THOUGH OUR CONVERSATION TOOK PLACE YEARS ago, I still carry the elderly man’s words with me. The details surrounding our talk are faded and fuzzy after all these years; however, I know we were talking about the death of a mutual friend. It was a sudden death and we were saying how hard a sudden death is for those left behind. The man said something that was profound to me; he said the longer a person suffers towards their end, the easier it is for the living at the time of death. These are words that have been tested for me and it is true. I never want to see someone suffering before their time is done here. The first time I saw where these words were tested was at a nursing home. Seeing the person wilt away in an antiseptic environment, losing their awareness of everything around them; it was heartbreaking. Though they were not suffering in the traditional sense, for it appeared they had no pains or aches, those of us around them felt defeated and beaten because there was nothing, we could do to change things. This was not living, and they were not the person I knew in my younger days. The life in them was draining out to the point where no one would argue with you if you thought they looked like a breathing carcass. THE ELDERLY MAN MENTIONED THAT THE time of his death would be part of the natural order most people have come to expect. He liked to refer to death as a walk into the sunset. What he was saying made sense to me because the grief I was experiencing concerning our mutual friend was different than what I feel towards someone who had lived a long time. When one is living in their younger years, death usually doesn’t have a seat at their table. But, when someone is living in their twilight years, death not only has a seat but eventually becomes an active participant in your mind’s tabletop discussions. When the man was telling me about order, he said in the natural order of things a parent never wants to see their child die and a child always expects their parent to die before them. I thought about that and it made perfect sense to me. From our conversation, I realized grief is not a simple, clear cut function; grief is multifaceted, there are many shades to it and every single person handles grief in their own way. I hope my talking about this subject is not upsetting you; I am simply preparing you in case you choose to watch the incredible performance in this dramatic, film festival winner. A TRAGIC EVENT SENDS A COUPLE into a world of grief that each one handles differently. Will their paths meet during their grieving process? With Vanessa Kirby (Kill Command, The Crown-TV) as Martha, Shia LaBeouf (Honey Boy, The Peanut Butter Falcon) as Sean, Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream, American Woman) as Elizabeth, Iliza Shlesinger (Instant Family, Spenser Confidential) as Anita and Benny Safdie (Good Time, Person to Person) as Chris; the beginning of this movie was one of the toughest things I have had to sit through and watch. Right from the start, I felt engaged with Vanessa and Shia; they were tremendous in their acting abilities. The story may not be original, but the way it was acted out and directed gave it a fresh perspective. Now there were times where I felt the story drifting, particularly more so in the last half; but Vanessa was a force in this picture, she carried the bulk of the work needed to keep the viewers interested in what was taking place. This was not what I would call an “up” type of film, but it was a good example of seeing someone go through the grieving process.
3 ¼ stars
I HAVE BEEN RACKING my brain out trying to figure out how I feel connected to this film. With the past year accomplishing something in the box office rankings that had not been done for 59 years (the top 3 grossing movies in 2017 were headed by females), I was looking forward to this female lead story. Now if you think about it, what does this statistic say about a society that divides acting between men and women? You know I treat the Oscar telecast as a high holiday, but I have been curious about this division. What would happen if they only had one category for best acting in a lead role? I do not see where acting skills should be judged by the person’s gender. If one is a great actor then they are and it has nothing to do with whether they are a woman or a man. Yet I understand from the dawn of time men and women have been separated and treated differently. And I have to tell you I find it amusing when one sex ventures into what is perceived as the other sex’s domain, such as car racing, knitting or hockey. ANOTHER ASPECT THAT NEEDS to be addressed in this conversation about the division between women and men is the personal perceptions people place on others. Maybe this happens less so now but I can remember hearing parents telling their child not to act a certain way. I am not referring to misbehavior, but to things that are steeped in so called gender characteristics. Examples like “don’t be such a sissy,” “act like a lady” and “you cry like a girl” come to mind. Who decided that certain traits were to be exclusive to one gender is what I would like to know. When it comes to my music I am attracted to big vocals, most of the time female voices. Not because they are women but because that combination of range and power mixed in the right combination is pleasing to my ears. With acting I simply want a dynamic performance that helps sweep me away into the film’s story. From the lead actress’ recent work I expected a strong character to shine in this action thriller. AFTER COMPLETING HER ASSIGNMENT by killing her target Mary, played by Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures, Person of Interest-TV), discovered something in the man’s apartment that would change her life. With Billy Brown (Star Trek, Race to Witch Mountain) as Tom, Danny Glover (The Color Purple, 2012) as Benny, Jahi Di’Allo Winston (The Upside, Feed the Beast-TV) as Danny and Neal McDonough (Timeline, Captain America: The First Avenger) as Walter; the idea for this story seemed interesting to me. Sadly this movie was put together in all the wrong ways, so my interest level dropped significantly close to the start. I thought the script was generic, put together like a child’s puzzle. There really was nothing new about it; in fact, I think there was a movie similar to this one years ago. For this picture the only thing that held my interest was the soundtrack. I mean how can you not like Tina Turner singing Proud Mary? The action was dull, the acting was plain, the script was tired and there was nothing new in it to illicit an emotional response from the viewer. All I want to say is this; with this female lead picture, I hope it is not an indication of what is in store for female actresses in this year’s crop of films.
1 ½ stars
THE HARDER AND LOUDER the weights are dropped on the floor, the more the weightlifter wants you to be aware of their “incredible” strength. Whether they use barbells, dumbbells or just weight plates; I find the releasing of weights in midair perplexing. It is not like they are at the Olympics and lifting massive amounts or metal. They are at a fitness center and sure it might be a large amount of weight they are lifting; but seriously, if you cannot safely bring the weights down to the floor then in my opinion it is too much weight for you. These are my own observations; please do not consider this the standard. From what I have witnessed, when a person makes a loud sound from letting go of the weight load they want attention drawn to them. I have seen them looking into the mirror to see how their muscles look after a big lift, but they also are seeing if anyone else is noticing them. THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES of strength. Some people focus only on increasing their physical strength. To me this is the easiest one because all that is required are some forms of weight bearing exercises. Doing a pushup, walk while carrying a bag of groceries, bicep curls using canned vegetables from the pantry even; all of these will help. The harder strength to me is the mental one. I find if a person cannot muster the mental strength to take on a task there is a good chance of not completing the task or total failure. Mental strength did not come easy for me. Years of believing the things I was being called detoured my personal growth. I think what helped me was my natural stubbornness. If there was something I wanted I would not give up until I was completely exhausted. Nothing overt necessarily but a slow and steady determination was how I started handling the tasks presented to me. Whether it is an item off of one’s “to do” list or preparing for major surgery, the mind needs to be nourished and focused in a positive way to make gains in one’s life. A perfect example of this can be seen in this drama inspired by true events. TRYING TO WIN OVER his on and off girlfriend Jeff Bauman, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals, Southpaw), chose to wait for her at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, just before the bombs went off. This biographical real life story succeeded on many levels. Topmost was the cast which also included Tatiana Maslany (Eastern Promises, Woman in Gold) as Erin Hurley, Miranda Richardson (Empire of the Sun, Churchill) as Patty Bauman and Lenny Clarke (Fever Pitch, Rescue Me-TV) as Uncle Bob. I have to tell you Jake was superhuman; that is the only thing I can say. Trying to figure out what it took to portray survivor Jeff Bauman had to be something short of a miracle; he was outstanding. The movie was hard to watch since it was reenacting the events of the 2013 bombing; there may have been actual footage used in parts. It was and continues to be an amazing story; there was never a moment where I felt the writers were trying to manipulate the viewer or fall into dramatic clichés. After sitting through this picture I have a whole new appreciation for the term, “Boston Strong.”
3 ½ stars
DURING my daily commute to work I pass 3 makeshift memorials that were set up by the side of the road. What they have in common are floral arrangements, ribbons and sadness. My guess is each person from the memorials perished from an auto accident. How tragic it must be for the family; based on past news articles, I can only imagine the circumstances of the accident. I remember one involved a boy riding his bicycle who was struck by a car that swerved out of the way of a tarp that fell off of a truck in front of them, momentarily blinding the driver. Can you imagine if this took place in front of the boy’s house and the family sees the memorial every day? I do not know how I would handle it, seeing a reminder outside my door every day, even without a memorial. RECENTLY I was driving through my old neighborhood with a friend who was curious to see my old stomping grounds. Driving through several blocks, I shared memories and tidbits while pointing out various places. As I drove by one particular building I started to tear up from the flood of awful memories associated with the place. My friend saw the change in me and asked what was going on inside of me. Taking a breath I started to tell them about some of the horrible things that were done to me when I was much younger. It felt like I was reliving them as I spoke them out loud. Though I believe each of us learns something from every experience, thinking about that time after all these years still made me feel sad and angry. I do not think I am alone in saying recalling tough, challenging events in the past is a hard thing to do; this is why it was not easy for me to watch this dramatic historical thriller. FROM an act of terror during the Boston marathon the citizens of Boston united in a powerful way. This film festival winning movie written and directed by Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor) starred Mark Wahlberg (Deepwater Horizon, Daddy’s Home) as Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders, Michelle Monaghan (Sleepless, Source Code) as Carol Saunders, John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane, Love the Coopers) as Commissioner Ed Davis and Kevin Bacon (Black Mass, Elephant White) as Special Agent Richard DesLauriers. I felt Peter presented a thoughtful, reflective story that did not sink into dramatic hyperbole. Because the script was sensitively written I thought the actors did fine in their roles and in regards to Mark he was in his element. Since I was quite familiar with this story, knowing people who were affected by it, I thought I would not have been as engaged in the movie. It turned out I was very much into the film as there were multiple scenes that showed the things taking place away from the public; it was fascinating to watch. I will say it was not easy to sit and watch this movie due to seeing the violence and injuries again. The images I remembered all came up as the story unfolded on the big screen. Let me just say if you have the stomach to revisit this event then it is worth watching this well done film.
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
I used to live near this great restaurant that served these incredible french fries. They were hand cut with some of the potato skin left on them. They were always served separately on their own plate which I thought was a great idea, because you would get more fries than if they were placed next to your entree on the same plate. Besides, this way you could douse them anyway you wanted with ketchup. What made this place standout from other restaurants was the personal touches the staff did for the customers. If your bowl of soup cooled off before you finished it, they were always glad to bring a cup of steaming broth to warm it up. Another thing that made this place standout from others was the way they would hand mold their burgers. No matter what you ordered it always looked and felt like a home cooked meal. When the owners wanted to expand they brought in new business partners. On the outside nothing looked different; there was the same creaky front door and the same counter with its maroon colored stools, where the cushioned seats would spin a full 360 degrees around. However, I soon noticed some subtle changes with the food. The french fries were no longer hand cut; the process became automated, where the potatoes were put through a machine to cut them up. The cloth napkins were replaced with disposable paper ones that were barely big enough to wipe your hands clean. All the personal touches and care that went into cooking the food became automated and it was never the same. I lost interest in the place since my last visits were never as satisfying as the ones with the original owners. This is the same way I have felt about Johnny Depp. His recent films were not entertaining to me since it was obvious he was on automatic. Just slap makeup and costumes on him and it was the same thing over and over. All of that changed with this dramatic crime film. BASED on true events Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland, Finding Neverland) played James “Whitey” Bulger, a mobster who with the help of the FBI became Boston’s biggest crime boss. The acting performance by Johnny was stunning; it reminded me of his acting from years ago. With Joel Edgerton’s (The Gift, Zero Dark Thirty) wonderful performance as FBI agent John Connolly and Peter Sarsgaard (Orphan, Jarhead) as Brian Halloran, the acting was of a high caliber for this story. I only wished the script had offered more details. It felt like things were quickly taking place without any explanation just to keep the film under a certain time. Despite this I found the picture compelling enough to keep me involved through most of it. I just hope Johnny will continue to take on roles that push him to really act in them, instead of going on automatic. There were scenes with violence and blood in them.
The concept of opposites attracting was something I first learned from my science class in elementary school. It was not until I started dating where I learned how the laws of attraction applied to life. In one of my early relationships the two of us saw things completely opposite. From a room being hot or cold to a restaurant’s meal being awful or great; we rarely agreed on the same thing and I have to tell you it was hard. However, it was not until later that I learned a valuable lesson; to be able to look at something from the other person’s perspective. It was one of the best gifts I gained from that relationship and I still appreciate it to this day. The law of opposites attracting was used for comedic results in this funny movie. Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side, The Proposal) played uptight FBI special agent Sarah Ashburn. On assignment in Boston; Sarah encountered the territorial, foul-mouthed Boston cop Shannon Mullins, played by Melissa McCarthy (Identity Thief, Bridesmaids). By not being able to see through the other person’s eyes, the two women had a good chance of never solving the case. The story was not original in the least; however, it might have been due to the focus on the actors’ comic abilities. I have always said Melissa has impeccable comedic timing and she used it in full force for this film. Keep in mind the language is extremely foul and abundant. Sandra made a valiant effort to keep up with Melissa, but it fell slightly short. I wished the writers would have given more to Jane Curtin (Coneheads, Kate & Allie-TV) as Mrs. Mullins; she was completely underutilized. The main force of this movie was the comedy. I laughed out loud several times, even when the scenes were somewhat inappropriate. As a side note I am a stickler about movie trailers, since they are a form of advertising. A couple of scenes from the trailers were not the same as the movie. This film was light entertainment for a refresher course on the laws of attraction. Strong language was used throughout the film.
2 2/3 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