LOVE CAN MAKE A PERSON DO things they never thought of doing before. I know because not only have I seen it in action, I have been a participant. Back in my college days, I used public transportation to get to school, 1 bus and 2 trains to be exact. Taking it every day to and from school, I noticed most people stand in the same spot each time they are waiting for the train to pull up to the platform. With this knowledge in hand, I used to run through the station to get to my 2ndtrain; so I could get to the same train car where I knew a passenger was who I had been having a casual conversation with for a few weeks. I made it look like I just happened to enter the same train car, making sure to take a couple of deep breaths to slow my racing heart down before getting on to look for them. My intention was to ask them out for a drink at some point, depending on how things progressed. Some of you may think these antics, in the name of attraction/love, are a bit crazy; while others may think what I was doing was no big deal. I at least knew my actions, compared to some of the stuff I have seen people do, were more on the mild side. RECENTLY THE NEWS REPORTED ON A man who lost thousands of dollars (we are talking in the mid five figure range) to a woman he had never seen in person. This is an example of something way extreme for me. The man had met the woman online and the two struck up a “friendship” according to the man. They would exchange photos that depicted family members, home and town. As time went on the man was getting emotionally attached to this woman who had started to share stories of a more personal nature; things about her mother’s ailments, her kids’ schooling, the difficulty she was having paying some of her bills ever since her husband had been killed. I am sure you can see where this is going; the man offered to loan her some money. She protested she could not accept his money, but the man was persistent. They finally agreed that it would be okay for him to send her a “little” money and to consider it an early birthday gift for herself. For the next few months, the woman would share a variety of hardships she was facing, including trying to save up money for an airline ticket to come visit him. By that point the man had handed over most of his savings; the airline ticket was the last thing he sent her money for because once she received it, she deleted her accounts and disappeared. Such a crazy and sad story; but I know this happens when love is in the equation. Simply look at what the man did for love in this Oscar nominated film. ESCAPING THE OPPRESSION OF HIS COUNTRY’S government, a Syrian refugee agrees to become an art piece so he can travel to Europe to be with the woman he loves. However, it was not as easy as that, he soon found out. With relative newcomer Yahya Mahayni as Sam Ali, newcomer Dea Liane as Abeer, Koen De Bouw (The Prime Minister, Professor T.-TV) as Jeffrey Godefroi, Monica Bellucci (The Matrix franchise, Malena) as Soraya Waldy and Darina Al Joundi (Sisters in Arms, The Tower) as Sam’s mother. This film festival winning drama presented an original, fascinating story line that I found refreshing. The acting was excellent as was the filming of this picture. I felt there were a variety of ways a person could interpret what the writers were intending, that I am not sure if I comprehended some of the ideas coming from different angles. Whether one perceives the story as a political, a marketing, a love or satirical one; I think there is something to gain by watching this thought-provoking film. There were several scenes where Arabic and French were spoken with English subtitles.
3 ½ stars
BECAUSE IT HAD BEEN SUCH A long time, guests became familiar with the picture frame that I had turned around on my sofa table. The photo in the frame was too painful for me to see after our breakup; it showed a happy couple and it happened to be one of the few photographs where I thought I looked good. We had been a couple for several years before our relationship disintegrated in a horrible fashion. Many of my friends and family asked me why I still kept the framed photo on the table, but I was not able to provide them with a sensible answer; I could not get rid of it, but I did not want to look at it either. The funny thing is no one ever asked me about the painting I had hanging on the wall that was just as painful for me to see. The reason being this painting was bought as a prelude to the two of us moving in together. We both fell in love with the artwork and we decided we wanted it to be the first thing we would buy together for our “home.” I could not part with the painting, despite the pain, because what was depicted in the art piece was a vivid memory I had from my childhood. Luckily or gratefully, I had the painting hanging in a room that I did not go into often. As months passed the shock in seeing the painting became less and less difficult to see. THE PHOTOGRAPH AND PAINTING WERE not the only items that remained from a past relationship. My house has a variety of things that came out of the love I had for someone. There was the small, stuffed animal I was given with the memo that it would watch over to keep me safe. I recently found a plaque that was done in needlepoint that I had stuffed in a drawer. When I saw it, I immediately was able to remember the place, the occasion and the meal (yes, the food) we ate when I was given the plaque. Ever since I can remember, I always had or designated something that represented everything I experienced with a significant other. It could be a song, something bought, or something made, and I would deem it the repository for all the memories that were created during the time the two of us were together. Imagine my surprise when I watched this romantic comedy and discovered I am not the only one. DESPITE BEING BLINDSIDED FROM BEING DUMPED by her boyfriend Lucy, played by Geraldine Viswanathan (Blockers, Bad Education), could not get rid of the little mementos she acquired during their time together. The problem was she was running out of room, both physically and emotionally. With Dacre Montgomery (Power Rangers, Stranger Things-TV) as Nick, Utkarsh Ambudkar (Pitch Perfect, Blindspotting) as Max Vora, Molly Gordon (Booksmart, Good Boys) as Amanda and Phillipa Soo (Here and Now, Hamilton) as Nadine; the thing that sets this movie apart from others in the genre was the cast and written dialog. Geraldine and Dacre stood out for me; her because of her delivery of lines and him because of his screen presence. The two of them did a wonderful job of acting that felt real to me. The story followed a generic line but there were a couple of times where I was surprised by a twist thrown into the plot. Overall, this was an easy and amusing film to see at the theater. Though if I would have known, I would have come with a variety of items to donate to the gallery or better yet, offered to open a satellite location.
2 ½ stars
GRATEFULLY THE TYPE OF SHOCK I have experienced is the surprise kind. There are different kinds of shock: anaphylactic, cardiogenic and hypovolemic to name a few. Trust me I am not that smart; I had to look up and confirm the definition to each of these types. There is also neurogenic shock that comes from a severe emotional disturbance. This would be the one that comes closest to what I have experienced, though nothing as close to feeling something so severe. I experience shock when something unexpected happens to me. Now you might be thinking unless I stay locked in a room, there is no way I am not going to encounter something unexpected during my daily life; and you would be right. I am tightly wired into having structure in my life. Spontaneity is a foreign concept that unsettles me; but having a set routine has a calming effect on me. RECENTLY, I WAS REMINDED OF HOW my brain shuts down when I become shocked. I had pulled a suit out of the closet to try on, making sure it still fit for an upcoming wedding I would be attending. The jacket was fine; but when I tried on the slacks, there was a good two-inch gap at the waistline that prevented me from zipping up the pants. Since weight has always been an issue in my life, my brain went into shock because my slacks no longer fit. I could not believe I had put on that much weight! If I could have stayed in reality, I would have recognized the pants had pleats, which I never wear and the jacket was double breasted, though I knew I had a single-breasted suit. Because my mind was blown, I could not think rationally. It was like my mind got blasted into space and I had to wait for it to parachute down before I could start thinking clearly. It took me a couple of minutes, after I had previewed several scenarios in my mind such as having to go and buy a new suit or put myself on a crash diet, before I noticed the clues that were right in front of my face. The pleated slacks, the double-breasted suit; I was trying on the wrong suit. This is how I handle shock; others handle it a different way, which you can see in this dramatic movie based on the best-selling, Pulitzer winning novel. SURVIVING A BOMB BLAST CAUSED YOUNG Theo, played by Oakes Fegley (Pete’s Dragon, This is Where I Leave You), to act irrationally. His mother would not have approved, but she was killed in the explosion. With Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver, The Fault in Our Stars) as Adult Theo, Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased, The Upside) as Mrs. Barbour, Jeffrey Wright (Broken Flowers, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay) as Hobie and Luke Wilson (The Family Stone, Middle Men) as Larry; the cast was the strongest part of this film. Their acting skills were on full display and I appreciated it because the story was too long here. I thought the script was broken by the jumping back and forth in time, the multiple story lines and the lack of wonder. It was easy for me to figure out what was going to happen to most of the characters, which some of you know is not something I usually can do. The script was congested; I thought the writers were trying to cram so much into it that nothing really stood out in the scenes as being powerful. It really was a shock for me to see such competent actors doing their best to bring this picture alive, yet I never felt like I connected to this picture.
1 ¾ stars
SACRIFICE may be too strong of a word; I prefer saying compromise. Maybe I feel this way because when I was younger the only time I would be aware of the word and its meaning was in stories and movies. A sacrifice involved killing, either human or animal. Just look at the film King Kong where the villagers make an offering to Kong. So when it comes to relationships I tend to avoid saying sacrifice; though if they made me mad enough—just kidding. For me compromising is an essential part of being in a relationship. There have been several couples I have known where one person was so needy, they were never satisfied with the amount of changes their significant other had gone through to please them. More times than not resentment filters into the relationship and from there everything quickly goes downhill. This of course can turn out completely different when one participant has low self-esteem. FROM a recent relationship I experienced some of this firsthand. We were still in the early stages where everything was great and exciting. A couple of times I was questioned about my teaching schedule; I took it as a sign of interest. After a couple of months we had a talk about finding places in our schedules where we could spend more time together. I offered a couple of options where I could fit in some of my chores during the week to free up more open time on the weekend. This seemed a doable solution so life went on as we became more attached to each other. It was around the 6-7 month mark when I was asked if I could join them for some function. My schedule did not allow it and they seemed to understand. Sure enough a few weeks went by before they started an argument and threw this back at me. It turns out they resented me teaching at night; something I was doing way before we had met. From my point of view they wanted me to make the sacrifice and stop teaching; I think you can guess what happened—I still am teaching classes. ARTISTS Noriko and Ushio Shinohara would have to give up something to make their relationship work, but would it be fair? Written and directed by Zachary Heinzerling (Hugh the Hunter, P.O.V-TV) this film festival winning documentary was nominated for an Oscar. Spanning their 40 year marriage I enjoyed seeing how the creativity came out of these 2 artists along with their artistic son Alex. It was fascinating to see how emotions play such an important role in an artist’s life. Ushio is known as the boxing artist and I could easily see where some of his work was therapeutic. The things he made using cardboard were incredible. However Noriko’s story was the stronger one for me because one could really see the progression she made throughout the years of their marriage. Another aspect I enjoyed about this film was the use of animation with some of Noriko’s artwork. I, like many others I am sure, have heard how artists suffer for their art. Now I do not want to say there was suffering on display here; but it was interesting to see what people do for the sake of their art. Whether one thinks there was sacrifice or compromise in the Shinohara’s relationship does not matter; what does is how it all fits together. Parts of the movie were spoken in Japanese with English subtitles.
3 ¼ stars — DVD
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
I have always found it curious how some people read instructions to learn something while others acquire knowledge visually. I fall into the latter category. Though I love to read, when it comes to being taught a new computer program or learn how to use a piece of equipment, I prefer watching either someone else doing it or a video on the equipment’s functions. One of the best examples of these two different ways of understanding is giving directions to someone. There are individuals who require landmarks with their directions, such as a gas station is on the southwest corner where you want to turn. There are others who just want the facts written down like travel east for 2 miles then turn north on Newgard Street. I do not judge one way being better than the other; it is just the way we are wired. However, in this film festival nominated movie two camps were set up for students, those who prefer words and those who would rather have pictures. Set in a prep school, one side was led by English teacher Jack Marcus, played by Clive Owen (King Arthur, The Boys are Back), who was determined to prove words were more important than pictures a/k/a art. Jack would have a fight on his hands with art teacher Dina Delsanto, played by Juliette Binoche (Dan in Real Life, The English Patient), who was a well known artist. Their rivalry would have an affect on the entire school. Clive and Juliette tried their hardest with the script they were given in this comedic drama. I enjoyed watching them throughout the film. Part of the cast also included the competent Valerie Tian (21 Jump Street, Juno) as student Emily and Bruce Davison (X-Men franchise, Harry and the Hendersons) as fellow teacher Walt. What knocked this film down into just being average was the poorly written screenplay. Besides being predictable I found some of the scenes did not work well at all. It really was a shame because one of the positives i found was showing teachers who were not your typical instructors, who had the ability to motivate their students. Looking back at the teachers I had during my school years, the ones that taught differently than the majority were always able to motivate me on a deeper level. I wanted to like this romantic movie more than I did; it had two things I absolutely enjoy, literature and art. When it comes to these two things I do not favor one over the other, but with this film I did not care a lot for either.
2 1/4 stars
As each of the year’s fully read pages of my life turn over, I notice that my mind and body do not always play nice together. There are things my mind tells me I can still do but my body now groans with disapproval. I know a trip to an amusement park these days means instead of ordering a snow cone I will be asking for a glass of water to accompany my 2 pills of ibuprofen. After the trees around my property release all of their leaves I can still climb up a ladder perched on the side of my house to clean out the gutters; however, my mind now recoils to the back of my head, screaming at me that I am going to fall. Sure there are some things I used to do years ago that I now wish I had the stamina to undertake; but realistically I know it would not be prudent on my part. Damn, don’t I sound so mature and adult? It was a similar dilemma that former art thief Crunch Calhoun, played by Kurt Russell (Death Proof, The Thing), was going through in this comedic crime film. After spending time in prison Crunch was coaxed into one last scheme by his half-brother Nicky, played by Matt Dillon (Crash, The Outsiders), to steal a rare book. However when two people have different motivations, no matter how good the plans were thought out, the outcome will not necessarily meet up with their expectations. The cast was made up with some decent solid actors. Seeing Kurt Russell back on the big screen produced a nostalgic feeling inside of me. It seemed to me Matt keeps playing the same type of roles, the darker edgier character of the cast. Yet with the actor Terrance Stamp (Unfinished Song, Wanted) playing Samuel Winter, I never tire of his performances; he always puts his best into each of his characters. The issue I had with this film was the lack of excitement; it came across as a typical heist movie with nothing special in it. I think listing it as a comedy was a bit of a stretch since I do not recall laughing at anything. Maybe it was because I found some of the characters were stereotypical. The other reason was the script did not give the actors much to build on to their characters. Too bad, because I felt the assembled cast would have gelled better with each other. Hopefully the actors did not feel they were too old to take risks with their roles and were only going through the motions.
I think we can all agree that a deceased individual’s wishes listed in their will should be honored. It would be unthinkable for me to not only ignore the person’s wishes but to take contrarian actions. This issue was at the heart of this gripping documentary. From a working class, Philadelphia family; Albert C. Barnes became a successful doctor who had a keen eye for art. He amassed a collection of modern and post-impressionist art before many others realized how important Picasso or Matisse would become in the art world. The established art critics scoffed at his colleciton which was something Dr. Barnes would never forget. What was known as the Barnes collection was a priceless accumulation the doctor had housed in a specially built building in Merion, just outside of Philadelphia. I was shocked when glimpses were shown of the hanging masterpieces. Besides the amazing amount of artwork on display, the pieces were absolutely impressive. I realize anyone who makes a documentary could be biased in regards to their views. However, when this movie presented different aspects of events and what possibly was taking place behind the scenes, I was saddened. The bottom line for me was listed in Dr. Barnes’ will: The artwork was never to be loaned, moved or sold. How could people be so greedy and not respect a dead man’s wishes? What would give them the right? Watch this DVD and decide for yourself.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
Though I lack Abstract art knowledge, preferring the Impressionist period, I found this documentary quite interesting to watch. I have looked at some abstract art pieces and found myself puzzled by them. What made these things suddenly become art? The focus of this film was 4 year old Maria Olmstead and the sensation she caused when her art work began selling for thousands of dollars. Imagine the surprise of the gallery patrons who were not aware of the artist’s young age. During the filming of this intriguing documentary by Amir Bar-Lev, the television show 60 Minutes did an investigative piece on Maria and her family. Questioning the authenticity of her artwork, could it really be called art if the artist could not explain the how and why of its creation? I appreciated the way Mr. Bar-Lev tried to stay neutral with his filming, letting the viewers come to their own conclusions. For me, I felt I was watching a mystery as the events were being presented in this DVD. Instead of adding any additional information, I will let you decide for yourself on whether Maria really was a prodigy. Now you will have to excuse me, I have to go look for my Etch A Sketch.
3 1/4 stars — DVD
After a friend became grossly ill from eating sushi some years ago, I stopped eating or thinking about the food. How surprised I was after viewing this documentary, I was not only hungry, but I had a new appreciation for this delicacy. It was amazing to see master sushi chef Jiro Ono talk about his life’s work on attempting to make the perfect piece of sushi. Now you may be thinking what the big deal was about this one individual, surely there were many chefs who wanted to create the best piece of sushi. The difference was 85 year old Jiro was the first sushi chef ever to obtain a 3 star rating from the Michelin guide. Mr Ono’s 10 seat restaurant was underground by a Toyko subway station; where reservations had to be made months in advance. I was intrigued by the single focus he had his entire life, to devote himself to creating sushi. With two sons in the business, Jiro tried to instill his strict work ethic into his sons, though he had no plans on retiring. The filming of this movie was simple with an easy flow to it. We were witnesses to every aspect of Jiro’s daily life; from fish market to preparation, all the way to how he serves his guests. I was fascinated by the entire process. Though it is unlikely I will start consuming sushi, I certainly will wonder how much thought went into those pieces the next time my friends order it. Japanese with English subtitles.
3 1/3 stars