SHE INVITED ME OVER TO BE her taste-tester. A home cooked meal was always a treat, so I eagerly accepted the invitation. We had been friends for years; so, I was comfortable with her cooking for me, having had many dinners over at her place before. I insisted on bringing dessert. When I arrived, as soon as she opened the front door, I smelt a warm, homey aroma wafting in the air. Walking inside, I saw she had a bowl of guacamole and chips set out on her coffee table. This was an extra treat for me. We sat and caught up on each one’s life while munching on the food. At some point she asked me what I thought of the corn chips; I said they were fine. She said they were a new brand and she loved their freshness and taste. Honestly, they may have been; but, nothing to the point where I noticed a big enough difference that made them stand out for me. We were close to finishing off the guacamole when a bell sounded off. She said that was the timer, letting her know the food was done in the oven. Asking me to give her a couple of minutes, she got up and went into the kitchen, telling me to take a seat at the dining room table. THE FOOD SHE BROUGHT OUT LOOKED amazing; I could not wait to dig in and start eating it. She poured herself a glass of wine, knowing I did not like the taste of alcohol; I stuck to water for the evening. We each helped ourselves to the food she had set out on the table. It was as good as it looked; I could not have been happier. During the meal she brought up the subject of how she found many of the products that went into the meal. She knew I was teaching myself how to cook, I listened to her describe each product that she used for the meal; in fact, she had excused herself a couple of times to go into the kitchen and bring out some of the ingredients, so I could see for myself. Something rang odd about the whole situation, but I could not put my finger on it at the time. It was not until she insisted, I taste one ingredient, even pouring a little bit onto my plate, that I asked her what was going on. She told me she joined a food club and was positive I would like it; all I had to do was sign up online and pay a monthly membership fee. The whole purpose of me coming over was for her to get me to sign up under her name, so she could get points. I was angry she was not upfront about it before inviting me over. My anger was similar to one of the main characters’ feelings in this dramatic film. IT WAS AN UNUSUAL REQUEST; BUT Isabel, played by Michelle Williams (The Greatest Showman, All the Money in the World), knew she would have to do it if the orphanage was to receive the one-million-dollar donation. She just wanted it to be a quick, short trip to New York; however, there was more to the request waiting for her once she arrived. This dramatic film also starred Julianne Moore (Gloria Bell, Still Alice) as Theresa, Billy Crudup (Big Fish, Jackie) as Oscar, Abby Quinn (Landline, Radium Girls) as Grace and Alex Esola (The Young Pope-TV, Dangerous Lessons-TV Movie) as Jonathan. The strongest asset this movie had was the acting skills from the main cast. Michelle made her character extra special due to her nuanced and thoughtful performance; I could not stop watching her on the screen. Julianne was excellent but the writers and possible director did not provide her with enough emotional punch. The story was predictable and at times unrealistic to me; however, the acting kept me interested in the story. I did however find the story confusing because it did not know whether to be a mystery drama or a tearjerker. This movie could have been a powerful piece if the script had been better, which I believe would have upped the actors’ chances to be considered for an acting award this season. Instead, I felt manipulated and disappointed that this story did not match the quality of the actors.
2 ¼ stars
THE ONLY PEOPLE who were embarrassed by the couple’s accents were their children. To everyone else the mother and father talked that way because they were European. As far as I knew there was no derogatory intent by saying someone was European, Asian or by some other region of the world. For me I was intrigued with the fact that a friend would have a living relative from a different country; since most of mine had come to the United States either at birth or were dead by the time I was born. Some of the children were able to speak to their parents in their native tongue but they only wanted to do so when no one else was around. It is funny though; by the time these kids reached the grade levels were a foreign language was required in school, they usually got top grades. I would be lying if I did not say I was a bit envious since I struggled with the language I chose to learn. THERE COMES AN age in a child’s life where I think it is natural for them to feel embarrassed at times by their parents’ actions. I think it is just a generational thing, like styles of clothing or genres of music. Each generation wants to own something unique to them that was not from their parents’ generation. Hanging out at a friend’s house, it was not unusual for a parent to come check on us. However, some parents would ask questions or try to fit into our conversation. At this point the parent’s child would do or say something to try to get their parent to leave. I remember one parent who would come into the basement where we were listening to music and try to dance to it. This always produced a groan from their son or daughter. In the scheme of things, compared to what was shown in this dramatic film based on a true story, dancing around would be the very least thing to be embarrassed about. GROWING UP IN a constant state of change and disarray had effected the children of Rex and Rose Mary, played by Woody Harrelson (War for the Planets of the Apes, Wilson) and Naomi Watts (The Book of Henry, Demolition), in ways that would last for a lifetime. This biographical film also starred Brie Larson (Free Fire, Room) as Jeannette, Ella Anderson (The Boss, Mother’s Day) as a young Jeanette and Max Greenfield (The Big Short, New Girl-TV) as David. The story was so bizarre to me that I wondered if the scenes I was seeing really happened in the life of this family. I thought the acting was wonderful, especially from Woody and Brie. At first I was not too crazy about the jumping back and forth in time method, but realized at some point it made better sense to tell the story that way. It emphasized the way the adult versions were acting in their scenes. The issue I had with this picture was the latter part; it seemed as if things were tied up in a quick and easy way. Having not read the book, it just came across as not having the realness of the other parts of the story. I almost want to say it was being painted with a happier ending just to please the movie goers. The book I am willing to bet is more intense than this film. Not that anyone needs to be embarrassed with the final product here; the story still is unbelievable and in my opinion sets a different standard for defining a dysfunctional family.
2 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
RESTING outside on a sunny day I gaze up at the bulbous clouds drifting by. If I look long enough I can make out images among the folds of the clouds. I get a kick out of seeing what might not initially be seen at first glance. As the wisps of cloud matter slowly swirl about, I can make out what looks like an eagle with outstretched wings. Continuing to stare at the same spot the eagle soon disintegrates and becomes the face of a rabbit with attentive ears. Since I was young I have always looked at things with an eye to reality and one to fantasy. Even when I am stuck in traffic I try to keep myself busy by scanning the landscape around to see if images can appear based on how I focus on the shadows or the bright spots of an area. Once there was a flatbed truck alongside of me that had crushed automobiles stacked up to haul to a scrap yard. With traffic barely moving I was able to find outlines of a variety of different objects like a leopard and a clown. THIS ability, if you will, helps me I believe in my attempts to understand modern art. I am fortunate to live in a city that has a modern art museum and some of its exhibits have been a fascinating experience for me. There was the artist who created large sculptures of ordinary things like monkeys and dogs; however, they looked like they were made out of blown up balloons. You know, like the kind a clown or magician would make at a carnival show. I can appreciate the effort and work that went in to create such a piece. Now there have been some shows where I feel clueless with what is on display. A canvas covered totally in black paint doesn’t move me; I wonder if I should focus on the brushstrokes, the consistency of the color or its relationship to its surroundings. My confusion can supersede my involvement with a work of art or what someone is saying is a work of art. I felt the same towards some of this extraordinary artist’s works in this film festival nominated documentary. PERFORMANCE artist, visionary, crazy, unorthodox are some of the terms one can apply to Chris Burden. Whether you understand his craft or not, you will certainly get a reaction from it. I had never heard of this artist until I watched this film, directed by Richard Dewey (The Leisure Class) and Timothy Marrinan (Invisible Lives). Right from the start there were times where I sat and thought this man has a death wish and then another scene would take place where I was amused with his creation. As the movie continued I found myself more and more intrigued with learning about Chris and his motivations. The raw footage interspersed with his current life provided a well rounded presentation of his growth and legacy I thought. Though I did not understand what he was trying to do with some of his performance pieces (if that is how he classified his “live” pieces), I certainly had a reaction to them. Maybe that was the point he was trying to make all this time; I honestly cannot give an answer. I will say I certainly walked away from this picture with a new appreciation for people who want to be artists.
3 ¼ stars
She would be woken up in the middle of the night and told to pick out one thing in her room to take with her. It had taken place so many times that she already knew which doll she would choose to take on their trip that only had an arrival destination, never a return trip. Extra clothes were never taken because each family member always had one piece of baggage that was already filled up with clothing. All of the stuffed pieces of luggage were kept in the basement, ready to go in an instant. She remembered very few of the trips since all of them always took place in the middle of the night when most of the neighborhood was fast asleep. Quietly the family would pile into the car while her Dad filled the trunk with the suitcases, careful to close the trunk with the least amount of noise. Leaving their home behind she usually fell back to sleep before they reached the highway. It was not until the sun peeked up out of the east before she would wake up with her doll clutched close to her body. Though these trips always involved sadness, having to leave friends and neighbors behind, they were expected because of their father’s line of work. He had told the family because he worked for the FBI, they would have to relocate periodically after his assignment was completed. Since all of his work was top secret, they had to evacuate their residences in the middle of the night, under the cover of darkness which was the exact same reason she would read in some of her mystery books. It was not until she was about to graduate from middle school that she found out her Dad did not work for the FBI; he was wanted by them. AFTER their conceptual performance artist parents Annie and Caleb Fang, played by Maryann Plunkett (The Squid and the Whale, Blue Valentine) and Christopher Walken (Jersey Boys, A Late Quartet) went missing under disturbing circumstances; Annie and her brother Baxter, played by Nicole Kidman (Paddington, The Railway Man) and Jason Bateman (The Gift, Bad Words) agreed to meet at their parents’ house to figure out if indeed there was foul play involved or was this another one of their parents’ public stunts. This comedic drama directed by Jason Bateman had a curious, different type of story that kept me totally interested in it. Grant you it was pretty easy to do with the wonderful acting from the cast. I enjoyed the way flashbacks were inserted into the story; some of them were wild ideas that involved the children being incorporated into the parents’ artistic endeavors. Jason did a sensitive job in directing the actors through the script because their performances were multi-layered. I do not know how popular the novel was that this mystery film was based on; but with such an off the wall story, I was mesmerized by this picture. Just where was the Department of Children and Family Services?
Whenever we want to complain or bitch about something, we have various options to express ourselves. There are social media sites, company websites and even physical protests available to us. When I was going through months of hell trying to refinance my mortgage, I kept my office and classes updated on my bank’s incompetencies. It never occurred to me that our freedom of speech really is a luxury…until I saw this startling movie. What added to this amazing, viewing experience was how I had no prior knowledge of the artist/activist Ai Weiwei. Have any of you heard of him? He was the artistic consultant for the Beijing National Stadium a/k/a Bird’s Nest for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. An acclaimed Chinese artist who took to the internet to protest the government’s policies; Ai Weiwei was an outspoken critic in a country that frowned upon such activity. This documentary played like a movie thriller at times. When the government shut down his internet, Ai Weiwei took to Twitter in getting out his messages. I was appalled with the tactics that were used against him. Besides showing the political aspects of this vocal activist, I felt like I scored with a two for one coupon as there was also a focus on his artistic side. His exhibits were fascinating to me, though seeing the photos of him dropping a 2000 year old urn to the ground took me by surprise. I can only imagine the horror on the faces of antique dealers. There are people who hear the word documentary and think the movie will be dull and unexciting; however, they would be wrong with this captivating film. Part mystery, part action with a creative flair; this one man has been living his life in defiance of the probing eyes from Big Brother. English and Mandarin spoken.
3 1/3 stars