EVERY day starts with him coming outside to begin his squirrel watch. He stands still in the middle of the backyard with his head tilted upwards, scanning the tree branches for any movement. If something even twitches for a brief moment, a plethora of barking takes place as my neighbor’s dog begins racing around the tree trunk, daring the animal to take a step down towards him. Having recently celebrated his 2nd birthday this dog is actually a big hunk of crazy love. Anytime I come out of my garage and he is in the yard, he squats down on the ground like an ancient sphinx, waiting in anticipation for me to call out his name. You see he will not run up to my fence until I call him. Now here is his secret; he is being trained to be a search and rescue dog. His owner, my neighbor, told me about one of the exercises he performs with the dog. At the facility’s swimming pool, my neighbor pretends he is drowning. The dog is released and jumps into the pool, swims over to the man, grabs a hold of any piece of clothing or a limb in his mouth and begins pushing or pulling the man to the edge of the pool. SOME of the other stories my neighbor has told me have been extraordinary. There is such a bond between this man and his dog that is quite noticeable. When both are in the backyard, the man will do exercises with the dog; some are with verbal cues while others are done only with different hand gestures. It amazes me that within the span of 2 years, if even that, this dog has achieved so much with his owner. As I said before just looking at him running around and barking his head off in the backyard, you would think the dog is a hyper bundle of energy. I would love to see him on one of the search and rescue missions, just to see how he focuses on the task. Until then I will be satisfied watching the dog in this film based on a true story. WITH nowhere to go in her hometown Megan Leavey, played by Kate Mara (The Martian, 127 Hours), enlisted in the army. Assigned to cleanup duty at the dog pound that housed one of the most aggressive dogs, Megan would have to confront her fears. This biographical war drama also starred Tom Felton (Harry Potter franchise, A United Kingdom) as Andrew Dean, Common (Selma, Now You See Me) as Gunny Martin, Geraldine James (Sherlock Holmes franchise, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as Dr. Turbeville and Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods, Scent of a Woman) as Bob. The script was kept simple; there was not much surprising about the story. However, the script with the directing created an engaging story filled with bits of drama, tension, tears and joy. The actual story is incredible; though I felt things were kept more subdued overall in this movie. I think it would be hard for someone not to enjoy watching this picture. For me I honestly never gave much thought to the role dogs play in the military; my only encounter on this type of level would be in the security lines at the airport or city events. When a friend asked me if they might cry watching this film, I asked them if they planned on bringing any facial tissues.
THE wait was not too long before the waitress brought us our orders. Similar sized plates were placed in front of us; mine had the food beautifully laid out with a row of shiny green vegetables stacked at one end and the main entrée sectioned apart to form a pinwheel effect. I am a visual eater which means if something does not look good to me I am not going to touch it. Keeping that in mind this is what I saw when I looked at my friend’s dinner plate. There was a mound of food in the middle that looked like it had partially melted. Globs of a white protein substance dotted the surface like oozing pustules. There were thin stringy noodles hanging down around the mound that reminded me of greasy hair. My friend took his fork and stabbed one of the white globs; I expected it to burst open like a pimple. I could not look at him putting it into his mouth. Instead I focused on my dinner, but was immediately told by him that I had to taste his dish. Explaining I did not like the look of it, he insisted and placed a spoonful of his food on my plate. Because I did not want it to contaminate my food and could not push it off, with his continued insistence I just tried it to shut him up; I closed my eyes and put it in my mouth. The flavor and taste was nothing I imagined; it actually tasted good. SURELY I cannot be the only one who looks at something and makes a decision based solely on its looks. If someone thinks sauerkraut looks disgusting, who is it hurting? But when this type of thought process is used to judge an individual, it takes on a whole different set of circumstances. Need I point out how many news reports have been showing violence against someone based solely on their looks? I may have an issue with how my food appears but it doesn’t affect anyone else. Seeing the amount of violence and hatred people have for other people is sickening to me. Having survived the taunts and abuse from individuals who did not like the way I looked has made me extra sensitive to being a witness to such things. This is why I had a challenging time watching this sports drama based on a true story. SMUGGLED out of his home in Iran Ali, played by George Kosturos (Caged No More, Christmas with the Karountzoses), found himself in a small California town just as the Iranian hostage crisis took center stage in the 1980s. How much safer would he be here? This film festival winning movie also starred Jon Voight (Heat, Deliverance) as Principal Skinner and William Fichtner (Black Hawk Down, Contact) as Coach Plyler. I found the story pretty incredible and started to believe George was the real Ali. As for the script I was disappointed at its predictability. It was written in a paint by number fashion where one could easily figure out what would happen next. As I mentioned earlier I had a hard time watching some of the action taking place around Ali; however, it kept me connected to the story since I could relate to it. Despite the predictability the message one could take away from this story is an important one. So much is done these days based on looks without taking the time to look inside.
2 ½ stars
PEOPLE were lined up since 4 am. The line snaked around the museum’s front lawn. Some individuals had camping gear with them, which led me to believe they had been there since the day before. Everyone in line was upbeat and excited about the new exhibit that had opened at the history museum. From ancient Egypt the advertisements for this show stated the artifacts were nothing like anything on display before; they were in pristine condition, only discovered recently from a king’s tomb. The local newspapers showed photos of the long lines which is why we decided to get to the museum so early; at least we thought it was an early time, but there were a lot of people who thought the same thing. We finally entered the exhibit at 11 am and our agonizing wait quickly faded from our minds because the artifacts were all glowing in their temperature controlled glass cases. The craftsmanship was incredible, with such fine details; you would have thought they were recent copies loaned from the souvenir shop. THOUGH that exhibit was a long time ago, I still can see many of those objects clearly in my mind. It is fascinating to me how a society from centuries ago can create such incredible objects. Some people may consider ancient civilizations primitive; but I feel one has to take into consideration what was available at the time. These days we have 3D printers making things for us, but back then what did they have, a chisel and hammer? There have been times where I noticed an underlying prejudice of a person or group solely based on their ethnicity from someone who believes they are enlightened. They do not overtly show it but you can see or hear it in the way they communicate; there is a disdain or dismissive quality to their tone. If I am not making much sense then please watch this lush film based on a true story to see what I mean. DISCOVERING what he believed to be proof of an unknown ancient society deep in the Amazon Percy Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim, Sons of Anarchy-TV), set out to convince the naysayers back home in England. This film festival winner also starred a nearly unrecognizable Robert Pattinson (Water for Elephants, The Twilight Saga franchise) as Henry Costin, Sienna Miller (Burnt, Foxcatcher) as Nina Fawcett and Tom Holland (Locke, The Impossible) as Jack Fawcett. Set in the 1920s this movie had richness similar to director Werner Herzog’s (Fitzcarraldo; Aguirre, the Wrath of God) movies. The story unfolded in a quiet deliberate pace, almost to the point of boredom early on; however, the more the actors moved deeper into the story the more interesting it became. I thought Charlie and Robert stood out in their roles. On one level I sat in my seat in a bewildered state trying to understand how Percy could undertake such a challenging task. It felt like I was being propelled back in time; the directing and cinematography lent itself to this feeling. Another aspect I admired was the sense of respect presented in the script; something that I feel is lacking in these present times. This was like watching one of those old fashioned flicks, letting the setting contribute to the narrative. Though I felt this picture could have used a touch more editing, I walked away with a new respect for the men and women who sacrificed to bring to light the accomplishments of mankind.
MINIATURE golf covers my experience with playing the game of golf. For those of you who know my love of travel, you will especially appreciate when I tell you about a miniature golf course I used to play at when I was a small boy. The majority of the holes each had a replica of a national or world landmark that you would have to negotiate, to get your colored golf ball to the cup. For a kid who had not yet seen the actual structures, this was a big deal. I remember one hole that had a tall skyscraper which would light up at night. The goal was to hit your ball between the elevator doors so you could watch your ball rise up to the top of the building where it would be dropped off and disappear for a moment. By the time you ran to the back of the skyscraper you would just see the ball coming out of an exit door right by the cup. My favorite was a reproduction of a famous amusement park roller coaster. If you could get the ball up the entrance ramp, you could watch your ball take a ride on the coaster before it was dropped off at the cup. This was the extent of my golfing prowess. FROM the different comments I have heard about the game of golf, there are a lot of people who consider it a rich man’s sport or a gentleman’s game. Whether it is or not does not make a difference to me. I can appreciate the dedication, raw talent and competitiveness on display; but because I have a hard time justifying the amount of money given to professional athletes compared to school teachers, I find the large sums going into prize money, advertising and betting very odd, troubling. I know this is not exclusive to golfing by any means; at almost any given time I will hear about someone betting on such and such game or being a part of an office pool. Little did I know that this practice has been going on for a long time. SCOTSMAN Tom Morris, played by Peter Mullan (War Horse, Tyrannosaur), had been the groundskeeper and golf club maker of the St. Andrews golf course for many years. The club members assumed his son Tommy, played by Jack Lowden (A United Kingdom, Denial), would take over the family business; however, Tommy had something different in mind. This film festival winning drama based on a true story also starred Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Jurassic Park franchise) as Alexander Boothby and Ophelia Lovibond (Guardians of the Galaxy, No Strings Attached) as Meg Drinnen. The story was the fascinating part for me in this biography; watching how the game of golf was originally played truly was a trip back in time. Unfortunately the script caused this movie to be a bogey instead of a hole in one. For such a game changing story, this script really needed to get gritty and make the characters more than one dimensional. The thing that kept me interested was the historical value the events had in this picture. I may not have any interest in playing golf, but at least I now know how it came to be.
2 ½ stars
AFTER so many years teaching in the health industry you would think there is nothing left to surprise me these days. It is not often I encounter a long distance runner but when I do I still am fascinated by the person’s dedication/determination. Personally there is no way I would let my feet pound pavement that long. And if that is not enough reason to avoid running, the individuals who run outside in winter simply baffle me. There was one person I spoke with who ran every day no matter what the weather was outside. They had to get new running shoes every three months. I asked one time what they got out of running every day and they said it was peace of mind. If there was one day they could not run, they felt oft-kilter the entire day. On a certain level I had to admire the person’s drive. DO you know how you can see traits in other people that you do not recognize in yourself? Regarding my film reviews, everyone who knows me knows I have to be at the movies over the weekend. When talking to a friend about getting together I cannot tell you how many times I have said I need to see a movie first. The response I get from them is this, “You do know you do not HAVE to go; you choose to go.” I usually say it is my job because that is how I look at writing reviews; the best job by the way. The way my mind is wired this is something that I have to do. Some of you might remember when I first started posting reviews my goal was to write one review a day for 365 days and I achieved that goal. Afterwards I posted comments that going forward there would be times where I would miss posting a review; there was no need to worry. I dialed back to find balance once again in my life. It is funny how I realized I am no different than a marathon runner; we both have the drive and determination. It has given me a whole new appreciation for anyone who single mindedly has a need to achieve something. BASED on a true story world champion boxer Vinny Pazienza, played by Miles Teller (War Dogs, Fantastic Four), did something no one believed he could every do. Evidently no one knew the drive Vinny had to achieve his goal. This dramatic sport story worked because of its amazing cast. Besides Miles there was Aaron Eckhart (Sully, My All American) as Rooney and Katey Sagal (Married with Children-TV, Sons of Anarchy-TV) as Louise who were both on par with Miles. I was not familiar with this biographical story but I have to say it truly was incredible. What was missing for me was more detail in the script. We all have seen boxing movies and this one had a basic floor plan that was a bit predictable. I would have appreciated more details into Vinny’s life and family life. As it stood, the movie was interesting though there were scenes that had blood and violence in them. As I mentioned earlier it was the acting that made this film and with seeing this story, one has to admire this boxer’s determination.
2 ¾ stars
THE first time I heard that word being hurled at me I knew it would not be the last time. What I did not know was once a person was labeled by that word, no matter what they achieved, most of their peers would still only see a f-a-t person. Around the same time I remember a classroom discussion about race. A little boy in class asked the teacher why some people’s skin was a different color. I still recall what the teacher said to us. She told the class all it meant was that person’s family, from a very long time ago, was born in a different part of the world. The closer to the equator, the darker the person’s skin would be is how she described it. This bit of information turned into a game outside of class, where students would guess where a person’s grandparents were born based on the color of the skin on a person. NOW fast forward to high school my freshman year; we heard a rumor there was a time when girls were not allowed to wear pants in school. You can imagine how astonished we were on this bit of news. It turned out it was true; if you were female then you had to wear a skirt or dress to school. I could not understand what possible reason did the administration have for such a ridiculous rule. Past my school years when I was living in the city in my first apartment, I was walking down the street. Two guys were walking in my direction but I did not pay attention since there was a variety of shoppers on the street. Just as we were coming shoulder to shoulder the guy closest to me punched me in the face and I staggered back into a plate glass window. Either they did it for some initiation or they just did not like the way I looked. For 2 1/2 decades I had experienced actions based on looks, why was there such a preoccupation with it? MILDRED and Richard, played by Ruth Nega (World War Z, The Samaritan) and Joel Egerton (The Gift, Black Mass), were deeply in love. Their love however was not right according to some of their neighbors. Based on a true story this dramatic biography set during the 1950s in Virginia had such an important story to tell. With Marton Csokas (The Lord of the Rings franchise, The Equalizer) as Sheriff Brooks and Nick Kroll (Adult Beginners; I Love You, Man) as Bernie Cohen, the actors were all good; however, Joel and Ruth were incredible and Ruth deserves an Oscar nomination. For this story I felt the script could have done a better job in telling the story. I wanted to know how Mildred and Richard met considering the obvious racial divide that was on display. There was a subdued nature to the telling of this story, both the written word and the directing of scenes. At the end of the film I had a mixture of feelings. On the one hand one could say we have come a long way from this story; but on the other hand, the hate I am currently seeing in the world makes it seem as if nothing has changed. Hate is the new black.
2 3/4 stars
One of the big mysteries I still struggle to understand is how people gain confidence. The answer is so elusive to me because I see some people who exude confidence; not in a bragging or boastful way, they just seem to have a strong sense of self and more importantly they believe in themselves. The ones who have the skills and knowledge to back up their confidence deserve it in my opinion. But the individuals who do not have the talent or masterfulness in the field they claim make me curious to know why that person feels that way. At the other end of the equation there are people who have the skill or artistry but do not believe they perform it well. I fall into this category. Since I feel that way I have always looked to see if my lack of belief is due to the environment I grew up in or were there other factors that made me feel like I am never good enough for the task at hand. Was it negative comments I received, people’s perceptions about overweight individuals or being forced to blend in with the majority; I just do not know? What I do know however, is the strength inside of me is partially fueled by my desire to prove people wrong or more precisely prove myself wrong. How twisted does that sound? With everything I have just said I am aware that I have been fortunate with the opportunities that were available to me. There is just one other factor that needs to be part of this conversation and that is acknowledging those individuals who were born with a particular gift like being genetically predisposed for a certain set of skills. It does not matter what their environment is like or their circumstances; they simply have the aptitude. But do you want to know something? A person still needs to believe they can do it. SPENDING her days selling maize Phiona Mutesi, played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga, happened to see a game of chess being played. It was a game that came with a multitude of possibilities. This film festival winning movie was based on a true story. With David Oyelowo (Selma, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) as Robert Katende and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Non-Stop) as Nakku Harriet, the acting was incredible. Lupita had such power in her expressions that I thought I saw fire coming out of her eyes; that is how good she was with her character. This biographical story could have fallen into oversweet sappiness, but due to the script and directing the story came across with a solid sense of realness. I have to tell you the story was amazing. I enjoyed the setting and contrasts shown in this picture. Chess is something that is considered refined almost stately in some circles and I loved the fact that it was being played by poor villagers in a town of Uganda. After watching this film all I can say is I wish I had some of Phiona’s strength. Stay for the beginning of the great ending credits.
3 1/3 stars
How annoying is it when you get a new item and it isn’t what you expected or does not work? When it comes to food products our feelings are usually based on the item’s taste; I understand since I have tried some items touting their new great flavor, only to get a nasty taste in my mouth. This type of stuff I either give away or toss into the garbage. The rules are different when the products are not food based. I may have mentioned I bought a new computer. After the store transferred my old information to the new one, along with adding some new programs, I excitedly brought the computer home and turned it on. Everything about it was great until I left it for a moment. When I came back to continue my work the computer would not wake up from its sleep mode. To say I was annoyed would be putting it mildly. I did get it fixed but it is stuff like this that ticks me off. Just a couple of weeks ago it was reported that a department store would no longer carry their line of Egyptian cotton bed sheets. And do you know why? It turns out the company that was making the sheets for the store was not using Egyptian cotton. Can you believe it? The thing that amazes me is the audacity some of these manufacturers have in thinking they are “pulling the wool” over the eyes of their customers. And who really is affected by these actions? It is the consumers who wind up on the losing end. I know the example I gave here is just one of many that take place around the world. CHILDHOOD friends Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, played by Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street, True Story) and Miles Teller (Fantastic Four, The Spectacular Now), found themselves taking on the bigger players in the defense field when they landed a $300 million contract from the Pentagon. The question was how were they going to fulfill it? Based on a true story this comedic drama also starred Ana de Armas (Exposed, The Boarding School-TV) as Iz and Bradley Cooper (Burnt, American Snipe) as Henry Girard. Along with all the other actors in this war film, this still was Jonah’s and Miles’ show. Their acting and chemistry was strong, though I felt Jonah was starting to be typecast with this type of character. The steady pacing kept the story going forward and I have to say even while I was watching this picture I still could not believe some of the things that were taking place. I think that is part of the attraction of this film; viewers will sit in disbelief by the outrageousness of some events. This will make up for the script that did not offer much depth to the characters along with having a little weakness towards the end. In spite of these things the story was so startling that I think it would grab the viewer to stay engaged with it.
I always felt I had a decent education; maybe not the top schools, but certainly a well rounded learning experience. Oh, except for a couple of teachers in my early schooling that should not have been allowed to teach. After my college years I still kept up my desire for learning. Using a variety of mediums such as radio, print and internet; I like to be and stay an informed individual. So here I sat watching this film and discovered I had no knowledge about it whatsoever. As the audience was filing out after the movie ended I made a comment to no one in particular, mentioning how the movie was intense. A couple of people in front of me turned and acknowledged the same thing, asking me if I knew this movie was based on a true story. I told them I did not and I was actually surprised I had never heard about it before, considering its significance in history. Standing in the lobby we discussed the movie and our lack of knowledge. It was interesting for us to compare our educational backgrounds, which included Big Ten universities and small city colleges; none of us knew about a specific early scene in this movie. I posed a question about the history classes we had taken; due to the time constraints placed on curriculum courses do teachers provide students only highlights from historical events or do they focus on the subjects they prefer to talk about? I do not have an answer for this; I just know I have to reconfigure my present knowledge to incorporate the story from this historic thriller. PARACHUTED back into their own country of Czechoslovakia Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, played by Cillian Murphy (Inception, In the Heart of the Sea) and Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey, The Fall-TV), had only one mission. They had to find a way to assassinate Adolf Hitler’s 3rd in command, SS General Reinhard Heydrich. Based on a true story this film also starred Charlotte Le Bon (The Hundred-Foot Journey, The Walk) as Marie, Toby Jones (Captain America franchise, Tale of Tales) as Uncle Hajsky and Brian Caspe (The Martian, The Illusionist) as Antonin. The story had a slow pace to start, but there was a continual buildup that intensified later in the film. I had wished the script would have stuck with the main story because I found the love aspect story line to be a distraction and not believable. It is understandable the writers wanted to humanize the characters but under the circumstances it took away the characters’ purpose in my opinion. The actual story I have to assume was more powerful than what this movie was able to achieve; however, I was still totally engaged by this biographical film. Though they were not graphic there still were violent, disturbing scenes. The editing did not help; I found choppy parts throughout the film. This may not have been the best interpretation of the actual chain of events (I just did not know how much of this movie was true, but I plan on finding out), but its importance in history and the movie in whole was a riveting experience for me. Violent scenes with blood.
It can be such a dilemma; the choice is whether to be supportive or honest. Now I grant you these two options can be compatible; but I have found myself in situations where I had to stop and think before I reacted to the circumstances present. So here is the question I have for you; how do you tell someone you care about that their dream will never happen? For what I hope is obvious reasons I have changed a few things here; let us say you have a close friend who wants to be a chef. They enjoy having dinner parties so they can try out new dishes on their friends. The food is fine but nothing you would pay for at a restaurant. Politeness dictates you tell your friend the food tastes good. Should you mention you would not necessarily pay for it but for homemade it was okay? Remember this friend’s dream is to be a chef either at an established venue or opening up their own place. Personally it is a tough call for me and I am the blunt one in my circle of friends. I would never quash a person’s dream; dreams are what make human beings grow and learn. On the other hand watching your friend spend money and time on something that probably will not yield them the desired results would be sad. Do you see my predicament? A similar situation was taking place in this biographical comedic drama. NEW YORK heiress Florence Foster Jenkins, played by Meryl Streep (Ricki and the Flash, Hope Springs), dreamed of becoming an opera singer. She had the means, the desire and the drive to fulfill this dream. The question was did she have the talent? Based on a true story this film’s cast formed a wonderful bond that came across the big screen. With Hugh Grant (About a Boy, Did You Hear About the Morgans?) as St. Clair Bayfield, Simon Helberg (Van Wilder: Party Liaison, The Big Bang Theory-TV) as Cosme McMoon and Rebecca Ferguson (Hercules, A One-Way Trip to Antibes) as Kathleen; the actors did their best with what was given to them. The story was better than the script. I thought the sets and costumes were spot on; but the script produced what I thought was a light version to what the story could have been. The acting was very good but I found the characters somewhat bland, though Simon’s character was curious. Without giving a spoiler alert let me just say I read somewhere that it was Meryl’s idea to not let the actors and extras hear her in some scenes until the first take. I have to say it worked because I thought the scenes looked authentic. So you see there were positives to this film; I just felt it lagged emotionally, not making a true connection with the viewer. Maybe there were people behind this project who dreamed of bringing this true story to the big screen. Who am I to tell them they should not have done it this way? Instead let me say my fascination with this story lingered on after the movie was over. The bottom line is everyone has the right to dream.
2 2/3 stars