IT WAS A MONTH AFTER HER death when we came together for a memorial service of her life. She chose to be cremated; so next to a poster sized photograph of herself, sat a simple carved urn filled with her ashes. I had only met her once; she was my friend’s mother. The memorial service was being performed in a chapel that barely held all of us attendees. I knew very few people so when I arrived I immediately went to sit down after paying my respects to my friend. Being a people watcher, I watched as the guests eventually walked in to take a seat. They came from all walks of life, I must say. Some stood out by the outfits they were dressed in. I cannot say they were inappropriate; let me just say I would never have associated their clothing choices with a memorial service. With that being said, the service was touching as various individuals stood up to give eulogies and share funny stories about the deceased. It was fascinating to see the different facial expressions people had on their faces; if you did not know why everyone was gathered, you couldn’t figure out if it was a sad or happy occasion. AFTER THE SERVICE I ACCOMPANIED my friend back to her mother’s house. She wanted me to help move and store some of her mother’s items and furniture. As we drove up to the house the first thing that struck me was that it looked like it was hand made. The house was tiny and a bit rundown. It needed a paint job and the front stairs sagged in the middle, giving off an eerie sneering appearance. When we entered the house, I was immediately struck by the assortment of either items or devices that were placed in every room. In the living room was a wooden staff leaning up against the wall, that was carved entirely with elephants stacked on each other. On the wall was a framed mirror that caught my eye. The entire frame consisted of tiny human faces that were either carved into the wood or glued on top; it was an odd piece to me. I must tell you I found the whole place somewhat weird. There was a variety of different items; whether they were relics or newer I could not tell. All I know is I was glad when we finally finished and could get out of the place; though after seeing this dramatic mystery horror film, I would rather live in my friend’s mother’s house than join this family in theirs. AFTER HER MOTHER HAD DIED estranged daughter Annie, played by Toni Collette (Please Stand By, Little Miss Sunshine), and her family started to experience odd feelings and occurrences in and outside of their home, as if Grandma never left. With newcomer Miley Shapiro as Charlie, Alex Wolfe (Patriots Day, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) as Peter, Gabriel Byrne (Miller’s Crossing, Endless Night) as Steve and Ann Dowd (Compliance, The Manchurian Candidate) as Joan; I found this suspenseful story creepy and twisted. That was a compliment because I was easily drawn into the film by Toni’s unbelievable acting, along with the rest of the cast and the non-typical script. There were some surprises in the way the story turned and I thought the filming and directing worked in synch to create this foreboding atmosphere. Some of you know I am not a big fan of horror films that have lots of blood and violence; this picture did have a couple of scenes with blood but the majority of it was more of the suspense genre, which I enjoy more. It is funny how you think you know someone then find out later something completely different about them.
After all the different styles and methods I have seen, I have to wonder if it comes down to just doing your hardest and wishing for the best when it comes to raising children. When I was a child I used to hear adults say so and so is a bad kid; now when a child is acting up I hear adults say the parents are bad. Sadly I still see some parents hit their children or make outrageous, unrealistic demands on them. Things like, “If you do that one more time I will take all your toys away and burn them,” or “If you take 2 more bites of your food, I will give you $5.00;” yes, I have actually heard these comments. Now I do not want to paint a dire picture here; I have witnessed some solid well thought out child rearing techniques. There was a person I knew who when it came to potty training her child explained the benefits of using the bathroom. She also talked about the negative aspects of walking around in a dirty diaper. I was fascinated by the discussion and the child’s reaction. When the child was told no one would want to play with her if she was wearing a dirty diaper, the child forgot her fears and started telling her mother every time when she had to go to the bathroom. I found it extraordinary since I had never seen that technique before. As for the methods used in teaching the children in this comedic drama, they were as foreign to me as the present world would be for them. HOLED away in the Pacific Northwest Ben, played by Viggo Mortensen (The Road, The Lord of the Rings franchise), was teaching his 6 children how to survive in their little corner of the world. The skills the family was learning could only teach them so much. This film festival winner allowed Viggo to shine in his role as the father. Not that the other actors such as Frank Langella (Robot & Frank, The Ninth Gate) as Jack, Ann Dowd (Side Effects, Garden State) as Abigail or George MacKay (Defiance, How I Live Now) as Bo were less skilled; they all blended well together just like the kids did in this drama. The beginning of the story started out a bit slow for me; I felt like it needed more action. However as things moved along I started to appreciate what the script was laying out for the characters. Let me add the drama increased when Frank’s character Jack came into the picture. I felt the intensity building in the story and admired the range of emotions Viggo performed. With the story lines and buildup that took place I was somewhat disappointed at the ending. I may have been reacting to a particular character, but I sort of felt I was wishing for something different to happen. Nonetheless I can see this story being a catalyst for many discussions between people, especially for those who have children.
It seems no sooner do I leave the voting booth that another election campaign revs up its marketing machine. I finally throw away my homework on the candidates (I’m not a political junkie but I do want to know something about the person I am voting for in an election) and I am supposed to startup with a whole new batch? The political landscape has changed so much from what I remember years ago. Facts it seems are no longer important or less important than the amount of money in the candidate’s coffers. If I were ruler for a day I would make election day a national holiday, restrict all advertising to start only 90 days before the election, make all candidates hold at least a dozen town hall meetings across the country and do away with a majority of the super PAC funds that seem to have been set up to sway the candidate to be sympathetic to one particular interest group. What I find most troubling is the use of smear campaigns to discredit an opponent. I can handle it if an opposing campaign discovers something that actually happened in a politician’s past; however, the use of innuendo or implication without having proof appears to be more prevalent today and I find it ugly. Overall I do not like negative campaigns; I feel if a person wants to run for office then they must explain how they would do it without knocking down one of their opponents. If what was shown in this comedic drama is anywhere close to true then I am more naive than I imagine myself to be. DOWN in the polls a Bolivian presidential candidate, played by Joaquim de Almeida (Fast Five, Behind Enemy Lines), hired an American strategist with killer instincts nicknamed Calamity Jane, played by Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side, The Heat). She would quickly discover she was in a race against her arch nemesis Pat Candy, played by Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade, The Man Who Wasn’t There), who was working for the leading candidate. With Ann Dowd (Side Effects, Compliance) as Nell and Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker, Real Steel) as Ben, the cast was well rounded for the story line. However, the script got more dysfunctional as the story progressed in this drama. There were several scenes that seemed so ridiculous that I could not imagine they came anywhere close to actually happening, since this picture was a fictionalized story based on a past event. I was left with bored feelings as if I was watching a live version of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons, with each of them taking turns on the receiving end. The dramatic parts that could have been effective were glossed over making them more like an afterthought. On the other hand, maybe this story was closer to reality than I realized which in this case would make me feel more disturbed about the modern election process.
1 3/4 stars
Always following quietly in my shadow is the child of my youth who lives inside of me. I never hinder him when he comes out to play. There are things he feels he never had the opportunity to do when we were one and the same, whether from his own fears or the environment around him that kept him dormant. But now he can experience the excitement of exploring a new place in the city with his friends or be able to take a leisurely walk around the neighborhood he grew up in, without having to race home to the safety behind the protective security door in the apartment building he called home. I never take for granted this little child that accompanies and helps me in my fitness classes, letting me feel that youthful spirit I kept hidden away for so many years. Being so familiar with my inner child would explain why it pains me now when I see a child who has been forced to be an adult, never getting the chance to experience what childhood was meant to be. Vanessa Hudgens (Spring Breakers, Beastly) played 16 year old Agnes “Apple” Bailey. Transferred from one foster home to another due to her abusive addict mother June, played by Rosario Dawson (Sin City, Seven Pounds), Agnes ran away to find her absent father Tom Fitzpatrick, played by Brendan Fraser (Furry Vengeance, The Mummy franchise). She only knew of him because of an old letter she had in her possession. The first thing that struck me about this movie based on a true story, was the surprisingly good acting job Vanessa did with her character. It was not an easy role; a couple of times I found myself cringing in my seat. Rosario was excellent, I only wish there would have been more scenes with her in them. In a couple of decent supporting roles there was James Earl Jones (Finder’s Fee; Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins) as Frank McCarthy and Ann Dowd (Side Effects, Compliance) as Kathy. The story had a natural grimness to it where I felt the writer/director accentuated it, giving the movie more of a soap opera melodramatic feel. I felt the movie was a little too preachy and predictable; but luckily the acting and the fact that this was a true story kept me interested. Sitting in my seat during the credits that showed the actual people this movie was based on, I realized I was hearing the sound of sniffling coming from the people around me. I had to wonder how much of it was due to the movie or to them missing their inner child.
2 1/2 stars
A movie has to stir something in me, take me into its story. That does not mean I am only expecting happy, pleasant feelings. I have friends who only go to movies that make them happy; and if there is singing and dancing, all the better. There are very few limitations on what I am willing to watch on the big screen. When I went to see this unusual movie I did not know it was inspired by true events. It was quite uncomfortable for me to sit and watch what was taking place on the screen. Now before you decide that is all you have to hear and move on to a different review, let me explain. This movie did what it was supposed to do–it moved me. Knowing the story was based on a kernel or maybe a bushel of truth only creeped me out more. Fast food restaurant manager Sandra, played by Ann Dowd (Garden State, Marley & Me), took a phone call at work from a man who identified himself as a police officer. She was told her employee Becky, played by Dreama Walker (Gran Torino, The Invention of Lying), had stolen money out of a customer’s purse and the victim was at the police station to file a complaint. A woman who did things by the book, Sandra was instructed to secure her employee until the police could arrive at the restaurant. However, until the officer was able to get there, he wanted her to do more than just secure Becky. I just have to tell you I was dumbfounded by the unfolding scenes. But I want to point out that I was okay; the movie was doing what I wanted it to do, stir something inside of me. The story negotiated a fine line between reality and absurdness. How could anyone think what they were doing was okay? Since the movie was based on documented occurrences, I guess there are people out there who believe anything they are told. Ann Dowd’s acting was outstanding. One could see by her expressions how her mind was trying to comprehend the variety of requests. What a movie experience; you will either walk out in the middle of it or stay and be mesmerized by the incredible things taking place.
2 3/4 stars