DURING MY SCHOOL YEARS, MOST OF the best advice I got was from people I hardly knew at the start. There was a time during the day where I was removed from a study period because of a couple of bullies in the study hall. Since I played piano, I was assigned to take my study time in the school band’s office. I remember the first time I walked into the office, carrying my acceptance note. There were various string and horn instruments either sitting on stands or hanging on racks, with an upright piano in the far corner. The students in the room were individuals I recognized from walking the hallways but had never seen in my classes. Also, they were older than me; the majority were seniors. Once I was signed in, one of the students asked me what instrument did I play? When I said piano, he asked me to take a seat at the piano and play something for them. My first instinct was that I was being set up for some kind of prank, but I walked over and sat down on a piano bench I wasn’t sure could support my weight. I wondered for a moment on whether to play a classical piece of music; but thought for sure I would be teased for it. Instead, I played a Beatles’ song. Once I was done playing the several students in the room came over to congratulate me on being their new mascot. AS THE WEEKS PASSED BY, I became friendly with one of the seniors who had helped me a few times with my homework. He was a trumpet player who planned on going to an Ivy League school to become a doctor. Many times, we would just sit in the band office and talk about what was the latest going on in the world. However, he greatly helped me on how to navigate the time I would have at our school. Because of him, I found a safe place I could hide when my gym class was being held outside. This was valuable information to me because of the bullies in class who loved picking on a group of us outside when the gym teacher was not in sight. This senior also explained to me how I should apply to colleges when the time came for me to do so. The one thing I always wanted to know was whether he put in a good word for me because my music teacher became protective of me through the year. Either way I was grateful for their advice and help which I felt the young man in this dramatic movie was feeling as well on the advice given to him. FORCED TO LIVE AT HIS GRANDPARENTS’ house, a young boy finds a father figure at the local bar, to fill in for the father he has never seen. With Ben Affleck (The Way Back, The Accountant) as Uncle Charlie, Tye Sheridan (Ready Player One, Mud) as JR, Lily Rabe (No Reservations, Miss Stevens) as Mom, Christopher Lloyd ( Back to the Future franchise, Call of the Wild) as Grandpa and Rhenzy Feliz (All Together Now, Runaways-TV) as Wesley; this drama set in Long Island, NY was based on the memoir and I have to say, it was a beautiful story. However, it is a story we have seen before; but the difference is the incredible performances within the cast. Ben, Lily and Christopher were outstanding with their acting. The story is touching, providing a good deal of emotions. However, I would have appreciated if the writers had gone deeper into the characters; so, I could have felt more of a connection to them. With the sets and George Clooney’s direction, I enjoyed watching this even, slow paced film. The title of this movie pretty much says it all; this was overall a tender story.
2 ½ stars
THOUGH IT HAS BEEN SEVERAL YEARS since I taught that class, I still think about it often. I go over in mind what I would have done differently if I could repeat the class over. It was the last part of my yoga class, where we go into a relaxed position with guided visualization. I had turned the lights off; there was only a faint glow coming from the displays of the few electronic devices in the room. Halfway through our relaxation period, a member coughed a couple of times then burped. Though I could not see faces I could tell the noise had come from a female member. While I was still guiding the class through a visualization, I quietly walked towards the woman. Before I reached her, I saw another woman had rolled over to face her, to see if she was okay. As I came up to them the other woman said her mother was not feeling well, pointing to the burping woman. Before I could say anything, the ill sounding woman started making sounds as if she was about to vomit. I ran to get a garbage can as the daughter helped her mother to a sitting position. When I returned with the garbage can the daughter told me her mother had eaten dinner just before she came to class. I still wish to this day that I would have mentioned something about eating during my introduction at the beginning of the class. MY YEARNING TO REVISIT AN EVENT in the past used to be based solely on guilt. There was the aerobic charity event where I lead a packed basketball court of people through a workout. I had to wear what I thought was a goofy outfit promoting the event. Looking back, I now realize my movements were a tad too complicated for the novice exerciser. I remember seeing guests getting lost with my directions. Where guilt used to drive my actions, I can now look back at the things I have done and consider them a learning experience. I know some people never look back at their history, but I cannot do such a thing. For me, the ability to look back at a past event is a teaching experience. A friend of mine never takes the time to study their past; as a result, they keep making the same mistakes over and over. I mentioned guilt used to be my motivator; however, I believe there are individuals whose motivation is their desire to receive approval. It could be from a parent, a teacher or even best friend; for some reason they may not have enough confidence to appreciate the things they can do. I wonder if this was what was going on with the main character in this dramatic sports film? ACCEPTING THE OFFER TO TEACH THE school’s losing basketball team would provide Jack Cunningham, played by Ben Affleck (The Accountant, Gone Girl), an opportunity to revisit his past. It was a past he was running away from, however. With Janina Gavankar (Blindspotting, True Blood-TV) as Angela, Michaela Watkins (Brittany Runs a Marathon, The Back-Up Plan) as Beth, Hayes MacArthur (Life as We Know It, She’s Out of My League) as Eric and Da’Vinchi (All American-TV, Grown-ish-TV) as Devon Childress; most of the attention was given to Ben. I will say he was excellent in this role; though, I did wonder how close did this character mirror his own life. The story and the script were easily predictable which took some of the drama out for me. I did find the basketball scenes funny, especially the ones involving Jack interacting with the team’s spiritual advisor. There will not be any surprises here, I do not think, for the viewer. Luckily, Ben’s skill at playing this type of flawed character is his forte, in my opinion. What connected me further was my experiences with dwelling in the past.
PLANS HAD BEEN FINALIZED several weeks before the event. Schedules were coordinated to make sure everyone was available to spend the weekend together. The kids only cared about getting to the amusement park to see some of their favorite television and toy characters. Commercials that showed the things one could do at the park were a constant companion to the children’s television shows. Anytime the TV was on it would only be a matter of minutes before one could hear the famous jingle and tagline for the amusement park. For the weeks leading up to the big day, the siblings and cousins could not stop talking about what rides they wanted to go on first or who they wanted to see. Every night when going to bed each child asked their parents how many more days were left before they would be there. The week of the trip had finally arrived to a changed landscape. UNFORTUNATELY A COUPLE OF the kids got sick and two of the parents could not leave their offices, due to an important schedule change with clients that they needed to address. All of the kids were devastated with the news the trip had to be cancelled. Some of the younger children were sobbing uncontrollably. The adults talked among themselves and finally came up with a solution they hoped would appease or at least calm the children down. Once everyone was healthy they would all get together and take a day trip to the local amusement park. This park had characters walking around like the other amusement park but they were more of a generic nature. One could say they were akin to being the supporting cast or distant relatives to the well known characters. The rides were fun for the kids but they involved random animated creatures the children had never heard of before. Where the initial trip involved an entire weekend to see the entire park, this amusement park was small enough to be easily covered all in one day. The children had a good time but their memories of the day soon faded away. I felt the same way about this action, adventure fantasy. RECENT SIGHTINGS SHOWED A new evil force was descending on the planet; a force that Batman, played by Ben Affleck (The Accountant, Gone Girl), realized he would not be able to handle by himself. Joining forces with Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot (Keeping up with the Joneses, Wonder Woman), the two did not know if there would be enough time to create a formable match for the destructive power wreaking havoc across the land. With Ezra Miller (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as The Flash, Jason Momoa (Conan the Barbarian, Game of Thrones-TV) as Aquaman and Ray Fisher (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) as Cyborg; I thought the only actor who stood out was Ezra. However his character’s personality reminded me of the recent Spiderman reboot. I felt Batman was the mentor for The Flash like Iron Man was for Spiderman. The script for this film was bland to the point where it seemed all everyone was doing was some action scene. And speaking of action I thought the CGI was poorly done compared to other “superhero” movies that have recently come out. And my biggest complaint was the villain in this story; he was so special effected that he did not come across as evil enough. The villain needed to be dominant and evil in this type of picture. I felt I was watching a B movie; okay fun but nothing special. There were 2 extra scenes in the middle and end of the credits.
2 1/3 stars
WALKING down the street your eye catches something on display behind the store’s display window. You had no intentions of shopping today, but something about the perfectly matched clothing on the mannequin makes you stop. The store was not unfamiliar to you; maybe it was a couple of years ago since you last ventured inside. If memory serves you correctly, you recall the sales staff being helpful. They were not pushy like some of the other clothing stores you have been in, where everything you try on looks perfect according to the staff. Instead the salespeople at this place offer suggestions, asking you where you intend to wear the items. Since the store did not appear to be busy you walked inside to get a closer look at the outfit. As expected a salesperson greeted you and asked if you needed any help. You explained your reason for coming inside and the salesperson directed you to the display rack that was carrying that particular outfit. Finding your size you took the clothing into the dressing room. After you had everything on you looked in the mirror. Though the clothing looked good, it did not look good on you. THIS scenario has happened to me multiple times through my life. Something that looked good on display did not translate to looking good on me. It is weird how that happens. It is not like my size keeps fluctuating; I have been the same size now for years. Yet each store seems to have a different idea of what the waist size should be. Where I may be a 32 inch waist at one place, another will have similar pants that fit the same but they are labeled 31 inch. In fact I know women’s clothing is more varied in how they determine their clothing sizes. It can be disappointing when you see something that you think would look good on you but then your reflection in the mirror says otherwise. It pretty much sums up the way I felt about this crime drama. JOE Coughlin, played by Ben Affleck, chose a different path than his police officer father Thomas Coughlin, played by Brendan Gleeson (In the Heart of the Sea, Suffragette). Joe’s path led to a life of crime down in Florida. This film festival nominee had a great look to it. Set during the time of Prohibition in the 1920s, the costumes and sets were a knock out. Written and directed by Ben, I have enjoyed Ben’s previous directorial efforts; he has an eye for filming a movie. However I think he took on too much with this story. There were scenes that were wonderful to watch, including an exciting car chase. But then there were other places where the story became muddled and slow. I liked the idea of making a gangster period piece but we all have seen similar ones before; this one needed more drama and intensity. As for the acting Ben could have been better since Elle Fanning (20th Century Women, Super 8) as Loretta Figgis and Chris Cooper (The Tempest, Adaptation) as Chief Figgis were more dynamic on screen. Unfortunately by the end of this picture I was left with a blah feeling; it may have been a good looking film but it did not tell its story very well.
2 ¼ stars
Water seeking its own level is a way I look at people who have an overabundance of one attribute. Let me show you what I mean. If I saw a person who was extraordinary in a sports activity I would soon discover they were deficient in another part of their life. Not to make this sound like a given but within my small world this seemed to be the norm. There was this boy in school who was a genius when it came to mathematics. He had little skill in socialization, often times he would be off and away from the other students. Because he showed this amazing side of himself and the teacher did nothing to bridge the gap between him and the rest of the class, the other students shied away from him. He had a hard time through high school, though he only stayed for a couple of years before getting a scholarship to MIT at the age of 15. I hope this explains what I mean by water seeking its own level; because math skills took up a majority of this person’s brain, other skills were not fed as much. Hopefully I am making sense here; because there was a time (or maybe it still happens) when people did not take the time to find that special skill in a person. I feel each person has abilities but some don’t translate well. Another way of saying this would be to describe human beings as a recipe. If there is too much sugar they are extra sweet; if they are mean spirited then there is not a lot of goodness in them. Everything has to find a way to balance out inside of us some way. CHRISTIAN Wolff, played by Ben Affleck (Gone Girl, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), had a father who refused the advice of doctors on how to treat his son. It was because of his decision Christian was able to take care of himself as an adult. This action crime drama twisted its way inside of me. With Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air, Pitch Perfect franchise) as Dana Cummings, J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Labor Day) as Ray King and John Lithgow (Interstellar, Love is Strange) as Lamar Black; the story grabbed me on several levels. First I thought the way the writer handed the subject of autism was both sensitive and humorous. Ben did a wonderful job and I especially liked the chemistry between him and Anna. They were not only sweet together but plausible. I thought the flashback scenes would have been a distraction but on the contrary they only added a real depth to the characters. Now keep in mind I never look ahead while watching a film to try and figure it out. This film took me by surprise with the twists and turns that took place. Keeping this real, let me tell you there were a few scenes that did not ring true; but in the scheme of things, it did not matter to me. The movie took an important subject and made it part of an entertaining story. Now if I could find an accountant like this one; or on second thought, I would be glad to wait for a sequel to this film.
It is one of the hardest situations to navigate I have found, when two people you are fond of do not like each other. Friends, family, significant others, neighbors; I have seen and been a part of all types of uncomfortable situations. There was a dinner party where 2 of my friends attended and spent the evening staying on opposite sides of me. Mingling among the guests or sitting at the table, the 2 friends kept their distance from each other; however, they each wanted equal time with me throughout the night. It was such a challenge to try and keep a mental log of how much time I was spending with each of them, that I found myself not having a very good time at the party. Now I know I have the choice of stepping away from 2 combative friends and letting them deal with their issues, not altering how I interact with them; but I have to tell you, it is harder when someone you are in love with is disliked by someone else you care about. In this scenario there could be times where you choose not to attend an event because you know your significant other will be uncomfortable. I do not know how you would handle it but I dread finding myself in such a scenario. There standing before you are 2 people you care about and they cannot get along; in some circumstances I just want to say, “Be adults and just be cordial to each other whenever the occasion comes up.” Knowing what you do about me now, you can only imagine how I felt seeing 2 of my favorite comic book heroes battling each other in this action adventure film. THE seeds of hatred were planted in Bruce Wayne, played by Ben Affleck (Gone Girl, The Town), when he witnessed the people he cared about perishing in a catastrophe due to the actions of Superman, played by Henry Cavill (Immortals, The Cold Light of Day). As the hatred continued to grow inside of Bruce, it would not be too long before his alter ego Batman would take matters into his own hands. This fantasy had a dark brooding look that I enjoyed at first, but as the movie continued to its 2 hour and 31 minutes running time I found myself wishing scenes were brighter and clearer. Where I was concerned about Ben taking over the iconic role, it turned out my fears were unfounded; he was a strong, emotional Batman. With a strong cast of supporting actors, intense fight scenes and fun special effects; all that was missing was a great script. The story was dull and slow for the first half of the film before things started to kick into high gear. Part of the reason for this I believe was the movie studio’s intentions to make this film a vehicle for future multiple stories and spinoff characters; it was that apparent. When I left the theater I not only felt bad these 2 superheroes fought but they had to in this film.
2 1/3 stars
It began with a glance across the room as locked eyes pushed the other guests to the side. An easy bantering that produced chuckles and laughter that cropped up like hot, bursting popcorn soon led to a steaming up of the room. The two of you held a second conversation with your eyes; each of you feeling you found that special person who would stand shoulder to shoulder with you. Effortless and effervescent, each time the two of you were together you both shed the remaining layers of your defensive protection, revealing souls quite similar to each other. Agreeing and wanting to spend the rest of your lives together, both of you settled into joyful and playful lovingness. The first couple of years flew by as the two of you easily rode the waves of daily life, your love always ready to throw you a life preserver to keep you afloat. As the next couple of years rolled on by, a veneer of automatic expectations dulled the shine of your love. It was not an intentional action, just the strength of familiar routines dulling your heart’s love. Sadly, during these times one may not recognize what they have until it is gone. COMING home to discover his wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike (Surrogates, The Devil You Know), missing with only a piece of broken furniture left behind; Nick Dunne’s, played by Ben Affleck (Runner Runner, The Town), only thought was finding her. However, once the authorities were involved some of the evidence they turned up placed Nick in a suspicious light, no thanks to the growing media frenzy that was surrounding him. Director David Fincher (The Social Network, Fight Club) created a suspenseful thriller that was filled with intense, dramatic scenes. I especially found the camera work ideal in keeping the intensity level of this movie high. In my opinion this was Rosamund’s best role to date; she was unbelievable which says something since Ben and Neil Patrick Harris (A MIllion Ways to Die in the West, The Smurfs franchise) as Desi Collings were excellent. Since I had not read Gillian Flynn’s novel that this film was based on, I was surprised by the different changes in direction. If one read the book first, I believe the movie may have less of an impact. Having a running time of nearly 2 1/2 hours and its slow start, I felt the movie could have been cut down a bit. With that being said, I did not forget the film after I left the theater; it still gave me much to remember. There were a couple of scenes that had blood and violence in them.
3 1/2 stars
Each of us one way or another has in some type of form gambled. Not necessary with money, but based on choices we made on a daily basis. Everyday I drive to work I have to take a gamble on which route will get me to the office the quickest. If I choose the highway there may be a backup of cars that would delay me. Taking side streets will take longer but if traffic is flowing I could get there earlier; it is a calculated gamble I have to take each day. How many of us have had to lift something that was extra heavy? There is a risk that some of us may injure our backs; isn’t that taking a gamble? I have very little experience when it comes to gambling with money; never understood the attraction of it. However, I certainly have no problem watching other people play with their money. In this dramatic thriller the gambling was done entirely online. Justin Timberlake (Friends with Benefits, The Social Network) played Princeton student Richie Furst. Discovering he was cheated out of his tuition money on an online gambling site, Richie decided to take his proof to the site’s headquarters in Costa Rica and confront millionaire owner Ivan Block, played by Ben Affleck (Argo, The Company Men). Impressed with Richie’s moxie, Ivan made him an enticing offer. The story had all the elements to make an exciting film, even if none of them were original. I could have dealt with the cliches and obvious setups if the acting stood out. Unfortunately, it did not nor helped this crime film. Part of it may be due to the direction, but Justin could not carry the story as a lead character. As long as Ben was doing gentler scenes he was okay, but his intense scenes fell flat. Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Unfinished Song) as Rebecca Shafran was forgettable, lacking any chemistry with her co-stars. Anthony Mackie (The Adjustment Bureau, Real Steel) as Agent Shavers was wasted on his stereotypical character. There was nothing new being offered in this movie; parts dragged for me. As I mentioned in the beginning, all of us have gambled in some way and that holds true for the movie studio that made this film. It took a risk and lost I am afraid. There were a couple of brief scenes with blood in them.
1 3/4 stars
It takes a lot of work to make a long distance relationship successful. Communication is so important, I have found, in keeping that connection solid when the two individuals are apart. One of the pitfalls of a long distance relationship is when the two of you are together, it tends to feel like a vacation. Cramming in favorite restaurants and sights becomes the norm, bypassing the reality of daily life. Another thing to consider, if the final goal is to start a life together in the same place, is what location becomes home base. A sure sign of maturity with your decision is when “yours” and “mine” becomes “ours.” In this dramatic romance directed by Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, Day’s of Heaven), we witness the shock waves of a couple’s love when the romance and reality of their relationship come together. Ben Affleck (Argo, The Town) played Neil, an American who fell in love with a woman he met while traveling through Europe. Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace, Hitman) was Marina, the European woman smitten with Neil. After a whirlwind romance Neil brought Marina back to the states, to settle with him down in Oklahoma. Told with very little dialog, I felt I was just watching a series of random scenes on the movie screen. I can appreciate the artistic value in making a film such as this, where the viewer is being told the story via visuals. However, after 15-20 minutes I started losing interest in the story. As the movie dragged on I felt I was in one of those market research groups watching a series of beautiful television commercials and I was supposed to rate them. As for co-stars Rachel McAdams (Midnight in Paris, The Vow) as Jane and Javier Bardem (Skyfall, No Country For Old Men) as Father Quintana, they were wasted in this laborious movie. I strongly disliked Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life; however, if you enjoyed that film, you probably would like this one. Consider this a lighter version with less unconnected scenes of outer space and nature. I have to tell you, it was easier for me to handle the times of separation in my long distance relationship than sitting through this movie.
1 3/4 stars
Still in the glow from my recent 4 star review of Argo, I decided to visit Ben Affleck’s (Argo, Smokin’ Aces) previous directorial effort. Having traveled out east for many years, the setting and mood of this film was quite familiar to me. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bostonian swagger; it has to do with a single mindfulness and toughness. When I first started visiting Boston it was evident that there were invisible boundary lines between neighborhoods. There was an intense loyalty on display from the residents for their community. Granted with Ben growing up in the area this was not a stretch for him to recreate that same brotherhood in this movie. The story was about a group of bank robbing friends. When a heist did not go as exactly planned; bank employee Claire Keesey, played by Rebecca Hall (The Prestige, Frost/Nixon), was taken hostage for a brief time. Concerned she could still reveal clues about the heist to special agent Adam Frawley, played by Jon Hamm (Mad Men-TV, Friends With Kids); Ben’s character Doug MacRay decided to keep an eye on her by following her around. What better way than to somehow innocently make her acquaintance. However, when his worry turned into affection for her; would he be putting his gang into jeopardy? I could see Ben’s directing style clearer here now that I have seen his recent stint with Argo. He has a good eye for what creates tension in a scene. The pacing was steady as he balanced big action scenes with a kind gentleness. Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy) brought a manic bravado to his fellow robber character James Coughlin. I enjoyed the way Ben and Jeremy played off of each other. It is apparent to me that Ben’s skilled directing is no fluke. I venture to say he will be known more for his directing than acting in the years to come. Scenes with violence and blood.
3 stars — DVD