WAS THE PHOTOGRAPH along with its headline in the newspaper that caught my eye. The old black and white photo was of a man sitting next to a stuffed animal. I recognized the animal as a cartoon character and began reading what turned out to be the man’s obituary. He had provided the voice for this character in all the cartoons, which was one of my favorite cartoon shows when I was younger. After having read that obituary I started making a point of glancing at the obituary columns whenever I read the newspaper. Discovering someone who was unfamiliar to me yet through their occupation or creation had an effect on my life was something I always found fascinating. I enjoyed reading about that person’s life, looking for any clues on what was the catalyst for the individual to steer to a particular profession or come up with their invention/creation. AFTER A SHORT length of time reading different obituaries, I started to notice how those individuals with some type of prestige or prominence got “top billing” in the layout of the death notices. This started me thinking about the finality of death and no matter how much money or notoriety a person acquired, when the time came for their death, they would die the same way as those less fortunate. From my discovery about the obituaries I started to notice a similar bias in news reporting. If a person of some stature was the victim of any type of crime the reports would spend more time to follow the person who killed them and keep the public updated on any and every detail. However if the individual was “average” or disenfranchised, then they barely received a mention in the news. There was something about this that did not sit well with me. In my opinion everyone has the right to die with dignity. Sometimes the newscasts would show the spot where a poor or homeless person was found dead and it was utterly sad to see. But was there an outcry by anyone or plans in place to avoid something like that ever happening again? This is why I loved the determination shown in this action, crime mystery. AFTER A NATIVE AMERICAN, barefooted woman was found dead in the snow Cory Lambert, played by Jeremy Renner (Arrival, The Avengers franchise), made a promise he would do his best to find out what happened to the young woman. With Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla, Captain America franchise) as Jane Banner, Graham Greene (The Green Mile, Dances with Wolves) as Ben, Kelsey Asbille (Run, The Amazing Spider-Man) as Natalie and Julia Jones (The Twilight Saga franchise, Jonah Hex) as Wilma; the acting in this chilling setting was outstanding. Jeremy and Elizabeth were especially wonderful, each brought life to the well done script. This film festival winner may not have had a fast pace, but the simple settings and landscapes added a layer of despair throughout the picture that added to the mystery. In its own way I felt the story brought to light a subject that may not be familiar to most people. I did appreciate how the writers avoided the typical “Hollywood” ending, yet did not turn the story into a major downer. I could not leave my seat right away because I was thinking about what the world would be like if everyone had respect for each other.
3 ½ stars
THERE ARE individuals who tend to be the recipient of an “I told you so” more times than not. One could say they were blinded by love or naïve or lacked life experiences; but that is really not the case. They simply do not see or focus on negativity when it comes to other people. I guess you can say they take the individual on face value. They do not look at good or evil in a person; instead their attention goes toward the current moment, however it gets presented to them. Looking at the other side of this equation, there are other individuals who can look at a person and quickly get an accurate feel for them, getting a sense if they are good or evil. They can have a conversation with someone and cut through the words and figure out the person’s makeup. You could say it is a valuable skill. GOOD AND EVIL has been the topics to several of my past reviews. I believe everyone has both of them inside; what they do with good and evil is up to them. I am familiar with both types of individuals I mentioned earlier. Several of my friends fall into the seeing good category; they take what they are given without question. One of the hardest parts about this for me is when one of my friends is in a relationship with someone I can see has evil in them. I offer my opinion when I am asked for it unless there is something blatant they do that cannot be ignored. Trust me I do not get any pleasure out of telling a friend I do not think the person they are dating is telling the truth. There was one friend I had who was in love with this guy who seemed to have these incredible jobs where he would travel the world. I remember one time where he was talking about a place I was extremely familiar with and I caught him in a couple of lies. It was with a heavy heart I had to break the truth about this mooch not having such a job. For me evil can come in many forms as this action, adventure fantasy will show you. WITH THE WORLD being made up of good and evil, the dark tower was the only thing that kept the two forces separate. Walter O’Dim aka The Man in Black, played by Matthew McConaughey (Free State of Jones, Killer Joe), was determined to make the tower fall. Based on the Stephen King (The Shining, Carrie) book series this film also starred Idris Elba (Star Trek Beyond, Luther-TV) as Roland Deschain aka The Gunslinger, Tom Taylor (Doctor Foster-TV, Legends-TV) as Jake Chambers, Jackie Earle Haley (The Birth of a Nation, Watchmen) as Sayre and Katheryn Winnick (Love & Other Drugs, 50 First Dates) as Laurie Chambers. I found Idris to be an interesting choice for this film. He has the acting capability as well as the rest of the cast but for me the script did not offer any of them the opportunity to be memorable. For the most part I found the script cheesy and it stayed in the mid range level of emotions. The idea was intriguing but I felt this story needed more punch to it. Matthew who can play crazy intense again was not offered the chance to let loose. Also the special effects were dull. Having never read any of the books, I wondered how much evil Stephen King really had put into this world.
1 ¾ stars
“ACT LIKE A LADY,” what does that exactly mean? I always found it an odd comment because I had never seen or heard about a primer that explained how girls and boys were supposed to act. Sure I remember when I was a child boys played with toy soldiers, guns and baseball bats; while girls played with stuffed animals, tea sets and dolls. There was a young girl who enjoyed playing with trucks, the bigger the better. I can still remember the odd looks some adults would give her as if she was doing something wrong. I used to babysit some of my female relatives and play house with them; it never occurred to me to tell them boys don’t play house or host a dinner party. If that is what they wanted to play or if they wanted to play cards I did not care. However, I was aware that out among my friends I could be teased for it. FAST forward to current times and there now seems like there is a push by people, companies and such to praise women, to show how progressive they have become. Now do not get me wrong, I am all for putting a spotlight on anyone who deserves it; however, some of these campaigns ring false to me. A company has formed a women’s group to promote female employees; yet they still do not get the same pay scale as their male counterparts. A film comes out with a strong female lead but studio executives still treat some of their female staff in an inappropriate way. It bugs me when people assign a label to their friends or co-workers. For example statements like, “my black friend” or “my gay co-worker;” do we really need to classify an individual? Isn’t a friend just your friend or does one choose their friends to fit a specific category? For those who want to try and classify the main character in this action thriller you will have a hard time figuring out what to say. SENT to Berlin to retrieve a secret list MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, played by Charlize Theron (Dark Places, Mad Max: Fury Road), was a target even before she landed. Based on the graphic novel series “The Coldest City” the cast also included James McAvoy (X-Men franchise, Split) as David Percival, Eddie Marsan (Sherlock franchise, Ray Donovan-TV) as Spyglass, John Goodman (Love the Coopers, Kong: Skull Island) as Emmett Kurzfeld and Toby Jones (Captain America franchise, Tale of Tales) as Eric Gray. Hands down this was Charlize’s film all the way. She simply was a beast in this picture. The fight scenes looked graphically real and Charlize must have gone through intense hand to hand combat training because it showed. I had read afterwards she did over 90% of all the stunts. The soundtrack was an important part to the script, but here is the downside to it. The script was confusing and not as strong as it could have been. I did not mind the jumping back in forth in time but would have preferred less of it. Regardless I felt this was at times an intense, mysterious, all out thriller that did not need to be defined as a male or female film; it was an equal opportunity battle. There were scenes with blood and strong violence.
SIGNS were posted across the building and in the parking lot that the grocery store was back open after being remodeled. I had never paid attention to this place since they had very few name brand items on the shelves. The reason I was there now was due to my friends telling me I had to try the place because their prices were on the average much lower than other grocery stores. Once inside I took a shopping cart and started walking down the aisles. Most of the products on the shelves were in disarray which was a turnoff for me. I wound up mainly buying fruits, vegetables, nuts and juice. The prices were lower but I have to tell you I did not think their store brand items were that good compared to the name brand ones. In fact, I thought the sunflower seeds were awful. RECENTLY introduced into my neighborhood was a new grocery chain from out of state. Their store looked like a palace compared to that food store I tried earlier. Produce was stacked up in separate bins, each one brightened by the spotlights that were hanging down from the rafters. I was curious how they were able to get each apple polished and shiny. They had a bake shop in the store that had a wonderful aroma wafting around it. Loaves of different kinds of breads were loaded into a bank of glass cases. Out on the floor there were tables piled high with large assortments of baked goods. The prices were more than what I was used to so I was hesitant to buy many things; but since I am a bread and dessert lover I did splurge a bit in this area. After finally trying both new grocery stores I have not gone back to them. The first place with cheaper prices was more like a knockoff to my regular place; it had less variety and what they had did not taste as good as the usual stuff I purchase. As for the other store, it was beautiful but their prices were on the high end. I could say the same about this science fiction film; a bland imitation that looked expensive to make. SPECIES from all over the universe had finally found a way to live in harmony with each other. That was until a dark force invaded their shared homeland. Written and directed by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita), this action adventure movie starred Dane DeHaan (A Cure for Wellness, Lawless) as Major Valerian, Cara Delevingne (Paper Towns, Suicide Squad) as Sergeant Laureline, Clive Owen (Inside Man, King Arthur) as Commander Arun Filitt and Rihanna (Battleship, Bates Motel-TV) as Bubble. What made this film entertaining were the wild visuals; the word “trippy” came to mind. Some of the scenes and characters were quite imaginative. I am not familiar with the book this film was based on, but I was intrigued by the relationship between Valerian and Laureline; though she was more memorable than he. The idea for this story was sound but I thought the script was poorly done. I was amazed that I figured out immediately who was going to be the “bad” guy and how the story was going to end. Where the visuals were exciting, the acting and script were lackluster. There was little to get excited or thrilled by in this picture. It was a shame because it was obvious they spent a lot on the technical stuff but what got created was a light version of Star Trek mixed with Star Wars.
THOUGH I had made my way to the front I was nervous by the amount of people that were filling up the train station platform. I had not reached the start of the yellow warning strip at the edge of the platform, but one big surge or push could have detrimental results for someone. Something must have happened somewhere along the route to delay the train; the information board only listed a flashing “delay” notice for this particular train line. Everyone was being squeezed together. You could only hope the person behind you was not carrying any large packages that would dig into your back. On the plus side we were not waiting on one of the above ground stations out in the freezing cold. We were standing in a subway station underneath the downtown area. AFTER what seemed an unbearable amount of time the information board listed the arrival time for the train. I knew it was going to be a challenge to get on the train, let alone get a seat. If the train was skipping stations to make up the delay the chance would be better the passenger cars were not packed. However if it was making its usual stops, by the time it reached my station, the cars could be overflowing with people. As the train finally pulled into the station I saw the cars were over half filled with passengers. I had a good chance based on where I was standing; but only if the doors of the car stopped close in front of me. Luck was with me, one of the train car’s doors stopped directly in front of me. The two people ahead of me quickly moved inside; I followed them and we manuveured to the middle of the car as best we could. The reason was the tightest fit always occurred by the doors and one would have to constantly adjust their place as people tried to exit or shove their way inside. One could not help feeling bad for the passengers who got left behind as they watched their train pull away from the station. I felt much worse for the soldiers in this dramatic action film based on true events. MILITARY forces from Belgium, France and the British Empire were surrounded by the Nazis. The only way out was by sea, where they could easily be picked off by the enemy’s firepower. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight franchise, Interstellar) this historic war picture starred newcomer Fionn Whitehead as Tommy, Damien Bonnard (A Perfect Plan, Staying Vertical) as a French soldier, Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies, The Other Boleyn Girl) as Mr. Dawson and Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn, Rabbit-Proof Fence) as the commander. This movie was not only beautifully filmed; it was enhanced with the incredible musical score that played a part in building up the tense scenes. The story was incredible and I felt Christopher kept it simple because honestly the event could speak for itself. With the placement of the cameras Christopher was able to maintain a deep emotional connection to the viewing audience. I saw this movie in an enhanced theater where the seats vibrated based on the sound intensity; it added more to my experience and level of enjoyment as I felt I was part of the scenes. This was such a well done picture and though my chances of dying on that train platform were slim, I could relate somewhat to the soldiers’ plight in this courageous story.
3 ½ stars
THERE were days where it felt he had a target painted on his back. What he originally thought were random acts of violence, where he happened to be the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time, he began to realize he was the main focus of the perpetrators’ aggression. Unfortunately bystanders around him would also fall victim to the violent acts. Being unexpectedly pushed from behind would cause him to fall into anyone standing in front of him, resulting in the chance they could topple and injure themselves. A liquid filled container thrown at him would also have an impact on anyone around him. He could never understand the hatred towards him. It was not like he started a fight or something; he pretty much fell into the average category, avoiding any type of conflicts or confrontations. His attitude was “live and let live” when it came to the behavior of others; however, there were days where it was a challenge to maintain that attitude. SEVERAL weeks of constant attacks pushed me to a place I had never been before. With my friends being affected from the fallout and me becoming consumed with a deep set hatred towards my aggressors, I lashed out at one of them when he was alone. It was the only time I instigated a fight. What worked in my favor was the fact no one would ever imagine me picking a fight. Adding in the element of surprise, I was set to let all of my anger out onto this one individual while I kept telling myself not to get hit in the face and start crying. My hope was if I could show this one person that I could fight back that he and the rest of his kind would stop picking on me. A similar train of thought was considered in this 3rd installment of the rebooted action adventure franchise. WHEN his enclave came under attack Caesar’s, played by Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings franchise, The Prestige), hopes of peaceful co-existence seemed an impossible reality. He would be forced to confront the ugliness of man head on. Compared to the two previous films I found this science fiction story incorporated elements of American slavery and the Bible; especially in regards to Moses and the 10 commandments, at least the movie version. With Woody Harrelson (The Edge of Seventeen, Now You See Me franchise) as the Colonel, Steve Zahn (Dallas Buyers Club, A Perfect Getaway) as Bad Ape, Karin Konoval (The Movie Out Here, 2012) as Maurice and Amiah Miller (Lights Out, How We Live-TV movie) as Nova; I realized some people might not appreciate the acting skills of some of the actors who were CGI enhanced; but I have to tell you, I thought Andy and Karin were amazing in their roles. Andy, besides all of the physical acting, was still able to convey emotions with depth to his character. I will be curious to see if he gets any recognition for the amount of work he put into this dramatic picture. The special effects were well done, never over the top and appearing quite real. What really tied all of the good pieces together in this movie was the script; I felt it was well thought out, going beyond the typical sci-fi story. It had heart which quickly grabbed me into the story. As I continued to think about this film afterwards I can see where it could start a discussion about a variety of topics including our current times.
3 ½ stars
THE bus pulled up just as I said goodbye to my friends. They were hanging out together after school, but I had to go to work. The bus ride took around 25 minutes which gave me some time to study for an exam I was having the next day. Is this what I wanted to do after school? No, I would have preferred hanging out with my friends; studying for the exam could take place after dinner. My part-time job was at a camera store. Luckily I worked in the warehouse so I would not have to be out in front selling or ringing up sales. It was already bad enough that I was one of the few who had a job; but to have to wait on my friends or their parents would make things worse. Truthfully the job was not bad at all; since I was already into photography, I enjoyed being around the different film and camera products. I also would hear about new items before the general public, which I thought was cool. MANAGING my time between school and work was a challenge. By the time my friends and I were seniors a majority of us had after school jobs. One of the perks for me was being able to drive the owner’s car to make special pickup orders or deliveries when the company van was out on the road. I was not comfortable driving the large van as I would have to maneuver several side streets on the route. As for the owner’s car, it was a luxury automobile with all the extra appointments; in other words, all the bells and whistles one could buy for it. Even though driving the car was a highlight, I still had the challenge of keeping my grades up while working. Going to school, work and be with my friends was always a give and take situation. There were times I would miss out doing fun stuff; but on the other hand, I always had money in my wallet. My challenges paled by comparison to the ones the main character in this action, adventure film had to endure. AFTER helping out the Avengers the only thing Peter Parker/Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland (The Impossible, The Lost City of Z), wanted to do was to become a full time crime fighter. However he first had to finish high school. This reboot of the science fiction franchise had a well rounded cast that gave the story a good kick of fun excitement. Starring Robert Downey Jr (Sherlock Holmes franchise, The Judge) as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Michael Keaton (The Founder, Spotlight) as Adrian Toomes/Vulture and Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler, The Lincoln Lawyer) as May Parker; each of them did a great job in their roles. I did wish Michael Keaton had more screen time. With his acting skills the writers could have made his character darker and more intense; I think this would have added more to the story. The thing I enjoyed about this film was having Peter struggle with his desire to be a superhero while trying to be a typical teenager. There were elements of wit and charm to many scenes due to Tony Stark’s presence and Peter’s puppy like eagerness. I felt the middle of the film slowed down with the story line about going out on a date; the intensity and action were weak. Though I found Tom’s whiny voice annoying at times, I felt he was the right choice to lead this reboot. There were extra scenes in the middle and at the end of the credits.
3 ¼ stars
A life without music is a life less rich. At least that is how I feel about music. The famous line from William Congreve’s play “The Mourning Bride” goes, “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” It is usually misquoted as a savage beast; either way I agree with its meaning 100%. However I feel music offers us so much more. As the world appears to be more divided currently, music is the one common element that goes past all boundaries. In my opinion music is a universal language that can establish common ground between individuals. One place where I often see this taking place is at a wedding. You have two distinct families with nothing in common except one of their family members is in love with someone from the other side. There could be differences in race, religion or culture but put on some music and people will come together on the dance floor, beginning the first step in making contact with the other side. ANOTHER benefit music offers us is comfort. How many of us have a “breakup song?” You know that one song that you played over and over because it was speaking to you at the time of your separation from the person you loved. Sure it may cause a tear to spill over your eyelid, but it started the path for your heart to heal. I remember whenever I was sad I would sit at the piano and play my favorite music pieces over and over. By the time I walked away I felt some of the heaviness on my heart had been lifted. Music has to be playing whenever I am in the car or when I have to clean the house. I can better tolerate housekeeping when there is a steady beat playing in the background. If I did not have music playing during my commute I would walk into the office frustrated and angry. Maybe it would be different if I had the mad driving skills like the driver in this action crime movie. SURVIVING a car crash as a young boy Baby, played by Ansel Elgort (Divergent franchise, The Fault in our Stars), may have been influenced by it because he became a fearless getaway driver for crime boss Doc, played by Kevin Spacey (Elvis & Nixon, House of Cards-TV). The only problem was he was not allowed to do anything else. With Jon Hamm (Keeping up with the Jones, Mad Men-TV) as Buddy, Lily James (Cinderella, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Debora and Jon Bernthal (The Ghost Writer, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Griff; this film had a banging hard rock soundtrack. The characters and action were all put into synch with the driving beat. I could not recall seeing in a movie such precision between the two. The driving scenes were intensely thrilling; some of the scenes must be seen to be believed. Ansel was amazing in this picture; I felt it was a breakout role for him. Shifting into a lower gear (I could not resist), there was little explanation about the different relationships between characters. I did not understand Baby’s connection to his friend for example. One other thing for me was the change from such high speed action scenes to lesser ones; it made for some odd pacing. The final diagnostics for this music driven movie is it fires on most cylinders.
THEY were from the same parents but you would never know it. Two brothers only a few years apart in age, yet they had nothing in common. Even when we were younger I rarely saw the older of the two siblings. If I was over at their house and the older one happened to be present, there was a good chance an argument would take place between the family members at some point during the day. I believe it was after high school when the older brother enlisted in the army and that was the last time the parents would ever have contact with him. I never understood what happened between the family members that would lead one child to stop interacting with the rest. The parents went on with their lives; whether they were upset with the situation they never showed it. WHAT I just described was my first exposure to such extreme actions between family members. From that period of time going forward I have seen situations from both ends of the spectrum; from a family who had little contact with people outside of their own family members to families who resorted to violence. Recently a news article crossed my desk about a family owned company. One relative was using legal means to force an issue, making claims of inappropriate behavior and illegal business activity. As I read the article I was surprised by the level of hatred that was motivating the lawsuit. I did not know how many of the accusations were true, only that the company did business with my company. These scenes always remind me there is no such thing as a “normal” family. Every family or should I say every human being is different, who come with their own unique set of issues and quirks. If you do not believe me just take a look at the characters in this animated, action adventure film. AFTER all these year Gru, voiced by Steve Carell (Café Society, Freeheld), discovered he had a quite successful twin brother. If they were to meet, what would they possibly have in common? This 3rd installment in the franchise included Kristen Wiig (The Martian, Ghostbusters) voicing Lucy, Trey Parker (Run Ronnie Run, Orgazmo) voicing Balthazar Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove (School of Rock, Icarly-TV) voicing Margo and Steve Coogan (The Trip to Spain, Tropic Thunder) voicing Fritz/Silas Ramsbottom. For me the best part was the inclusion of the Minions; they are one of the best cartoon characters today. As the previous sequels this one had fun animation and a great soundtrack. The story initially was fine to me; however, as the story progressed and veered off in different directions I found myself not as interested. I believe the issue was due to having three different directors working on this picture. It almost seemed as if there was not enough time to cover one plot before something else was happening. Additionally the humor was sort of low key; it was geared towards young children and even then not much in the laugh out loud category based on the audience’s reactions during my viewing. Sitting through this movie I felt the Minions were overall the biggest draw because the story lines were not that unique to the characters. There was a sense as if I had seen each story before in a different film. It may be time to let these characters leave the coop so to speak.
2 ½ stars
TENSION could be felt in the air, at least by me, as I walked into the company’s lunchroom. It was not a big room, only accommodating a few tables and chairs. Sitting down next to a couple of employees, I joined in on the conversation taking place. While we were eating and talking I did notice 2 employees whose way of conversing was stilted. They each would participate but I noticed they never made eye contact with each other, even if the topic of conversation related to one of them. The other employees around the table did not seem to notice or if they did they were not fazed by it. If you ever sat around a group of people and one person had an attitude, you would feel it. I could not understand what was going on as there was this “stale” dead air in the room when either of these 2 employees said something. SEVERAL weeks later, long after I forgot about those two peculiar employees in the lunchroom, a co-worker was talking to me and made a joke about one of those employees from that time. She could tell I did not understand the joke and asked me if I knew the story about those 2 people from the lunchroom. When I told her no she informed me the 2 used to be married to each other, making it sound like it was common knowledge. Obviously it was not that common because I had no idea they were married at one time. Replaying as much as I could remember about the conversation we had back then I could at least see where the topic could be an uncomfortable one for the divorced couple. I asked my co-worker why they were divorced; she told me about the rumors some people were saying about the former couple. From what she told me I was amazed either of them could work in the same company as their ex-spouse. It is funny having that little bit of unexpected knowledge has changed most of my interactions with either employee. I could say the same thing about what I found out in this latest installment of the sci-fi franchise. BATTLE after battle, war after war; there must be a reason why Earth will not be left alone by these Transformers. Could there be a solution to once and for all rid our world of this destruction? This action adventure starred Mark Wahlberg (Patriot’s Day, The Gambler) as Cade Yeager, Anthony Hopkins (Red Dragon, The Elephant Man) as Sir Edmund Burton and Josh Duhamel (When in Rome, Las Vegas-TV) as Colonel William Lennox. Within a short period of time I realized the script and the story to this film was utterly ridiculous. The explanations being told about why such and such was happening defied any logic. I know this is a science fiction film, but I still appreciate a good story. The script was a hodgepodge of folklore, fantasy, historical references and an assortment of other components; that I found made one big, long mess of a picture. It also did not help that the movie played for 2 hours and 29 minutes; there was no reason to have such a long film. There needed to be a tight editing job to the script. Also I wished the action scenes had been more distinguishable. With action whirling by it was hard to figure out who or what was going on. I could not wait to escape this picture. There was an extra scene early in the credits.
1 ½ stars