IT SOUNDED LIKE A FUN TIME, so me and a group of friends decided to sign up for it. A charity was holding an event at a large amusement park that was about an hour’s drive away. They had rented out the park for the evening and planned on having games, music, dancing and entertainment besides the rides. I figured it would be less of a hassle to get around the park than on an average weekend day with the big crowds. Also, because they would be serving alcohol in the park, no one under 18 would be allowed. My friends and I were excited about the prospects of having an easier time riding the big attraction rides multiple times. Usually because the lines were so long for the well-known rides, one might be able to go on it only once due to time constraints. I for one do not like waiting in line for over an hour just to ride an attraction for less than one minute. My only concern was the weather; I was hoping there would be no chance of rain, causing the park to shut down some of their rides. Each of us were getting excited as the date got closer. ON THE DAY OF THE EVENT, with a clear blue sky drifting towards twilight, we piled into one car and headed out on the road towards the amusement park. I was the driver for the evening since I did not care for alcohol. While we were making our way there, we decided to come up with a game plan on how to get as many of the “big” rides in while still taking part in the charity’s planned activities. A quick survey showed most of us were excited to tackle the park’s top roller coasters first. I had heard the newest roller coaster was the ultimate thrill ride because it not only spun and swerved around the track, it also plummeted down to an underground tunnel. Some of my friends were planning on doing that ride more than once; while I figured I would go find a less stressful ride, one that didn’t have spinning as a main component. The fastest spinning I can tolerate is the speed of a merry-go-round. Our excitement increased by the time I pulled the car into the parking lot. With tickets in hand, we headed inside the park to carry out our strategy. As we got to the first roller coaster, I was the first one to notice it was not running. Maybe it was broken? We moved onto our 2ndchoice and discovered the same thing; it too was not running. Paying attention now, as we were walking around, we saw many of the “big” rides were shut down. All the excitement we had built up melted into disappointment. I experienced a similar reaction while watching this mystery thriller. DURING A TORRENTIAL RAINSTORM A GROUP of random strangers took refuge in a motel. They thought they would be safe for the night until one of the guests was found dead. With John Cusack (Cell, Grosse Pointe Blank) as Ed, Ray Liotta (Something Wild, Shades of Blue-TV) as Rhodes, Amanda Peet (The Whole Nine Yards, Griffin & Phoenix) as Paris, John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, The Pardon) as Larry and Alfred Molina (Saint Judy, Frida) as Dr. Malick; this film festival winner was a good old fashioned thriller in the same vein as an Agatha Christie story. I thought the cast did a decent job with their acting, despite the disconnected script. Not that I did not enjoy watching this movie, I did; but I felt let down as the script started winding down to its conclusion. I thought the filming and sets added an extra level of anxiety and dread to the written words. During the picture, I found myself getting into the story with its plot twists and suspense. If only that level experienced in the beginning had lasted all the way to the end.
2 ¾ stars
CUTTHROAT was the best term to describe him. When first meeting him you would be left with the impression that he was a funny, laid back sort of fellow. Looks can be quite deceiving because that is what I originally thought of him. We used to work for the same company; I was involved with inventory and he was in sales. Dressed immaculately every day, he walked around the office like a proud peacock; I know that may sound like a cliché but he really did. If he had had feathers attached to his backside they would have always been fanned out to draw attention to him. Underneath that polished and pleasant veneer there was a hunger for money. In sales that would be a good thing; however, he had no boundaries. He would lie, cheat, essentially anything to make a sale to increase his commission check. Sure the company benefited but his goal was his bank account. THERE has been several times where I have encountered this type of individual in other settings. It always makes me uncomfortable because I can never get a sense of trust established with the individual. I am all about trust; even at a big box retailer where I know the sales help does not get commission, I will end a conversation with someone who I feel is not trustworthy. Maybe this is prejudicial on my part, but I am simply going with my feelings. It is irritating when an employee gives the consumer the wrong information; I would rather they say they do not know and offer to find someone who knows the answer to my query. When the sales staff at a retail establishment works on commission it can be an ugly experience when you walk through the doors. They can descend on you like a pack of vultures spotting fresh road kill. You will understand my point if you watch the main character in this film festival winning dramatic movie. HEADHUNTER Dane Jensen, played by Gerard Butler (Playing for Keeps, Olympus Has Fallen franchise), would do anything to close on a sale. Even his family was not immune to the ramifications of his actions. With Alison Brie (Sleeping with Other People, Mad Men-TV) as Lynn Vogel, Willem Dafoe (The Great Wall, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Ed Blackridge, Gretchen Mol (Manchester by the Sea, 3:10 to Yuma) as Elise Jensen, Alfred Molina (The Da Vinci Code, Spider-Man 2) as Lou Wheeler and Max Jenkins (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Sense8-TV) as Ryan Jensen; I was not impressed with the acting. Part of me feeling this way was due to the poorly written script; it was beyond predictable, so pedestrian. Add in the uninspired directing and I was bored through most of the film. Gerard gave it a good shot but being a non likable character did not help me. I could not relate to him; though some would say being unlikeable was good acting on his part. As for the script it was riddled with clichés and emotional manipulations. Funny for a film about sales it certainly had a poor sales pitch for the public. Never seeing a trailer for this at the movies should have been my first clue for what was in store for me.
1 2/3 stars
The older people are getting the more I have noticed they incorporate an escape plan into their world. If I do a quick count I believe a majority of the people I know have some kind of activity they can escape to, withdrawing from the realities of their day. Off the top of my head I know individuals who do scrap booking, knitting, jigsaw puzzles and reading books just to name a few. I, if you have not noticed, do movies to escape the pressures that come up in my daily life. Films offer me the fastest way to leave the present moment and be whisked into the alternative world of a movie. Even a poorly done movie that I have given a 1 1/2 star rating will partially transport me away; however, the better the film the more I will be drawn into it. If you have read my description for what merits a 4 star rating, you know the movie has to completely remove me from the theater and allow me to become part of the story; where I do not see the actors playing out their roles only the actual characters. Personally I feel everyone should have some kind of activity that allows them to disconnect from their everyday routines. I do not know about you but it seems the older I get more things become challenging for me. A simple activity like driving a car has become harder due to so many distracted drivers, besides the endless construction projects that constantly close roads and lanes. It is no wonder a person feels stuck in their life and just wants to escape to somewhere or something else. With that in mind, I was surprised to see what the main character chose to do in this comedy. JOURNALIST Kim Baker, played by Tina Fey (Sisters, Muppets Most Wanted), felt she was stuck; her life was going nowhere. That is until an opportunity came up for her to take an assignment in Afghanistan. Based on a true story this war comedy had a well rounded cast that included Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, About Time) as Tanya Vanderpoel, Martin Freeman (The Hobbit franchise, Hot Fuzz) as Iain MacKelpie and Alfred Molina (An Education, Chocolat) as Massoud Sadiq. There were parts of this film I enjoyed, but the more the story unfolded the more I lost sense of it. For some reason I started to disbelieve the scenes because they seemed so outrageous or maybe more accurately they lost the emotion of the action. I did not find much humor in this picture; it slowly became ridiculous to me. It is a shame because the idea of the real Kim Baker taking on this assignment is extraordinary; I just wished this script would have come across more real. Part of the blame would have to go to the director. I never once felt I was watching the actual characters, only seeing the actors playing them. This film did not provide me a total escape.
2 1/4 stars
They are two of the most powerful words one could ever utter in their entire life. Each word represents a profound, deep commitment from an individual; neither should ever be taken lightly. One word is love, the other one is sorry. Though I use both words cautiously, each one represents a deep core value that is permanently embedded inside of my being. The reason I do not freely use these words is because I want them to retain their specialness, so when I say either of them to a person, they know they are getting the true fullness of my heart and soul without any conditions. There is another word that carries almost as much weight as the word love; however, I do not feel it is as strong. The word is hate. It certainly can strike a person as deeply as the word love, but from my experiences I feel it takes less effort to be hateful than loving. Hate to me means one closes themselves off from experiencing feelings, like an old item that one would store up in an attic. A person hates something so they may walk away from it, never allowing themself to explore and see if they can look at it through a different set of eyes. For me love is a full-time commitment that one nourishes, allowing it to continually flourish. TOGETHER nearly 40 years Ben and George, played by John Lithgow (Leap Year, Cliffhanger) and Alfred Molina (An Education, Chocolat), decided to get married. Their celebrating with friends and family did not last long once George’s employer heard about the union; they terminated him. Forced to find cheaper housing the couple would have to live apart after living together for the majority of their adult life. The story in this drama was straight forward without embellishing the situation for dramatic purposes. The acting by John and Alfred was outstanding; in fact, along with Marisa Tomei (Parental Guidance, The Wrestler) as Kate and Charlie Tahan (Blue Jasmine, Charlie St. Cloud) as Joey, the acting was the major force of this movie. What dragged this movie down was the ponderous script. I felt the additional story lines took away from what was the heart of the story. The directing was of no help because there were times where the film seemed to drag a bit for me. With a story that could have been plucked out from current news, this dramatic picture handled the subject matter honestly and with sensitivity. Believing love is one of the most powerful acts a person can commit, it was the underlying theme in bringing this story to life.
2 3/4 stars
Pretty Boy was our family’s female parakeet. Do not ask about her name. She was the dog we could not have in our 3rd floor apartment. For me she was not just a parakeet, she was a hawk. Except when Pretty Boy was asleep for the night, her cage door was always open. When one of my brothers or I entered the room she would fly to our shoulder to greet us. I would tell her to attack any one of my friends who happened to be over and she would take off and circle them before coming back to my outstretched arm. And get this: when my family would be gathered around the television for the Academy Awards show, she would fly down onto the floor and sit with me. Since her I have always had an interest in flying, so this fantasy film would certainly be something I would watch. For a fantasy there were few magical things; the movie essentially was a love story. Rutger Hauer (Sin City, Blade Runner) was Captain Ethenne Navarre who joined up with young thief Phillipe Gaston, played by Matthew Broderick (Glory, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), for help in sneaking up and surprising the corrupt bishop. For you see the bishop, played by John Wood (Chocolat, Sabrina), had cast a spell on Captain Navarre and his love Isabeau d’Anjou, played by Michelle Pfeiffer (People Like Us, Stardust). At nightfall the Captain would turn into a wolf and at daybreak Isabeau would turn into a hawk. Directed by Richard Donner (Superman franchise, Radio Flyer), this sweet movie harkened back to a time where the story drove the movie instead of special effects. There were well staged fight scenes and it was fun watching a young Matthew Broderick. I especially enjoyed the performance of Leo McKern (A Man for All Season, Rumpole of the Bailey-TV) as Father Imperiust the Monk. This fanciful movie did not reach my highest rating, but I still took pleasure in the way I floated along with the story.
2 3/4 stars — DVD