I WAS GREETED AT THE DOOR by 2 overly excited dogs. They were sisters who my friends adopted when they were puppies. Being familiar with me, they were happy to see me because they knew I was the one who gave them body massages; well, at least that is what I hoped they thought. Whenever I would tell the two of them it was time for a doggie massage, the chocolate colored dog would lie down on her side, in preparation for her massage; the vanilla colored dog remained standing with this quizzical look on her face as she continued to watch me. I would have to gently hold her as I brought her down onto her side and even then, she would try to get back up. It was only when I started rubbing her side that she would calm down and relax, allowing me to continue my ministrations. The other dog did nothing but wait there for me to massage her. It was quite comical. This was not the only difference between the sisters. It was easy to fake out the vanilla colored sister. I could pretend to throw one of their toys across the room and the vanilla sister would run down the length of the room looking for the toy. The other dog was too smart and would stay in place with this look of anticipation on her face, as if telling me to throw the toy already. Two dogs from the same litter, yet so different. I REALLY WAS NOT SURPRISED BY one dog being smarter than the other. The same type of thing has happened in human families, I have noticed. I knew two brothers who had 4 years difference between their ages. The younger brother was the smarter one who got good grades and achievement awards. The older brother’s school grades were a mishmash of passing and failing grades. He also got in trouble a lot. Now you would think 2 boys being raised in the same house under the same conditions would be more similar, but it was not the case. I have always been curious about this disparity between family members. There is this family I know where the parents only had a high school education. Their focus was staying employed; they did not read anything or try to learn something new. Their only son received zero encouragement from them since his aspirations for higher education were a foreign concept. I do not know whether it was despite or because of his parents, but early on he displayed high intelligence which was quickly noted by his teachers. Where his parents could barely write a clear sentence, he became the editor of his elementary school’s newspaper, besides being a winner in state driven English contests. This type of dynamic is something I find so fascinating, which is why I was intrigued with this dramatic film. WHILE ATTEMPTING TO GET AN INTERVIEW lined up, Yale law student J.D. Vance, played by Gabriel Basso (Super 8, The Kings of Summer), found himself being pulled into his Appalachian family’s drama back home in Ohio. With Amy Adams (Arrival, Big Eyes) as Bev, Glenn Close (The Wife, Alfred Nobbs) as Mamaw, Haley Bennett (Music and Lyrics, The Girl on the Train) as Lindsay and Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Immortals) as Usha; this movie based on a true story was all about the acting. I thought the cast was outstanding and felt Glenn could get nominated for her role. The story is surprising I grant you; however, I thought the script was not as strong as it needed to be to support the story. There was an element of predictability and at times I felt there was too much melodrama inserted into the scenes; I would have preferred learning more about each character on a deeper level. Despite these misgivings, my interest did not waiver as I observed the dynamics in this generational family story.
2 ½ stars
A PERFECT WORLD TO ME WOULD be one where everyone takes responsibilities for their actions. Maybe it is my imagination, but it seems people used to be this way some time ago. Now, it appears to me people are quick to place the blame on someone else. It reminds me of a little child who is standing next to a broken vase that they knocked onto the floor and when the child’s parent asks if they did it, the child immediately says no it wasn’t him or her. In a similar vein, one example I have seen many times is a shopper who accidentally brushes up to a store’s product and it falls to the floor. It might be a loaf of bread or an article of clothing, for example. The person sees what they have done; but just keeps on walking, pretending I guess the item magically levitated and floated to the floor. Would it have been so hard to pick up the item and put it back? In my opinion, a world filled with irresponsible people will only lead to a world of chaos. THERE IS SOMEONE I KNOW WHO for all the time I have known them has never taken responsibility for their actions. They are involved with high finances that directly affect the company where they are employed. I listen to their work stories; which by the way, seem to always paint this person as the victim. What they do not know is I have a friend who works at the same company and when they tell me about something that involves this other employee, their version is totally different. It is baffling, but the only thing I can think of is maybe it is all about power for this employee. I am not privy to their work environment but possibly this person is afraid of their peers or maybe they all act the same way, who knows? Power can be quite addictive for some individuals. One taste of it can put a person on a path where responsibilities get steamrolled and left crushed on the side of the road. I can handle a person who is assertive with their actions; however, a person who is aggressive is a different story for me. In my experiences those who aggressively seek power will do anything to reach their goal and as far as I can tell have a lower moral consciousness. The only time I have an issue with individuals in this category is when their actions have a direct effect on my life. For some of us, when you watch the scenes in this comedic drama you may find yourself stunned. CIRCUMSTANCES FELL INTO PLACE FOR ONE individual to rise above all others and make choices that would affect a country and the world. This film festival winning biography starred Christian Bale (The Big Short, Hostiles) as Dick Cheney, Amy Adams (Nocturnal Animals, Big Eyes) as Lynne Cheney, Steve Carell (Beautiful Boy, Battle of the Sexes) as Donald Rumsfeld, Sam Rockwell (A Single Shot, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) as George W. Bush and Alison Pill (Milk, Dan in Real Life) as Mary Cheney. If Christian does not get nominated for best actor this award season, then something is wrong. I never once watched him and thought that was Christian; he was 100% the character he portrayed and enough of a reason to see this film. The acting was fine overall, but the script was scattered; I did not know if it wanted to be a satire, drama, comedy or documentary. Some of the scenes were startling to me, but I could not tell if it was totally made up or not. If not, then I am more scared than I thought. What a feat to accomplish, driven by power.
2 ½ stars
THEY seemed scared as they huddled over their map. Looking up at the arrival time for the next train, they stood near the edge of the train platform. I made the assumption they were tourists who were not familiar with the language. Luckily I knew how to say hello and how are you in their language; plus, I was ½ of the winning team among my friends in charades the past 2 years which I felt could help. Walking up to them I said hello and immediately their heads sprung up and turned to me. They excitedly began talking to me in their native tongue but I had no clue what they were saying. I made hand gestures which I hoped conveyed the little I knew about their language then pointed at their map and made a questioning facial expression. En masse they moved next to me and pointed to a sticky note attached to what I could see on the map was the downtown area. THEY were looking for a well known tourist attraction in the city. Using my charade skills I was able to show them which train they had to get on and how many stops they needed to travel to get to their destination. I think they were saying thank you to me as my train arrived and I bordered it. Being proud of my city I have this thing where I want all tourists to have the best time here. So if I can spend a few minutes learning how to communicate with those who do not speak English it is well worth it to me. The key word is communicating; I see and have experienced so many people who do not take the time to properly communicate. It seems as if language is turning into a series of emails, texts, abbreviations and emojis. How can someone figure out a person’s intent with such things? LINGUISTIC expert Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams (American Hustle, Man of Steel), was given a short time frame to find a way to communicate with the alien spacecraft that landed on earth before the military took over. This film festival nominated drama mystery took a different route from the usual alien versus human plot and it paid off. I enjoyed it so much and thought Amy was fantastic in the role. Along with Jeremy Renner (The Avengers franchise, The Hurt Locker) as Ian Donnelly and Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler, The Last King of Scotland) as Colonel Weber, the actors did well in conveying a sense of urgency and fear. The soundtrack added an eerie dimension to the scenes that I felt brought out more suspense. With director Denis Villeneuve’s (Prisoners, Sicario) skills the story had a gradual buildup of tension, even with the subplot that was interjected between present day scenes. This science fiction movie had a couple of surprises, though I have to say the ending was confusing to me. I am not sure I totally understood what was going on but I still felt like I was entertained for the most part. Especially with the poor (in my opinion) state of communications today, I really was impressed with this picture.
3 ¼ stars
It is one of the hardest situations to navigate I have found, when two people you are fond of do not like each other. Friends, family, significant others, neighbors; I have seen and been a part of all types of uncomfortable situations. There was a dinner party where 2 of my friends attended and spent the evening staying on opposite sides of me. Mingling among the guests or sitting at the table, the 2 friends kept their distance from each other; however, they each wanted equal time with me throughout the night. It was such a challenge to try and keep a mental log of how much time I was spending with each of them, that I found myself not having a very good time at the party. Now I know I have the choice of stepping away from 2 combative friends and letting them deal with their issues, not altering how I interact with them; but I have to tell you, it is harder when someone you are in love with is disliked by someone else you care about. In this scenario there could be times where you choose not to attend an event because you know your significant other will be uncomfortable. I do not know how you would handle it but I dread finding myself in such a scenario. There standing before you are 2 people you care about and they cannot get along; in some circumstances I just want to say, “Be adults and just be cordial to each other whenever the occasion comes up.” Knowing what you do about me now, you can only imagine how I felt seeing 2 of my favorite comic book heroes battling each other in this action adventure film. THE seeds of hatred were planted in Bruce Wayne, played by Ben Affleck (Gone Girl, The Town), when he witnessed the people he cared about perishing in a catastrophe due to the actions of Superman, played by Henry Cavill (Immortals, The Cold Light of Day). As the hatred continued to grow inside of Bruce, it would not be too long before his alter ego Batman would take matters into his own hands. This fantasy had a dark brooding look that I enjoyed at first, but as the movie continued to its 2 hour and 31 minutes running time I found myself wishing scenes were brighter and clearer. Where I was concerned about Ben taking over the iconic role, it turned out my fears were unfounded; he was a strong, emotional Batman. With a strong cast of supporting actors, intense fight scenes and fun special effects; all that was missing was a great script. The story was dull and slow for the first half of the film before things started to kick into high gear. Part of the reason for this I believe was the movie studio’s intentions to make this film a vehicle for future multiple stories and spinoff characters; it was that apparent. When I left the theater I not only felt bad these 2 superheroes fought but they had to in this film.
2 1/3 stars
They reside together as if they were long lost relatives. With some people they may be siblings or half siblings; in others they could be first cousins twice removed. Inside of me they are definitely related; sometimes they are stepbrothers, other times they are half siblings. Either way I find creativity and therapy have a strong connection to each other. My strongest example would be when I used to play piano. It made no difference if I was playing a classical, popular or improvised piece; piano playing always had a calming effect on me. I know several individuals who are quite artistic, one makes jewelry and another designs company annual reports. Each one finds therapeutic value within their creative process. Even though a person may claim they are not creative, I still see them doing an activity that incorporates the right side of their brain for creativity, with a touch of therapeutic value thrown in. An example would be someone who acquires unique earrings, not the usual mass produced kind. The simple act of looking and judging the earring takes some creative license for them to incorporate them into their wardrobe. This is not a cop-out on my part, but there is some truth to the term: retail therapy. BACK in the 1950s an artist emerged onto the scene named Walter Keane, played by Christoph Waltz (The Three Musketeers, Water for Elephants). His large eyed subjects lead the way to a new way of marketing art. The only problem was he did not know how to draw them. This film festival nominated drama was based on a true story. Amy Adams (American Hustle, The Fighter) who played his wife Margaret was the focal point for this biographical story and she was outstanding. I enjoyed watching her character grow from point A to point B; it was a fully acted out journey. Unfortunately I could not say the same thing for Christoph; his character became too cartoonish for me. Part of the fault had to be placed on the director, Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland, Big Fish). If I had not known, I would have never guessed he had directed this movie. There were uneven parts throughout, going from Christoph’s odd performance to laser sharp acting from Terence Stamp (Wanted, Unfinished Song) as John Canaday and Krysten Ritter (Listen Up Philip, What Happens in Vegas) as DeeAnn. Besides Amy’s wonderful acting, the story was outrageous enough that it kept my attention throughout the picture. I just wished there had been more consistency in this film; but on the other hand, just watching it in the theater was still therapeutic for me.
2 3/4 stars
There are some people who fall in love at first sight. I know it has happened but I have never experienced it. Now sure there can be an immediate attraction, but what is it based on? For some folks it could be the person’s looks, style of dress, humor or manners. Though each of those attributes have their place in one’s love scorecard, I have had different experiences. A good portion of relationships I have encountered started out where I had no feelings for them. They may have not been attractive according to some people’s way of thinking or at first glance, we had very little in common. However, as we continue to communicate with each other a transformation takes place. Their features soften in my eyes while their voice begins to feel like a warm current of water that continuously washes over me. I cannot explain it nor does it make sense to me most of the time, but a connection forms that is like a high voltage cable that jump starts my heart. Each of their spoken words ignite an array of colorful sparklers in my mind that blaze across the landscape of my soul. I refer to this as being in a cerebral state, but others call it an emotional relationship. Having this ability allowed me to have a couple of long distance relationships in the past. It also made me fall in love with this romantic Golden Globe nominated movie. Writer and director Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are) created a story in the not so distant future about letter writer Theodore, played brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, The Master). With the purchase of a revolutionary operating system, Theodore began discovering a different world with the help of the operations assistant Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson (Don Jon, The Prestige). With most of the screen time devoted to Theodore and Samantha, they created a world of amusements and touching moments. Joaquin was utterly amazing playing a character filled with total emotional depth, some of it even light and funny. With only using her voice Scarlett created such a vivid character that I was immediately drawn in to her, believing she was a living breathing human. Even Amy Adams (Man of Steel, Enchanted) as Theodore’s neighbor Amy was lovely in a stripped down sensitive way. I thought this was Spike’s best movie; his directing of the cast, the gorgeous cinematography and even the perfectly placed music from Arcade Fire created an amazing film viewing experience. Like a long distance relationship this movie continued to resonate with me long after I saw it in the theater.
3 3/4 stars
One would think with my love of movies I would see a favorite film more than once. In all honesty it happens very rarely. If there is a movie I just have to own, I will see the film again when I buy the DVD. As far as I can remember, I think there are only 4 movies I have seen twice while they were still playing at the theater. One of those films was The Sting with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. If I were reviewing movies back then I would have given this film a 4 star rating. Everything from the acting to directing to the music was as close to perfect as possible. Now the reason I brought up this film was because this crime film reminded me of The Sting. From writer and director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter) this film festival winning movie was loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal from the 1970’s, which was an FBI sting operation against public corruption. Forty pound heavier Christian Bale (Out of the Furnance, American Psycho) and Amy Adams (Man of Steel, Enchanted) played con artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser. Forced into service by ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, The Words), they discovered their lives could be at risk when some dangerous individuals suddenly became involved. The first thing in this Golden Globe nominated movie that reminded me of The Sting was its story. Besides both being about a sting operation, the story had several twists and surprises. The next thing that was similar was the unbelievable, amazing acting. Everyone in this film held their own with their terrific acting skills. One of the youngest actors in the cast gave such an astounding performance that she should get nominated for an Oscar. That actress was Jennifer Lawrence who played Irving’s alcoholic wife Rosalyn Rosenfeld. I thought her young age would be a hinderance in playing this role, but that was not the case. However, Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, North Country) who played Mayor Carmine Polito looked too young for the part. His acting was first rate, but I felt he needed to look older for the part. Everyone in this dramatic film had equal amounts of screen presence which carried me through the couple of parts I found to be slow. With a little more editing the already fantastic dialog would have been ideal for me. The music and sets were perfect for the times. This movie certainly will get a couple of Oscar nominations and is definitely worth seeing. Now that I have seen it I have this urge to see The Sting again.
3 2/3 stars
Every week I would take a trip to outer space, where I would visit aliens and super heroes. I learned about ray guns, space ships and all kinds of devices that were not found on Earth. I never knew our planet was being protected by people with special powers; I wanted to grow up and be just like them. You would be surprised to find out how often Earth had been saved by these special individuals. Each Saturday morning I ate my breakfast on a little snack tray, in our living room in front of the television. The Saturday cartoon shows I watched was where I discovered all these new places and people. In this reboot of the Superman story, I felt I was back watching those morning cartoons. Henry Cavill (Stardust, Immortals) was a perfect blend of wholesomeness and angst as Clark Kent/Kal-El. I found the childhood scenes touching as we witnessed Clark being picked on by the other kids. The story focused on Clark’s struggle with feeling different but not fully understanding the reasons why. Not until a mysterious object was discovered on Earth would he then learn about his true identity. The casting in this action movie greatly helped with the weak story. Amy Adams (Enchanted, The Fighter) as Lois Lane, Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, The Iceman) as General Zod, Russell Crowe (The Next Three Days, Gladiator) as Jor-El and Diane Lane (Unfaithful, The Perfect Storm) as Martha Kent were all excellent. The sets and props were so imaginative; I got a real kick out of seeing them. Plus, I want to point out the musical score was awesome. Just like those Saturday cartoons, this film was driven by action. There were so many battles, with an over abundance of special effects; it became too much for me. As a result the story suffered because there was not enough room to develop the characters; despite the movie being 2 hours and 23 minutes long. I will say some of the fights were unbelievable; they looked like cartoons that came to life. As long as you go into the movie theater knowing this was more of a comic book/Saturday morning cartoon type of film, that was small on drama; it will entertain you. At the end of the movie I did have a craving for some sugary crunchy cereal. A brief scene that showed a small amount of blood.
The word “master” comes with several connotations. If I hear master crafter, I think of a skilled creator. When a person is referred to as the master of the house, I think of slavery. The title of this dramatic movie was a perfect choice. Freddie Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, Hotel Rwanda), was a naval veteran who had a gift for making alcohol, out of a variety of substances. A majority of his life had been spent in a haze of drunkenness. When Freddie met the charismatic Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Moneyball, Doubt), he hoped to find some clarity in his life. Lancaster saw something in Freddie that could be purged with his help. The two men began a tumultuous relationship; Freddie would become both a guinea pig and an example of Lancaster’s unorthodox methods. Staging assemblies around the country, Lancaster’s fervent beliefs began to attract followers. If for nothing else, the amazing acting from Joaquin has to be seen. Besides his explosive, emotional rants; his physical transformation was mind blowing. Pitting him with Philip should easily earn the two Oscar nominations, in my opinion. As for the story, I found it tedious and wordy. Scenes that were carefully detailed did not help with the drawn out passages that I found boring. There were parts that made no sense to me and Amy Adams (Trouble with the Curve, The Fighter) as Lancaster’s wife Peggy was underutilized. She was the wrong choice for the role. Without excuses or making judgements, this movie simply presented a man with his flock; others could interpret it as the master and his cult.
2 1/2 stars