THE WORDS KEPT REVERBERATING INSIDE my head. I had never heard them before; wait, that is not exactly right. I had heard those words before, but they were never spoken to me. Now, I was the recipient of these words and was feeling as if my life was going to change forever. No more standing by myself; no more groans or dirty looks from others. Here right in the middle of the school gymnasium I was the first person the team captain asked to be on his team! This had never, never happened to me before. Usually whenever the PE instructor picked two students to be team captains, I was always the last one picked. To tell you the truth I did not blame them. I did not enjoy team sports, I was not good at playing them and I did not have a killer mentality. All of that changed however, when students saw me throw a ball. The only reason they witnessed it was because I was the last person on the team who had not been tagged out. Granted, I was hiding behind players to avoid getting hit with the ball. So, there I was left defending our side against three opposing team players. I tagged each of them out due to my precise, fast and hard throwing of the ball. The students were shocked. MY WORLD CHANGED FROM THAT POINT on or at least I thought so. Students in gym class who had never spoken a word to me or only uttered derogative words my way were acknowledging my presence. I was not as fearful of walking into the locker room and gymnasium expecting to get bullied or abused. It was a surreal time for me. In fact, there was talk about me trying out for the pitcher position on the baseball team. If you are wondering if this all sounds too good to be true, you are right. My time in the spotlight was short-lived. A transfer student arrived who excelled in sports. He could hit, throw, shoot and pass a ball; plus, he was fit and trim instead of fat and chunky. I was immediately discarded and returned to the back of the line, so to speak. No one wanted me on their team anymore. I could live with it; but, when the nasty comments and abusive contact started up again, I had a hard time coping. I desperately wanted to get out of that school. Watching the main character in this action thriller, I could relate to how she must have been feeling. UNDER HER STYLISH VENEER ANNA, PLAYED by Sasha Luss (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), had a lethal set of skills that people wanted to exploit. They were not interested in anything else, which was a mistake. With Helen Mirren (The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Woman in Gold) as Olga, Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, High-Rise) as Alex Tchenkov, Cillian Murphy (The Party, In the Heart of the Sea) as Lenny Miller and newcomer Lera Abova as Maud; this movie had potential. I could have gotten into the story, but it stayed locked on the repeat button. There was nothing imaginative about the story. If Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde had not been made, maybe I would have been more forgiving with this picture. However, I was periodically getting bored. Now there were some fight scenes that were fun to watch, and I enjoyed some of the plot twists; but overall, there was not much creativity in the story or the script. For the life of me I could not understand why Helen took the role in the film, but I was glad she did; she did her best with what she was given. Given the choices out there, this movie is not one that need be chosen for your viewing pleasure.
1 ¾ stars
THROUGHOUT OUR HISTORY WE HAVE BEEN introduced to couples, both real and imaginary, who have a special relationship. Each couple had a bond that formed a unique and solid connection between the two. There was Bonnie and Clyde, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Thelma and Louise and Batman & Robin to name a few. I remember when I was first introduced to these, dare I say, iconic couples. There was something about them that intrigued me because I could relate in a way. I had a best friend; the two of us were nearly inseparable. Our backgrounds were different; for example, his parents were divorced, and he had not grown up in the neighborhood. Despite the differences, we first connected with our love of books. From there we discovered a variety of similarities that formed the bonding agent to our connection. What helped cement our relationship were those times where we were both discovering something new for the very first time. Having that shared experience, looking back now, really provided the stepping stones to our growth path. It came to a point where we could tell how the other was feeling just by looking at them. We spoke in a shorthand that others tended to find confusing. Our relationship provided each of us a new level of confidence in dealing with the world around us. CONFIDENCE, IT IS SUCH AN ESSENTIAL element to one’s life. I know my journey becoming a confident adult would have taken longer if I did not have someone close with a like mind, my best friend. For the couples I mentioned above, it would have been a different world if they had not found their “soulmate.” Would Clyde have been so successful if he had not met Bonnie? Would Batman have solved all those crimes if he did not have Robin by his side? I do not know the answer. However, I know how it feels to have a special friend, soulmate or whatever name you want to call it; I believe it provides one with strength in every aspect of a person’s life. Having someone who is supportive, who watches your back allows one to take more chances on their ideas. I know what it feels like to think you are the only one in the world. When you discover someone, who understands you or just gets you, there is no greater feeling. If you want to see how well a couple works together when they have history, then see what happens with the couple in this action, crime thriller. HAVING BROKEN THE RULES BY KILLING a fellow assassin on company property John Wick, played by Keanu Reeves (Replicas, Point Break), turned himself from being a hunter to becoming the hunted. The fact there was a $14 million price upon his head did not help matters. This 3rdinstallment started right up where the previous film ended. With Halle Berry (Die Another Day, Monster’s Ball) as Sofia, Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Deadwood-TV) as Winston, Laurence Fishburne (The Matrix franchise, Contagion) as Bowery King and Asia Kate Dillon (Billons-TV) as the Adjudicator; this movie was all about the fight scenes. And let me tell you these scenes were insanely violent and bloody. But here is the thing, they were so expertly choregraphed and staged that I felt the fighting on a visceral level. There were times I was both cringing and laughing at what I was seeing on the big screen. I thought the fight scenes were one of the best I have seen all year. The story was absurd and over the top which is exactly what these movies provide the viewer. The creativity involved in creating this story and beingable to carry it out was excellent. I am not into violence and blood, but I could not turn away from watching this outrageous picture. If there was an election for picking this year’s iconic couple, I would vote for John Wick and Sofia. They were that good together.
3 ½ stars
THE picture was of a young woman wearing a hat. Her head was turned enough to only provide a profile of her face. We were told to look intently at this picture; the teacher asking us if anyone saw something else. I kept looking at it then suddenly the image of an elderly woman appeared, removing any trace of the young woman. It was amazing to me and this became my introduction into the world of optical illusions. Whenever I was in the school library I sought out books that would reveal more optical illusions to me. There was the zebra with 2 heads, the elephant with extra legs and what would became one of my favorites, the two people sitting at a table who morphed into a human skull. At one point in time I had a poster of an abstract illusion hanging in my room. EVEN into adulthood I always enjoyed a good optical illusion or things that appeared to be impossible but were real. A new skyscraper was built in the city and on one side of it there was a built-in aquarium with dolphins. Honestly, it looked that real; even though it was just a painting. In fact there was an art exhibit where the same concept was used at various spots in the city such as a fake staircase in the front of a building and a swimming pool that spanned several hundred feet across a city sidewalk. It is fun to have one’s beliefs tested in this way. The same could be said for a person who does magic tricks or even performs a stunt that has never been attempted before. I enjoy these types of events. However, there are some times I have to just sit there and say to myself, “What were they thinking, why would someone do something like that?” This crime drama would be one of those times. TERMINALLY ill assassin Rose, played by Helen Mirren (Eye in the Sky, The Debt), decided to do one more job with her stepson Mikey, played by Cuba Gooding Jr. (As Good as it Gets, Men of Honor). When she came face to face with the intended target Helen did something she had never done before. This action film had a heavy hitting cast of actors that included Vanessa Ferlito (Julie & Julia, Death Proof) as Vicki, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt (Snowden, The Night Before) as Dr. Don and Stephen Dorff (Public Enemies, Felon) as Clayton Mayfield. We are talking Oscar and Golden Globe winners and nominees, though I realize this film is over 10 years old. I liked the idea for the story but the script was dreadful. There was no oomph to the characters and action; it felt like everyone was just going through their paces. Helen has stellar acting ability and Cuba in the right role can do a great job but I literally sat there with my mouth open watching them together in some scenes on this DVD. This was one of the oddest pairings I have ever seen; what were the studio people thinking about to cast these 2 together in these roles?! I still cannot believe what I witnessed in this movie.
1 ½ stars – DVD
More so today than any time before, I believe a sense of disbelief falls over an individual who meets someone who appears to have all the qualities to become their ideal mate. The path to perfection can start out with the simplest common denominator such as both parties prefer hot instead of cold weather or each of them is lactose intolerant. For me I assume they will understand me better if they too are left handed. From this starting point one’s brain starts sending out signals of mistrust as a defense against the heart that is waiting to gallop out of the starting gate. Here is where the conflict emerges; on the one hand, this new person is steadily matching each of the items on your checklist for the perfect person. But at the same time your brain is telling you this is too good to be true; there is no such thing as being perfect. I have learned there is no such thing as perfect; the way I feel about “being perfect” is the same way I feel about “being normal.” Each cannot set the exact same standard across the board to fit every single person on the planet. What one person thinks is normal another may feel differently. So what an individual has to do is keep a checklist of things that would be a deal breaker for starting a relationship with someone. Depending on the person some items on that list could be: no pets, only city living, gambler, no children or weight issues. A deal breaker for me would be if they were an assassin like the one in this action comedy. UNLUCKY in relationships Martha McKay, played by Anna Kendrick (Into the Woods, Pitch Perfect franchise), could not stop wondering about the curious man she met even though he frightened her. This romantic romp also starred Sam Rockwell (Poltergeist, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) as Mr. Right, Tim Roth (The Hateful Eight, Hardcore Henry) as Hopper and James Ransone (Sinister franchise, Inside Man) as Von Cartigan. I enjoyed the mix of Anna and Sam because both easily handled the comedy of the story. The script provided a variety of madcap scenes that were on the verge of being silly filler. I felt the actors worked well together with the script that did not provide enough new ideas to pull it out of being a typical story for this genre. There were scenes that had violence and blood but they were quick and kept on the “light” side if you know what I mean. Since I have been a fan of Sam for a long time I think that is what kept me interested in this movie. If they had chosen a different actor I probably would have enjoyed this film less. To watch this movie it would be better to wait until it is on DVD. Now I say this only because I have a mental checklist of things that a picture has to have to take me to a different place.
There have been some movies that I have enjoyed watching multiple times. I am talking about the original ones, not necessarily the updated ones; though there have been a few that qualify for more viewing. I also have at times enjoyed when a movie transforms to a live theater production or vice versa. Each medium can provide me a different experience on how the story relates to me. Of course there have been some stellar disasters when one version transforms to the other. I remember one movie in particular that was brought to the big stage, getting its world premiere here in the city. A group of us who were all familiar with the film, traveled down to the theater that had its lobby festooned with all kinds of paraphernalia depicting the musical’s logo. Where the film was magical and imaginative, the theater production was bland and dull; it was a big disappointment for us. Now I have stated in the past that I feel movie studios depend more on marketing for their film decisions than coming up with original ideas. It seems as if there is a hot property or should I say when something goes viral, the studio is quick to jump on the excitement and produce a movie out of it. The studio generally has looked towards novels, history and actual events to generate a movie. Now they look at amusement rides and video games to come up with something marketable. My bottom line is the movie has to be entertaining; I do not focus on where the story originated. With this film I had no idea it was based on a video game. CREATED to be a top assassin Agent 47, played by Rupert Friend (The Young Victoria, Pride & Prejudice), had extra reason to find Katia, played by Hannah Ware (Shame, Oldboy), to complete his contract. This crime movie was slick looking, marketed to appear as a thrilling action film. I can only assume all the funds allotted to this project went to the marketing department and the trailers because the script was looney. This essentially was a long chase scene that came off for the most part as a ridiculous attempt to cash in on the video game. Things would happen in scenes with no rhyme or reason besides the main character being able to stand out in the open and not one expert sharpshooter could hit him with a bullet. Have you ever sat next to someone who never wants to share the joystick to a video game? This is how I felt as I struggled with boredom to get through this picture. Even Zachary Quinto (Star Trek franchise, Margin Calls) as John Smith could not save this dud. Maybe the video game is exciting, but to tell you the truth after seeing this film I really do not care. Several scenes had blood and violence.
1 1/2 stars
Something I have been saying for years is if you need a license to drive a car, then you need to get a license to have and take care of a child. I have not fathered any children, nor have anything against parenthood; I only base my statement on things I have seen throughout the years. When a baby is born they have a pure, blank slate. They do not know anything about racism, sexism, hatred or have preconceived opinions that are not based on reason or actual experiences. I have always been curious about this idea because it begs the question, “How do people get theses traits?” I do not mean to offend anyone nor be judgmental, but I have always felt it was the parent’s responsibility to teach their child to be an independent thinker. Maybe I should just say show them the difference between right and wrong. In regards to this action thriller, when I said a parent needs a license to raise a child I did not mean a license to kill. Saoirse Ronan (The Host,The Lovely Bones) played Hanna, who was raised in a remote area of Finland by her single dad Erik Heller, played by Eric Bana (Munich, Closed Circuit). Erik had spent years raising his daughter to be the perfect assassin before sending her out into the world. Once Hanna ventured out of their safe haven she soon discovered her father did not teach her everything a young girl should know. Not only did I think Saoirse did an excellent job of acting, but I was surprised with her fight scenes. They were well choreographed with clean straight forward action. To me Eric’s character was not a major role compared to Cate Blanchett’s (Blue Jasmine, Babel) role as Agent Marissa Wiegler. I really enjoyed Cate’s character. The story was a good idea; I liked the contrast of having a young innocent character being a lethal killer. What did not work was the screenplay; there were scenes that I found ridiculous, where I could not find any logical reason for them. In the case of this adventure film I think it could have used a license to make sense. There were a few scenes with violence and blood in them.
2 1/2 stars — DVD
The incredible Great Wall of China, the buried Terra Cotta Army near Mount Li, the massive national road system of China all have something in common. They came out of the monarchy of Qin Shi Huang (Ying Zheng), who became the first emperor of a unified China. This dramatic movie was massive on several levels. The historical factor was fascinating to me and the drama in the king’s life played out like a Shakespeare tragedy. He was the man who conquered the several kingdoms of China to create one unified country, going from a king to an emperor. The underlying story in this overwhelming production was about a plan the king formed with his concubine, where he would send her to hire an assassin to kill him. The goal was to use the attempted assassination as a catalyst to attack one of the kingdoms. While the concubine Lady Zhao, played by the incredible Li Gong as Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern, Memoirs of a Geisha) was away, she discovered the king’s compassion was a facade. Playing the king was Xuejian Li (The Blue Kite, Happy Times), who brought a dramatic flair to his role. There were many aspects to this period film that were enormous. From the sets to the amount of extras, the film portrayed what I imagined the royal court must have been like back in those days. My attention was completely captured by this film with its huge battles, royal secrets, political backstabbing and historical significance. There were some scenes with blood. Chinese with English subtitles.
3 1/2 stars — DVD
I had high hopes for this film. Why wouldn’t I when it starred Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, The Dark Knight) and John Cusack (HIgh Fidelity, Must Love Dogs). And the added bonus was Morgan’s character, Frank Carden, was an assassin. Sadly, the script was poor and a bit ridiculous. John’s character, Ray Keene, wanted to bond with his son by going on a father/son weekend trip. During a hike they came across two nearly drowned men who were handcuffed to each other. I don’t know about you, but if I saw two people handcuffed together, I would keep my distance, calling the police instead. And it was at this point where the story took the silly path: Father Ray could not get reception on his cell phone. So instead of trying to find help or phone reception, Ray decided he would bring Frank to the police and become a hero in his son’s eyes. The rest of the movie was one long chase scene. As the police were trying to catch up with Ray and his group, Frank’s villainous associates were chasing them, trying to kill Ray and his son. When I turned off my reasoning power, I was able to sit through this movie. Besides, I enjoyed the scenery. So what if the lines were cheesy and some of the situations were loony. I did not mind as the story jumped from one predicament to another with bullets flying and perilous dilemmas defying reality.
2 stars — DVD