LEARNING THE HISTORY ABOUT FAMILY MEMBERS can be a fun experience. Some of the things I found out about my relatives seem so out of character to the people I knew. There is a relative of mine who holds the patent on some particular lint trap that is part of a washing machine. Another family member was a gangster. In the family I had an umbrella maker, a butcher and the owner of the first cable boxes that came into existence. As you can see the list is quite varied and I get a kick out of the randomness of it. Recently I was talking with a friend about a movie that is coming out later in the year. Based on the trailer I mentioned I was looking forward to seeing this film about Mary, Queen of Scots. You will not believe what he told me about Mary; his family history has a branch of it that is loosely tied to Mary. Listening to the connections between the deceased relatives, I was struck with the fact he was able to remember who married who and whose brother’s sister-in-law was part of the genealogy trail. It was astounding listening to so many generations coming from this one side of his family. THERE IS NOTHING AS FASCINATING IN my family tree as my friend’s; but if I had such knowledge on the history of my family, I wonder what historical facts I would find out about my deceased relatives. One of the things I know is which countries some of my relatives were born in. I remember in school I would check out books from the library that pertained to these countries, wanting to learn about its history and how it came into being the mother and fatherland of my relatives. My knowledge barely goes back 3 generations of my family. Pretty much all I know is how relatives made their way to America. One relative was sent here with her sister when they were in their teens. She was going to be married off to someone she knew back home who had been sent over earlier to get established in a city. I have other relatives who did not want to migrate but had to because of war. There was a story told about brothers who as children had to be hidden in the forest to escape being kidnapped or worse killed by enemy forces. Though the young boy in this family fantasy only had to be shipped to the state of Michigan, he found out there was something special about him and his family tree. ORPHANED DUE TO THE DEATH OF his parents Lewis Barnavelt, played by Owen Vaccaro (Daddy’s Home franchise, Mother’s Day), was sent to live with his uncle Jonathan Barnavelt, played by Jack Black (Goosebumps, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), who was an odd man. There was a reason why Jonathan was different. With Cate Blanchett (Ocean’s Eight, Thor: Ragnarok) as Florence Zimmerman, Kyle MacLachlan (Blue Velvet, Dune) as Issac Izard and Renee Elise Goldsberry (Sisters, The Good Wife-TV) as Selena Izard; this comedy film was aided by the chemistry between Cate and Jack, which granted seemed an oddball pairing. They were fun together and I enjoyed the way the film started out. I thought it was strange to have Lewis presented with his aviator goggles and bow tie, but at first I did not mind. It was not until the story moved into the 2nd half where I started losing interest. This is where the script was muddy with different references. For me I felt the story was becoming more of a cartoon, meaning silly. With a little more history, development and originality; this picture would have been more enjoyable for me.
1 ¾ stars
THE HOME COOKED MEAL WAS so good I asked for a copy of the recipe. After making the dish for so many years, the host no longer followed the exact recipe; she knew the ingredients and approximate amounts needed. I gently prodded, well actually begged, her to write it all down sometime during the evening if it was not much trouble. Just prior to me leaving later in the night the host handed me an envelope. You should have seen my face when I opened it and discovered she had written down the recipe on a piece of paper. She did say it may not be exact as the original, but close enough and I could personalize it to my own tastes. Besides wanting the recipe to make for myself, I thought it would be the perfect course to serve for an upcoming dinner party I was planning to host. As the weeks passed I acquired all the ingredients, reading and re-reading the recipe a couple of times to make sure I had everything needed and understood the preparation. THE DAY OF THE DINNER PARTY I had my tasks organized on a list which is something I do each time. Think of it like a pseudo schedule I follow to keep me on track for what needs to be done, to prepare a full meal with dessert. I was looking forward to making the main dish, expecting my guests would enjoy it as much as I did. Because I wanted to give myself as much flexibility with the time constraints I had for my tasks, I pre-cut some of the ingredients and stored them in airtight containers inside the refrigerator. I went about my business, cleaning the house and setting the table. By the time the first guests showed up I had all the dishes that needed to be baked cooking inside the oven. I felt everything was falling into place. When everyone was there and we sat down for dinner, I brought out the main dish and started serving it to each guest; it smelled good. As people started to cut in and taste their meal they complemented me. I was glad everyone enjoyed the meal but I was the only one who knew the dish I made was not as good as the original one I had at that previous dinner party. Don’t get me wrong; it was okay but it did not taste as special to me; I was disappointed by it. Having seen the previous Ocean movies, I must tell you I felt the same way about this gender switched version—disappointed. AFTER DOING HER TIME IN prison Danny’s sister Debbie Ocean, played by Sandra Bullock (The Heat, The Lake House), told the parole board she just wanted to lead a normal life and pay her bills. She did not mention how she was going to pay her bills with the help of the Met’s annual Gala event in New York City. With Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, Thor: Ragnarok) as Lou, Anne Hathaway (The Intern, Les Miserables) as Daphne Kluger, Mindy Kaling (No Strings Attached, The Office-TV) as Amita and Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave, Carol) as Tammy; I felt the cast was ideal for this story. All the actors were seasoned enough to make this picture a fun experience. Sadly, the script hindered this group from delivering on it. Except for Anne’s character, which she did beautifully, I found myself not as invested in the story as I thought I would be. The film was more of a fluff piece; it was okay to sit through but I was glad I did not pay full price. Just like the recipe I made, this movie was okay but could have been better.
2 ½ stars
SOME INDIVIDUALS WOULD FIND it frustrating; others would find it infuriating after a while. You are partaking in a serious conversation and someone makes a joke. There are times where telling a joke can be the perfect antidote to a tense conversation. In fact I am a big proponent of using humor to diffuse a situation or break the tension in a room. Dealing with tough and uncomfortable topics of conversation can quickly drain an individual; I am all for injecting a touch of humor just to give the participants a momentary breather before continuing their discussion. Pretty much any situation can benefit, at least in my opinion, from a chuckle or belly laugh depending on the circumstances of course. There was a funeral I attended where the service was filled almost to capacity with mourners. Right in the middle of the eulogy a family member made a comment that had everyone laughing, giving a needed respite from the sadness. WHERE A SIMPLE BIT of humor can do wonders in a tense situation, a constant barrage of jokes and wisecracks can have the opposite effect. If it is just you and one other person going back and forth in a deep conversation, you can address it; however, when there are more people involved it can be tricky. When an individual keeps making jokes during what is supposed to be a serious conversation; I have noticed they are uncomfortable either with the topic being discussed or making themselves vulnerable. I know an individual who has a hard time discussing their feelings. When you press them on a subject they will relent and share something personal, but they do it in a hushed voice. I honestly do not know if they feel they are saying something “wrong” or afraid they will be made fun of; they even look uncomfortable. So they prefer to keep up a constant stream of jokes in the conversation to the point they almost overshadow the intended topic of discussion. I felt I was experiencing something of a similar nature during this action, adventure fantasy. IMPRISONED ON A FOREIGN planet far from his home Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth (Ghostbusters, Red Dawn), must figure out a way to return before Asgard is completely destroyed. With Tom Hiddleston (The Night Manager, I Saw the Light)) as Loki, Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings franchise, Carol) as Hela, Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park franchise, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Grandmaster and Tessa Thompson (Creed, Dear White People) as Valkyrie; you could not have asked for a better cast of actors. Who knew Cate could throw down with the best of them as she emoted wicked evilness. I wanted to see more scenes with her. Everything you expect to see in a Marvel superhero movie was here from comic book author Stan Lee’s cameo to big CGI effects to 2 extra scenes during the credits. The only issue I had with this film was the use of humor; I felt the comedy aspect overpowered everything in this story. Do not get me wrong, a good portion of the scenes were fun and humorous but there was so much I felt it took away a little of the dramatic intensity the scenes required. I am sure I am in the minority regarding this but after a while I found the humor getting tedious. Granted since this was my only complaint I still enjoyed the whole movie watching experience and I can only imagine how much fun the actors had making this picture.
Seasoned eyes pause during their trek, scanning the room as they catch a reflection of themselves in someone else’s eyes. The stillness seems to have gone on for a long time, but no one around would have noticed anything different. The two sets of eyes unlock to continue on their way, knowing they will come back to this new laid trail to tread softly upon it once again. When they do this time a shadow of a smile escapes like a gentle sigh as the tiniest of lines appear at the corners of those eyes. The lines are proof that the eyes are settling in for a longer duration. Now here is where the sets of eyes may differ for each set is projecting a series of random images that have played before. A walk down by the lake, sitting at an outdoor cafe on a warm day, helping to take off a thick winter coat; the difference is the added appearance of the new person you have noticed across the room. They are pictures of a possible future that must return to the reality of the mind’s photo album. Some people are quite skilled at all of this because there is a strong sense of self. What happens though when that strong sense is missing? It has been called flirting, prowling, hunting and teasing; some individuals are blatant about it while others are more subdued. When the intentions come from a place of respect and affection any name would do. If the opportunity appears to experience a true and deep love, who would not want to embrace it? STORE clerk Theresa Belivet, played by Rooney Mara (Pan, Side Effects); found she suddenly felt different when she saw customer Carol Aird, played by Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings franchise, Cinderella). It was not just the hat Carol was wearing. Directed by Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Velvet Goldmine), this film festival winner was an exquisite visual period piece from the 1950s set in New York City. With Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story-TV, 12 Years a Slave) as Abby Gerhard and Kyle Chandler (The Wolf of Wall Street, Zero Dark Thirty) as Harge Aird; the acting was perfect for the story, in an intimate and refined way. I thought Rooney’s acting was one of her best performances. The costumes and sets were created with the utmost style for the era; I liked the look of them. I understood for the era there had to be a certain shall we say subtleness to the script; however, I felt it diminished my overall enjoyment in viewing this dramatic romance. In turn, the pacing tended to run slow for me. There were passages where the emotional level stayed consistent far too long; it needed more dramatic variance in my opinion. Watching this film was like getting a beautifully wrapped present that contained a sweater for you but just not in the right size.
They were not just a nightly dinner guest, they were more like family as we ate dinner in front of them. I remember the television being on while I would be sitting at the dining room table or sometimes directly in front of the TV with a snack tray in front of me, so I could watch the news. This is how we would learn what was taking place around the world besides in our city. Every night it was the same newscaster, who we trusted and believed, explaining events that made no sense initially, along with showing us parts of the world I knew I would never visit. Some of you may have never experienced this method of getting the news; but I have to tell you, once trust was established with our newscaster we never doubted what they had to say. Our confirmation was always the next day’s daily newspaper. Now I can still recall news stands that were set up at various locations around the city, manned by individuals who would be hawking the latest editions of the city’s daily newspapers. These people sounded like sirens stuck on repeat as they kept announcing their wares. The papers always reiterated what the newscaster said the night before. It only seems to be a recent phenomenon where newscasts have taken more of a personal agenda slant on the news. To tell you the truth even with the news no further than our fingertips these days I never know who to trust. TRUSTED newscaster Dan Rather, played by Robert Redford (A Walk in the Woods, All is Lost), and his long time producer Mary Mapes, played by Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings franchise, Cinderella), felt they did a good job with their latest story airing on CBS’ 60 Minutes program. The story would not only shake the foundation of the TV network but also change the way people looked at the news. This film festival winning drama was fortunate to have Cate as part of the cast. She was by far the most engaging actor with her wonderful acting skills. This is not to say other actors such as Dennis Quaid (Vantage Point, The Day After Tomorrow) as Lt. Colonel Roger Charles and Topher Grace (Playing it Cool, Interstellar) were bad; they just did not evoke their feelings as well as Cate. I thought the script inspired by a true event focused more on the drama instead of telling a compelling story; there were scenes that needed more detail to explain the situation that was taking place at the moment. If it wasn’t for the acting on a whole, I would have found myself more disengaged than I already was during this biographical movie. By the end of the story I still had unanswered questions and that is the truth.
2 1/4 stars
Do you remember the first time you heard these lyrics, “A dream is a wish your heart makes?” How about these words, “Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo?” The first time I saw the animated movie “Cinderella” I was scared of the stepmother. I could not understand how a parent could treat a child that way. But the character that really caught my attention was Gus the mouse because of his size; I could relate to him. The kindness Cinderella showered on him was something I wanted. If memory serves me correctly, I believe this movie was one of the first films that showed me how kindness could beat out evilness. I have seen articles that discussed the perceptions this past fantasy picture was portraying regarding Cinderella being a victim who relied solely on her looks. My interpretation resided along the lines of good vs evil. I hated the stepmother along with her daughters and was excited when Cinderella’s fairy godmother helped her get to the prince’s ball. As I grew older I continued to hope that good would always win over evil, even when it was being sorely tested on me. DIRECTED by Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), this film festival winning live action drama adventure was gorgeous to watch. The sets and costumes were incredible. Starring Lily James (Wrath of the Titans, Downton Abbey-TV) as Cinderella, Cate Blanchett (The Monuments Men, Blue Jasmine) as the stepmother and Richard Marden (A Promise, Game of Thrones-TV) as the prince; they really embodied the essence of the characters I remembered from the animated film. It was obvious they really were striving to make a memorable movie. In fact it was reported when Lily would wear the blue ball gown she could only consume liquids, nothing solid because the outfit was so restrictive. I read Cate could not sit down in some of her outfits and had to lean up onto a slant board to rest between takes; so, I give the actresses extra points for pushing through in their roles. The beginning 20-30 minutes of the movie dragged for me and involved sadness. It has been so long since I saw the animated film that I could not remember if it had dealt with Cinderella’s loss the same way, if at all. My disappointment fell onto the script; I did not know if it was due to my expectations or my memories of previous films, but I needed more drama and passion. Though Cate was terrific, I wanted her to be more evil if that makes sense. It just seemed as if the filming and story were kept at a constant safe level. In my heart I was wishing this would have matched my feelings for the animated Disney film; I guess I can still dream.
2 3/4 stars
When the option is presented who would not want to repeat an experience that brought them pleasure previously? I know I certainly would want to do it. There are some places I return to when I take a vacation; the familiarity makes my transition from work mode to leisure time all the quicker. I have a few movie theaters that I prefer going to if I have the choice. Granted if there is a film I need to see that is only playing at a theater I am not fond of, you can be sure I will tough it up and go see it still. In regards to restaurants, when I find a meal that is good I will order it every time I return to the place. Where I am adventuresome in some areas, when it comes to food once I find something I like I can eat it over and over. I do not want to take a chance that I may not experience the same euphoria on a new meal that I could have had with my favorite. This type of thinking also plays into my feelings about movie sequels. If watching the first film was a great experience for me, I am hesitant about going to the sequel for fear of being disappointed. Sure there have been sequels that have been good or even better than the original, but I believe the majority of them tip to the side of being mediocre or a quick money grab by the movie studios. However, no need to worry with this animated adventure sequel; it was absolutely fantastic. After orchestrating a healthy relationship between vikings and dragons 5 years earlier Hiccup, voiced by Jay Baruchel (The Art of the Steal, This is the End), heads out with his dragon Toothless to find and hopefully change the mind of the the evil Drago, voiced by Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, Gladiator), who was determined to take control over all dragons. This action film was filled with amazing animation that worked beautifully with the fully developed story. Before I realized it was her, I was immediately captivated with the emotional voice of Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, The Lord of the Rings franchise) who voiced Valka. Gerald Butler (Olympus Has Fallen, Chasing Mavericks) reprised his rich voice for the character Stoick. Appropriate for the entire family, this picture was even better than the first one. I went through several emotional feelings while watching this wonderful film festival nominee. You can put your cares aside, take flight and join the wonderful world of dragons in this sequel. I hope they continue the franchise.
3 1/2 stars
Carefully with a crayon I would outline the picture in the coloring book, using a heavy hand. Once done I would shade in the different segments of the page. This was the way I created art when I was little. The first time I was taken to an art museum I was amazed by the artwork. Up until that time I was only familiar with paint by number paintings. It was not until I matured that I realized art was an expression or application of a human’s creative skills. Art pieces can move us to tears, laughter or reflection besides being a mirror to our souls. To this day I find it unsettling when a room has no art in it. I first became aware of the historical theft of famous masterpieces during World War II in the startling documentary, “The Rape of Europa” which I reviewed here some time ago. The idea of systematically stealing the world’s art treasures from museums, churches, even people’s homes was something I could barely comprehend. Whether you enjoy art or not; you would have to agree it plays an important part in a society’s culture. This dramatic action film was based on Robert M. Edsel’s book about a small group of artisans who were chosen to track down and retrieve stolen masterpieces, that were being amassed in Germany during World War II. George Clooney (Gravity, Up in the Air) wrote, directed and starred in this film. Playing Frank Stokes, it was his responsibility to bring together art experts and craftsmen from around the world, who would have to survive basic training before they could start their mission in Europe. Among the members he chose were Matt Damon (Elysium, The Departed) as James Granger, John Goodman (Argo, Inside Llewyn Davis) as Walter Garfield and Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom, Lost in Translation) as Richard Campbell. Now with a cast like this one would have to wonder if the movie was a drama or a comedy and this was one of my main issues with the story. The screenplay was dreadful; I did not understand why there were cheap bits of humor placed in what could have been a tense exciting film. Casting Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, Hanna) as Claire only proved that she was a better actor than the rest of the cast. I am afraid George Clooney took a light hand in creating this loose and confused movie. It really did not do justice to the actual people who saved the artwork and in turn saved a piece of our humanity. A couple of scenes had blood in them.
Something I have been saying for years is if you need a license to drive a car, then you need to get a license to have and take care of a child. I have not fathered any children, nor have anything against parenthood; I only base my statement on things I have seen throughout the years. When a baby is born they have a pure, blank slate. They do not know anything about racism, sexism, hatred or have preconceived opinions that are not based on reason or actual experiences. I have always been curious about this idea because it begs the question, “How do people get theses traits?” I do not mean to offend anyone nor be judgmental, but I have always felt it was the parent’s responsibility to teach their child to be an independent thinker. Maybe I should just say show them the difference between right and wrong. In regards to this action thriller, when I said a parent needs a license to raise a child I did not mean a license to kill. Saoirse Ronan (The Host,The Lovely Bones) played Hanna, who was raised in a remote area of Finland by her single dad Erik Heller, played by Eric Bana (Munich, Closed Circuit). Erik had spent years raising his daughter to be the perfect assassin before sending her out into the world. Once Hanna ventured out of their safe haven she soon discovered her father did not teach her everything a young girl should know. Not only did I think Saoirse did an excellent job of acting, but I was surprised with her fight scenes. They were well choreographed with clean straight forward action. To me Eric’s character was not a major role compared to Cate Blanchett’s (Blue Jasmine, Babel) role as Agent Marissa Wiegler. I really enjoyed Cate’s character. The story was a good idea; I liked the contrast of having a young innocent character being a lethal killer. What did not work was the screenplay; there were scenes that I found ridiculous, where I could not find any logical reason for them. In the case of this adventure film I think it could have used a license to make sense. There were a few scenes with violence and blood in them.
2 1/2 stars — DVD
A life lived without an honest acknowledgement of one’s history is like living in a 3 walled house; eventually, the weight of reality will come crashing down. I know for I have seen it happen. When a person runs away from their life’s history, taking on a new identity, the facade never lasts long. There was someone I dated a long time ago that never talked about their childhood, parents, or even hobbies. It soon became apparent that my interests were becoming their interests. I saw how they were molding themselves to my way of living and found it unsettling. Essentially they were creating a life for themselves that was dependent on me. The problem they ran into was when there was an issue or crisis, they were ill equipped to handle it; they would implode. The relationship soon ended as I found out later they started a brand new, different life. In a powerful Oscar worthy performance Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings franchise, The Aviator) played wealthy socialite Jasmine, a woman whose life crumbled apart upon the arrest of her crooked businessman husband Hal, played by Alec Baldwin (The Departed, It’s Complicated). With everything lost, Jasmine left New York for San Francisco to stay with her working class sister Ginger, played by Sally Hawkins (Made in Dagenham, Happy-Go-Lucky). Writer and director Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris, Match Point) has a knack for picking an ideal cast and letting them shine with their craft. Everyone in this drama was outstanding. Cate’s over the top brilliant performance was as perfect as it could be; she will be a front runner for the award races this year. I have never seen a poor performance from Sally and she was made to play Ginger. Besides the surprisingly excellent acting by Bobby Cannavale (Win Win, Parker) as Ginger’s boyfriend Chili; do not faint when I tell you comedian Andrew Dice Clay (Pretty in Pink, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane) as Ginger’s ex-husband Augie was living real in his role. I thought the switching of scenes from current to past events would be annoying; but instead, it gave them more intensity. There may not have been a lot of laughs but Woody’s script had a wonderful rhythm to it. This was a fascinating story about the lives people try to create for themselves.
3 1/2 stars