I NEVER CONSIDERED IT A UNIQUE ability; in fact, I actually did not give it any thought. It wasn’t until a couple of friends asked me how I could recall what everyone at a party was wearing, that I had to stop and think about it. You see I was not alone in having this ability; there were at least a couple of my relatives who could do the same thing. Each of us could walk into a room and immediately see and commit to memory every detail of our surroundings. When my friends tested me after we had gone to a get together at a friend’s house, I not only told them what everyone was wearing but also details of the room we hung out in; such as a small crack in one of the windows, not the one with the broken window shade, and a stain on the carpeting near the front leg of the sofa. They could not believe how much I remembered, telling me in a teasing way that I was a freak. From my perspective, I felt they were just not paying close enough attention to everything around them. I never considered it as a flaw or deficiency; if anything, I felt they simply chose not to devote energy into taking in the details. MAYBE ONE OF THE REASONS I HAVE this ability is because I have always been more of a visual learner than an auditory one. Not that I understood this back when I was a young student; I always was attracted to things that visually stimulated me. I remember this one time where my friends and I were having a discussion on the ramifications of losing or not having one of our senses. We queried each other on what modifications could one do to compensate for the loss. I brought up the point how I noticed when one sense is missing, the others tend to compensate for it. In my experiences, I have witnessed individuals who were blind having a more acute sense of hearing. It was as if the body had compensated for the loss to keep the individual closer to being in balance. Not that I have had any personal experiences with people on the spectrum, but I have seen a non-verbal person with autism play piano like a concert pianist without any formal training. The news reported a few months ago about a young boy who did not express himself emotionally until he saw a famous animated movie. Suddenly, he started to express himself and increased his vocabulary by seeing other movies from the same film studio. The mind is extraordinary as you can see when watching the main character in this dramatic, crime mystery. AFTER WITNESSING THE MURDER OF HIS friend Lionel Essrog, played by Edward Norton (Primal Fear, Keeping the Faith), was determined to find out who killed him. With so few clues no one would be able to do what Lionel had the ability to do. With Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Fast Colour, Beyond the Lights) as Laura Rose, Alec Baldwin (It’s Complicated, Blue Jasmine) as Moses Randolph, Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse, Bad Country) as Paul Randolph and Cherry Jones (The Perfect Storm, Ocean’s Twelve) as Gabby Horowitz; this film festival winner based on the novel of the same name was written and directed by Edward Norton. Set in New York City during the 1950s, I found the story dragged for the first half of the film. Though I thought the acting and filming were excellent, it just seemed as if the story was going nowhere. However, by the second half of the picture, I found myself more engaged and enjoying the snowballing mystery aspect of the story. There was a part of the story that was just as relevant now as it was back then. If the script had been not as long, I think this movie would have been more powerful. Despite this I at least enjoyed watching the stylish scenes and incredible acting skills of Edward.
2 ½ stars
THE SUN HAD NOT RISEN YET as I headed out onto the barren streets of the town. Leaving so early, the stillness around me had not been disturbed by any residents. I headed north towards the volcano, though I was not able to see it through the darkness. The road up, I was told, would be challenging due to its narrowness and thick underbrush. My rental car had relatively new tires since the mileage on the odometer was low; I figured the tread was sufficient enough to handle the twisting road. It would have been nice to be able to see the landscape around me, but I was only privy to what my car’s headlamps showed me. From what I could tell there were tall trees lining the roads at times, only being interrupted intermittently by mounds of earth that honestly looked like excrement. I had no idea if this was a natural or man-made phenomenon. Everything I heard about this volcano had to do with being on top; I did not find many references made regarding the trip to it. So far, the ride was uneventful; little did I know that would change soon. AS I CONTINUED ON MY WAY, I started to leave the town behind me. The spaces between buildings got further apart as nature was taking back her land. I did not know what to expect but there was no signage as I came up to the base of the volcano. I continued on my way as the road started to take me on a convoluted path made up of twists and sharp turns. Due to the slower pace I had to drive, I was concerned I would not make it to the top before sunrise. This was the whole point of my early car trip, to see the sun rise and watch what its rays of light would reveal inside the dormant volcano. As I ventured up I periodically glanced up at the sky to see if there was any trace of sunlight seeping into the darkness; gratefully the sky did not turn while I was on my journey. I finally reached my destination, parked and waited for the big unveiling. The first ray of light appeared then slowly began to spread out into the blackness; I had been looking forward to this for a long time. One thing I did not expect was a bank of rainclouds that were ready to pounce once the sun’s rays revealed them. The clouds rolled over everything around me, blocking me of the chance to see inside the volcano. After all the planning I put into this trip, I would not get the satisfaction of seeing it to its intended conclusion. I had the same feeling sitting through the last installment of this dramatic, science fiction trilogy. SUPER STRENGTH NEEDS TO BE MET by super strength, something a superhero could do. However, there are no such things as superheroes as far as we know, right? This mystery movie starred James McAvoy (Atomic Blonde, Victor Frankenstein) as Barry and others, Bruce Willis (Death Wish, Looper) as David Dunn, Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight, Avengers franchise) as Elijah Price, Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave, Ocean’s Eight) as Dr. Ellie Staple and Spencer Treat Clark (Mystic River, Animal Kingdom-TV) as Joseph Dunn. Based on seeing James reprise his role as the Beast, I had positive hopes this film would be good. There were aspects I enjoyed; they revolved around the story between James, Bruce and Elijah. Sarah’s story line started out odd to me and by the ending I found the entire timeline for her ridiculous. I did not like the ending and thought the writing of the script lacked originality. If it was not for the four main actors mentioned before I would have lost interest in this picture early on. It would not have taken a superhero effort to produce a fitting conclusion to this trilogy instead of the silliness that took over it.
IT WAS ONE OF THE HOTTEST Broadway shows touring the country and I had tickets for it. Because it was so popular a friend of mine wanted to scalp his ticket. Just my opinion, I thought it was rude of him to even suggest it since the group of us had planned to go out to dinner after the show. On the day of the performance we all met up at the restaurant and got seated quickly, so we would not have to rush to get to the theater. After dinner we walked over to the theater which when built was one of those old movie palaces with ornate terra cotta reliefs and large chandeliers. As I entered into the lobby there was a large board set on an easel that listed the actors that were cast for that day’s performance. Right at the top of the cast list on the first line it showed the understudy would be playing the star attraction’s character. I was devastated; the famous actor was one of the reasons I wanted to see this show and now I was stuck with the understudy. Not that he did a poor performance, in fact he was excellent; but I really wanted to see that famous actor perform in this production. IF THERE IS SOME WAY TO avoid feeling disappointed when you are expecting to get what you paid for, I am not familiar with it. Now granted in regards to that Broadway production, all of us enjoyed the show with its excellent cast and incredible staging of the sets. However I could not help feeling letdown because I did not see the main actor that everyone had been talking about being the perfect actor for the role. I guess the feeling is similar to going to your favorite restaurant for your favorite dish and discovering they ran out of it. At that point it is unlikely you would leave; instead you would find something else to eat, just not as satisfying. Now I do not want this to sound like I am a snob, but there have been times where I have tried the generic version of a product and disliked it. There was a dessert I was preparing for a party where I used raisins that were the grocery store’s brand. They turned out to be these tiny, shriveled raisins that still had some stems attached; I never bought them again, wondering why I did in the first place. I asked myself the same question after I saw this action, crime drama remake; why see this when I could rent the original? AFTER HIS FAMILY WAS BRUTALLY attacked in a home invasion Paul Kersey, played by Bruce Willis (First Kill, Die Hard franchise), got tired waiting for the police to solve the crime. He took things into his own hands. With Vincent D’Onofrio (The Magnificent Seven, Ed Wood) as Frank Kersey, Elizabeth Shue (Leaving Las Vegas, Adventures in Babysitting) as Lucy Kersey and Dean Norris (Total Recall, Breaking Bad-TV) as Detective Kevin Raines; there was absolutely nothing new in this film compared to the original. The only difference was there were less thrills, tension and good acting. I found the script odd and not quite believable. If you did not see the original movie then you might enjoy this picture more than I did. The strange thing for me was the audience around me during the film’s showing. I had to wonder if some of the people who were watching this movie were thinking they wanted to do the same thing as Paul; it was creepy. As I mentioned earlier if you never saw the original this may interest you, but not something that one needs to rush out and go see.
1 ½ stars
There has been a culinary phenomenon taking place in my city for the past couple of years. What I find curious about it is the focus has been on a basic American staple, the hamburger. Back when I used to eat hamburgers they were not something I gave much thought to; they were a reliable backup dish, easily found. But something happened where all these new restaurants started popping up around the city that focused on “gourmet” burgers. The majority of these places kept a limited menu: burgers, fries and milkshakes. Each place touted something unique about their hamburger/menu. One food establishment promoted the way they grilled their burgers; another pushed their hand cut fries. The competition was fierce and when everyone was on the same footing, one of the restaurants would do something to make themselves unique. I guess the latest rage, based on the advertisements I have seen, is combining different food items into a hamburger. Out of the blue there now is something called the mac and cheese burger which is a hamburger stuffed with macaroni and cheese. As I drove by one place I saw they are promoting a breakfast burger. My curiosity got the better of me so I had to look up and see what it was and I have to say, even if I was a hamburger lover, I would never order one. The breakfast burger had strips of bacon on top with a layer of hash browns. Inside the burger was cooked eggs with onions and if that was not enough, there was a sausage patty on the very top of the stack. Honestly it just floors me; I would love to sit in on one of the restaurant chains’ marketing meetings to see who thinks up these concoctions. It sounds to me as if every place is picking bits and pieces of other food chains and combining them in the hopes of creating something new. That theory applies to this crime movie. WHEN one specific bank became the target of several brutal heists FBI agent Montgomery, played by Christopher Meloni (42, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit-TV), felt the criminals wanted something more than just the bank’s money. This action film also starred Bruce Willis (Looper, The Fifth Element) as Hubert, Adrian Grenier (The Devil Wears Prada, Entourage-TV) as Wells and Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, Riddick) as Stockwell. I thought the actors were the right choice for the roles, though I felt the characters were not much of a stretch for any of them. The issue was the script; to me it was a hodgepodge of different ideas that never blended well. At one point I found myself confused with the characters; which was a shame because the action scenes were not that bad, though still quite violent. This movie’s story did not offer anything new or creative. Instead I felt I was watching bits and pieces from other pictures that were twisted into this story in the hopes of presenting the viewer something new. It did not work; this still was simply a bank robbery picture.
1 ¾ stars
The sentences that were being verbalized to us were losing some of their words on the way to me. It was as if their voice had been heard enough to transform into a blur of white noise, causing my eyelids to become heavy as they wanted to slowly come down like a drawbridge. The lecture was only halfway completed and I did not know how I would survive the rest. My head was starting to look like it was on an old weak spring as it would droop down periodically. I pretended there was something in my eyes so I could fake rubbing them, giving me a few extra seconds of shut eye. The individual leading the training seemed to know what they were talking about; however, their delivery was turning the participants into mindless drones, only coming back to life if a direct question prodded them back to the present time. I am sure many of us have experienced a similar situation during a training, lecture or workshop; the facilitator pretty much is going on automatic since they have done it for so long. And it does not matter whether it is done in person or via a webinar; they follow the same script, the same pre-planned ice breakers and the same jokes. To me the delivery is so important in making the event a success. If you cannot keep the participants engaged and interested in what is being said, then the session becomes a waste of time for a majority of the them; similar to what took place in the movie theater as we watched this musical comedy. LITTLE did rock manager Richie Lanz, played by Bill Murray (Aloha, Lost in Translation), know his trip to Afghanistan would lead him to the beautiful singing voice of Salima, played by Leem Lubany (From A to B, Omar). Unfortunately it was coming out of a female in a country that frowned on women singing. With a cast that also included Kate Hudson (Wish I was Here, Almost Famous) as Merci and Bruce Willis (Die Hard franchise, Looper) as Bombay Brian; I could only sit and wonder if they realized they were stuck in such a poor product. This movie provided nothing new or exciting for me. I still cannot get over the fact it was directed by Barry Levinson (Liberty Heights, Wag the Dog), a director I have respected for a long time. The script made no sense to me; for example, what was the point of including Bruce Willis’ character into the story? Bill Murray was utterly dreadful; he brought absolutely nothing different to his character, having done this type of role over and over previously. I was bored through the majority of this film except during a couple of songs. When the picture was over I felt as if I had been slipped a tranquilizer or what some people call a roofie.
1 1/2 stars
There is an easy camaraderie created when a group of people have a singular purpose. Whether one is an employee, volunteer or teammate; when personalities blend together a relationship is formed of shared experiences. When I have done volunteer work I notice there tends to be a quick connection made between all the volunteers. The same happens when new fitness instructors come on board at the health clubs, where I teach. An added benefit to these types of connections is the ability to have fun. Yes, even at one’s place of employment there can be times of fun when everyone is supportive of their fellow employees. Well okay, let us say at least bearable. This sense of fun is what I appreciated most about this action comedy. It was obvious the actors were enjoying both their roles and each other in this sequel. Joining Bruce Willis (Looper, Moonrise Kingdom) as Frank, John Malkovich (Burn After Reading, Dangerous Liaisons) as Marvin, Helen Mirren (The Debt, Hitchcock) as Victoria and Mary-Louise Parker (R.I.P.D., Weeds-TV) as Sarah were Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago, The Terminal) as Russian agent Katja and Anthony Hopkins (Thor, Hitchcock) as mad scientist Bailey. The story was far-fetched about Frank and the team trying to retrieve a megaton explosive device that was smuggled into Moscow during the cold war. Being a fan of Helen, I got a kick out of her role being more physical this time. The script was uneven where some lines were humorous while others fell flat. Bruce has been doing the same type of character for so long, he tended to be a bit cartoonish for me. In the case of John; since I have seen him perform live on stage and know what he is capable of doing, I thought he was excellent in his role. Anthony was exceptionally good with his character. This was not the type of movie where one needed to think much; there was nothing deep about it. Honestly, I think the success of the first movie gave these actors the opportunity to hang out again and share some good times, while filming took place all over the world.
2 1/4 stars
The sun was about to open its eyes, sending the first ray of light into the softening blue sky. Enemy soldiers were perched strategically around waiting for the signal to begin their assault against the base. What the enemy forces did not know was the soldiers on base were prepared and had a secret weapon. The Roller Blaster was prepped for maximum coverage to drive a wedge through the enemy. Its design was simple; made of the cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels and marbles for ammunition. I came up with the design one day while I was playing with my toy soldiers as a little boy. You should have seen how the marbles would roll out of the partially lifted tube and knock down the enemy soldiers. Not that I want to brag, but this action movie could have used some of my imagination. The G.I. Joes had to battle an evil plot that not only threatened their very existence but could bring down the government of the United States. Channing Tatum (The Vow, Magic Mike) and Dwayne Johnson (Snitch, Race to Witch Mountain) played G. I. Joe commanders Duke and Roadblock. The bantering between the two of them was pitiful; in fact, the entire movie was filled with every cliche you have heard from every action movie. And can someone tell me when Bruce Willis (Looper, Die Hard franchise) became the godfather of the testosterone thriller movies? Playing General Joe Colton, Bruce was no different then he had been in his past several films. I could have forgiven the cheesy script and crazy plot if the fight scenes had been creative. Except for one fight scene, the rest were lackluster. The problem was director Jon M. Chu, known for the Step Up movies. Filming dancers and ninjas should not necessarily be different, but the fighting was confusing here. If it would have helped make a better film, I could have offered the G.I. Joes my Roller Blaster.
1 3/4 stars
At the age of 90 my uncle decided to give up driving. He told us he was not as fast as he used to be. Look at Jerry Seinfeld, he decided to end his television show while it was still getting top ratings and not sliding into mediocrity. As I am aging I know there will come a time when I will have to dial back from teaching my classes. If I cannot provide what the members want for their workout, I am realistic enough to know it is time for me to step aside. Look at the movie Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The time between this film and the previous one in the franchise was 19 years. It should never have been made; it was a black mark for the franchise. Let us now focus on this latest installment of the Die Hard franchise. Six years since the last one, Bruce Willis (Looper, Moonrise Kingdom) is now a 57 year old John McClane in this action film. Discovering his estranged son Jack, played by Jai Courtney (Stone Bros., Spartacus: War of the Damned-TV), was sitting in a Russian prison waiting to go to trial, John decided to fly out to see what he could do to save his son. Once in Russia, John soon discovered his son was really a CIA operative assigned to protect Russian underworld kingpin Komarov, played by Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others, Unknown). If this is not making sense to you, no need to worry because nothing really made sense. I found it amazing that the guns used in this film never ran out of bullets or one of the top henchmen talked about his love of tap dancing. I am not making this crazy stuff up. This idiotic movie was one loud fight scene after another, filled with crashes and explosions. And poor John McClane stuck in a time warp from the 1980’s, repeating his catchphrases over and over to the point the jokes were pulverized into dullness. This movie was the perfect example of what happens when you stay past your prime; you remind everyone how much better you used to be.
1 2/3 stars
It felt like my brain was given an electrical pulse within the first few minutes of this intelligent, science fiction movie. Even those not into this genre, would absolutely enjoy the great story. There were several ways one could interpret the movie. For me, I pondered the concept that our past influences our future and whether fate is finite or can we alter it. From beginning to end, this movie kept my attention with its deft pacing and laser focused direction. Set in the future, time travel has been outlawed. However, large criminal organizations were using it to send people back 30 years where a looper (time traveling assassin) would be waiting to kill them. Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Premium Rush, The Dark Knight Rises), was a smart looper; saving half of his earnings with the intention of moving to France one day. His plans were put into jeopardy the day his next kill arrived and it was an older Joe, played by Bruce Willis (Moonrise Kingdom, Red). Hesitating for a moment, the older Joe escaped and set out to change his past; with the young Joe in pursuit and the mob hunting both of them. If this sounds confusing to you, please do not worry; it will make more sense as you watch the movie. The story was fresh and original with skilled acting propelling everything forward. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was eerily good, looking like a young Bruce Willis. Bruce was back with his macho swagger; one could only imagine he thrived playing a well developed character for a change. Another important aspect was the part of Sara, played beautifully by Emily Blunt (The Five-Year Engagement, Your Sister’s Sister). Remembering the audience’s applause at the end of the film and how the rest of my weekend was great, my past really had an effect on my present. I just hope this movie starts a trend of making more creative, original movies in my future. Brief scenes of blood and violence.
3 1/2 stars
Since I began posting movie reviews here, I have tried alternating between first run movies and those on DVD. You will notice with today’s review it is of a film I saw this past week at the theater, instead of one at home. The reason is simple; if you are so inclined to view this movie, do not spend any money seeing it in a movie theater. Do not waste any money on it. The first 15-20 minutes started out well, with Bruce Willis (Moonrise Kingdom, Die Hard franchise) as Martin doing okay, for what seemed like a typical role for him. Taking his family out sailing on his boat, Martin tried to keep the peace, though it was obvious there was tension between him and his son Will, played by Henry Cavill (Stardust, Immortals). When there was a slight accident on the boat, Will swam to shore to get first aid. With supplies in hand, he returned to the beach only to discover the sailing boat was gone. It did not take Will long to find the boat tucked away in a nearby cove. Imagine the surprise he got when finally reaching the boat he discovered it was deserted. The search for his family would lead Will on a high stakes chase, that involved the CIA and terrorists all looking for a mysterious briefcase. Let me make this easy for you: the story was dopey, the acting was putrid and the action scenes went by so fast, I had a hard time figuring out what the heck was going on. This movie looked like it was one of those payback films, where actors had to sign on to repay a favor to some producer or movie studio honcho. The whole time watching this movie I thought the missing family members were the lucky ones; they did not have to stay and watch this mess.
1 2/3 stars