IS THERE ANYONE WHO DOES NOT wonder where those stains and marks come from in a hotel room? I for one cannot ignore them when I see them. This is why I am never 100% comfortable when I am staying at a hotel. On a trip to the southwest I stayed at a hotel that was one of the tallest buildings in the city. When I walked into my room everything looked fine. Just like most hotels I have stayed in; this one had a bed, 2 nightstands, an armoire, a desk, an easy chair and a floor lamp. When I walked into the bathroom I was immediately horrified because there appeared to be a blood-stained streak on the shower curtain. My mind was flooded with scenarios that could have caused blood to get splattered in the bathroom. I was not going to attempt to clean it, nor could I simply ignore it. If that was not enough, I decided to relieve my bladder before going downstairs to request a room change. When I went to flush the toilet, the water gurgled inside the bowl but never flushed down; it looked as if the water was simmering close to a boil. I wasn’t about to wonder what was causing the toilet not to flush. The room and in turn the hotel creeped me out. ON ANOTHER TRIP I BOOKED A ROOM in this huge, old majestic hotel. I do not remember the year the building was constructed, but it was originally built as an apartment building. With terra cotta appointments on the façade and a lobby that looked like it came out of 1920’s detective story, I thought the hotel was cool looking. The elevators with jet black doors and silver trim creaked as they traveled up the floors, slightly unsteady like an elderly patient. When I walked into the room I was met by a wall that had worn-out flocked wallpaper. As soon as one entered the room they had to make an immediate right turn to go into the living space. It appeared the original apartments must have been carved up to form the hotel rooms; the room had odd shaped corners and the bathroom door nearly grazed the toilet bowl when it was being closed. There was something about the hotel that made me think about the original residences who must have resided here earlier. During my stay little things happened such as the lightbulb burning out and the water faucet groaning whenever it was turned on. I stayed there despite the odd sounds and my concerns for my safety and hygiene. But I will tell you this; I would rather stay in either of the hotels I mentioned than the one in this mystery thriller. A GROUP OF STRANGERS CHECKED INTO the El Royale but not all of them would check out. This dramatic crime film starred Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) as Father Daniel Flynn, Cynthia Erivo (Widows, Mr. Selfridge-TV) as Darlene Sweet, Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, A Bigger Splash) as Emily Summerspring, Jon Hamm (Baby Driver, Million Dollar Arm) as Laramie Seymour Sullivan and Chris Hemsworth (Thor franchise, 12 Strong) as Billy Lee. I enjoyed the cast and the diversity of the characters they portrayed. This picture had a great look to it with a smoldering script, which allowed every actor a chance in the spotlight. I also liked the way the pieces of the story fit together; however halfway through I started to get bored. It seemed as if scenes were written with less detail and emotion. Sometimes it appeared shocking twists were put in for the sake of shocking the viewer. For me this was not as much of a thriller as a slow burn and I had no desire to book a room at this hotel.
2 ¼ stars
AN INCREDIBLE EVENT RECENTLY TOOK place that I was fortunate enough to witness. You may have experienced something like it already but for me it was my first time. In the past I have attended special events where family was present. A baptism, bar mitzvah, wedding and other such type of events where there were relatives from two different families. Usually the 2 families sit separately; for example, the custom for weddings is the bride’s side sits on the right and the groom’s family sits on the left. That divide, as far as I can tell, remains throughout the dinner and reception. People who know the groom all sit together as does the bride’s family and friends. Honestly, I get it and am not judging it; however, that divide that started with the wedding aisle continues into the night. Here is where I have seen people judging those from the “other side.” I have heard guests commenting on clothing, physical features and dance moves; gratefully not all of them were negative, some were complimentary. My point though is I was a witness to an event where both sides blended together; all coming together to celebrate both the bride and groom. BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER THE WEDDING ceremony guests from both families were mingling with each other. I heard people sharing stories about the bride and/or the groom to explain their connection to the happy couple. Each tidbit of anecdotal information was being pieced together to form this loving blanket of cherished memories. I was impressed with the amount of love guests were displaying over these two young people who were about to be joined in marriage. To give you an example, in all the weddings I have attended I have never danced with the mother from the other family. After dinner I was on the dance floor and the mother came up to dance with me. Maybe this is not unusual for you, but for me it was a new experience. When it was time to lift the bride and groom in the air for a cheer, each of them had equal family representation underneath holding up their chairs. The entire evening went on like this; every person was there celebrating together for a common goal—to wish the newlyweds a happy, long life. So, you see it is possible to get different sides to work together for a common purpose or goal. Great things can come out of this type of partnership; see what happens in this action adventure film. WITH THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE falling piece by piece into Thanos’, played by Josh Brolin (Only the Brave, Old Boy), hand; it would take more than one group of fighters to attempt to thwart his mad plan. This fantasy, science fiction movie also starred Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge, Due Date) as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth (12 Strong, Blackhat) as Thor, Elizabeth Olsen (Wind River, Ingrid Goes West) as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlett Witch and Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight, Foxcatcher) as Bruce Banner/Hulk. I am guessing this picture cost a fortune to make because the production values were top notch. The special effects, the massive cast and the script each contributed to creating a huge spectacular. Josh was so good in this role; it was the first time I could recall a movie villain being a thoughtful, emotional character instead of just some evil being bent on destroying things. Where I thought the last Thor film installment had too much humor in it, this one had the perfect blend. If you are not familiar with the Marvel universe there is a chance you might get lost in this movie. The other issue I had was the way the picture ended; it was obvious this film only told ½ the story. I believe we will have to wait until May 2019 to find out what happens. At 2 hours and 29 minutes this film was long to sit through, but time for the most part went by fast. This was an almost perfect blend of different franchise characters coming together for one common purpose. There was one extra scene at the end of the credits.
3 ½ stars
THERE WERE THESE BLACK AND yellow booklets/study guides I remember you could buy at a bookstore, which some folk a/k/a students used in lieu of reading an entire book. For example if a student was assigned the novel Moby Dick or Great Expectations, they could buy the study guide of the book. I have to say these booklets were an interesting idea because they did help in one’s ability to understand what they had read in the actual book. This would be beneficial if one had to write a book report or do an oral presentation of a novel. However to only read the bumblebee colored study guide would not give you the full richness of the story. Taking Moby Dick as an example, the description of the story in the booklet would be something like, “A fisherman is determined to catch a big fish.” The study guide would not give one the depth of each character with all the nuances and mannerisms of them. I believe they were only supposed to enhance the reading experience, not be a substitute for the novel. NOW PERSONALLY I HAD SEVERAL of these study guides and not to sound like a “goody two shoes,” but I needed them to help me comprehend some of the passages I had read in several assigned books. Being a slow reader there were times I barely could finish a book before my book report was due. When I read a novel the imagery the author is creating appears right before my eyes. I feel as if I am right there with the characters. For me this is what I feel the reading experience should provide the reader. If an image cannot form I have a hard time connecting to the story; something every author wants to avoid. Another way of describing these study guides is to say they are the same meal as the original novel less the spices and condiments. As I was watching this action drama film based on a true story, I felt like I was missing some of the ingredients. SOON AFTER THE ATTACK ON the World Trade Center an elite group of soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan for a secret operation. All of their military training did not prepare them for riding into a battle on horseback. Starring Chris Hemsworth (In the Heart of the Sea, Rush) as Captain Mitch Nelson, Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Take Shelter) as Hal Spencer, Michael Pena (End of Watch, American Hustle) as Sam Diller, Navid Negahban (Charlie Wilson’s War, Homeland-TV) as General Dostum and Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight, Lady Luck) as Ben Milo; the actors needed a better script. The story itself was pretty unbelievable I have to say; from that aspect I was in step with this film. The fight scenes were intense and honestly the outcomes were somewhat shocking to me. However the script went from one battle to another to the point I felt I was just watching several videos of the soldiers’ battles. I never really knew the men’s motivations let alone their connections to each other. There were only a couple of scenes where I felt an emotional connection. In a way this picture reminded me of another war film that was shown in the past year or so, that was mostly tension with little story. Now I do not want to downplay the historical aspect of this story, but the script could not lift it to the level it needed to be in urgent importance. Based on this movie I would have rather seen a documentary about the unbelievable feat these soldiers endured.
2 ¼ 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.
They share similar features, have the same inflection in their voice, with mannerisms that are alike, even from the same gene pool; yet they are nothing like each other. This is something that has always fascinated me: the similarities and differences between siblings. I always wanted to figure out what were the factors that caused brothers and sisters to turn out the way they did when they were from the same parents. One of the obvious things to me was the birthing order because I strongly believe there is unique baggage in being an older, middle or younger sibling. I have seen families who blatantly treated their first born child differently compared to their 2nd born. From the people I know who were the youngest of their siblings I know some people claim this group was spoiled the most by their parents. I do not totally agree with this; I just think by the time the youngest of at least 3 children have been born, the parents were too tired to care about the same things they once did with their older children. Personally I am not a fan of dressing up one’s children in the same clothing; I feel it takes a bit away from a child’s identity. Now when siblings display strong reactions towards each other, I have to wonder what took place in their childhood that caused such negative feelings towards each other. It is so perplexing to me that I notice when I am introduced socially to new people I tend to ask them at some point if they have any siblings. You should hear some of the responses I have gotten, but nothing that matches the siblings’ story in this fantasy adventure drama. AFTER suffering a horrific loss Freya, played by Emily Blunt (Sicario, Into the Woods), decided to leave her older sister Ravenna, played by Charlize Theron (Young Adult, Mad Max: Fury Road), and stake out her own land where she would be the sole ruler. Her kingdom would have one major law: falling in love was not allowed. The special effects in this action film were certainly fun to watch with the actors. Besides Charlize and Emily there was Chris Hemsworth (In the Heart of the Sea, Thor franchise) as Eric and Jessica Chastain (Crimson Peak, A Most Violent Year) as Sara. I was stoked to see this cast especially in the fight scenes; however, the dull script ruined the already poorly thought out story. I could not believe two actresses like Emily and Charlize were not given more powerful dramatic scenes that they could easily have handled. With the multiple story lines I do not know if this picture was a prequel or sequel; it was totally baffling to me. The writers and director could have created a wild fantasy franchise but for me this movie was a bust. I do not know about you, but I have seen more sparks and drama at a family dysfunction.
1 ¾ stars
One single seed over time can create a bodacious garden. All it takes is nourishment, encouragement and tenderness. The same holds true for writing a story. A kernel of a memory, truth or experience is all that is needed for the writer. My first published story was about me and my friends’ experiences selling door to door a variety of kitchen and houseware products for a charity. It started out with an incident one of my friend’s had, where he spent the rest of the day walking with me on my route. I took that event and created several companion pieces to accompany it in a series of sales stories told from different perspectives. Just recently a friend called me up after reading one of my reviews, asking me who I was writing about since they could not place me in my opening commentary. I had to remind them of the incident that caused me such anguish. Now I am sure there have been times where you read a story and were curious to know if there was any truth to it; I know I do it all the time. When I am writing each character I have a voice for them I hear in my head. Some of the voices are actual people I have heard while others were made up. I would love to know how authors come up with their stories. To hear the truth behind some of the classics or best sellers would be amazing. Having read the novel Moby Dick 3 times, I had no idea it was based on a true story; in turn, I was excited to see this movie. Herman Melville, played by Ben Whishaw (Spectre, Suffragette), was desperate to talk to Tom Nickerson, played by Brendan Gleeson (Harry Potter franchise, Gangs of New York), the last survivor of the New England whaling ship, the Essex. Tom’s unbelievable story about the destruction of the Essex would be the catalyst for Herman to write the story Moby Dick. This action adventure had huge special effects to match the size of the story. There were times I was trying to figure out how the scene was even done; they looked spectacular. With Chris Hemsworth (Rush, Thor franchise) as Owen Chase and Benjamin Walker (The War Boys, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) as George Pollard, there were two things happening in this biographical film. There was Herman listening to Tom for one story line and then there was Owen and George hunting for whales in the 1820s. I preferred watching Herman and Tom. Their acting and story was more memorable to me. Owen’s tale was too choppy; I felt it dragged in places, in others it just seemed ridiculous. It lacked emotion in my opinion. Honestly, I could see this script being a Broadway musical and working better than it did on film. Nonetheless I was fascinated with the story that was the impetus for the classic novel Moby Dick.
2 1/4 stars
When I used to hear the word vacation I knew that meant we were taking a road trip. My preparation consisted of getting the latest comic books, magazines, along with plenty of snacks; what clothes to bring was less important to me. With the entire back seat of the car as my living space throughout the trip, I could stretch out and nap when there was nothing interesting to see out the car windows. I not only have hundreds of fond memories from those road trips, but I can recall all the not so nice things that I experienced going across the country. For example there was the trip we took to Florida where the driver was the son of family friends. He wanted to take the shortest amount of time to get to our destination so bathroom breaks were scheduled based on time not need. There was one long stretch where I started to cry because I had to use the bathroom so badly. There was another trip where we planned to stop overnight so we could rest up and arrive for lunch the next day at our destination. Unfortunately the motel we had reservations at had mice and cockroaches leading us down the hallway towards our room. We did not even bother making it to our room before turning around and leaving that place. Oh and I cannot forget the motel room that had a bathroom that looked like a crime scene. Vacations should not have to be hard; someone needed to tell the family in this adventure comedy. HOPING to give his family the same fond memories he experienced when he was a kid Rusty Griswold, played by Ed Helms (The Hangover franchise, Cedar Rapids), decided he was going to take the family on a vacation to Walley World. There certainly was going to be a lot of memories made from this road trip. This story was not a sequel or reboot; what it did was take the character of Rusty from the original film and have him be an adult with a family of his own. Christina Applegate (Hall Pass, Anchorman franchise) played Rusty’s wife Debbie. Five minutes into the picture and I was immediately turned off by the story. Essentially the writers tried to make jokes out of the younger son bullying his older brother and I found it offensive. This went on for over half of the film and I did not find it funny at all. The rest of the jokes consisted of crude bathroom humor and dull sight gags. The only plus in this movie was Leslie Mann (The Other Woman, This is 40) and Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers franchise, Rush) as Audrey and Stone Crandall. If I had known I would have put in a 60 hour work week instead of taking time to go see this boring film.
1 1/2 stars
The most important thing for some people is to maintain appearances. It is all about being a dutiful son, obedient daughter or the perfect family member; one must never air their dirty laundry, letting others see any cracks within the family unit. There was a family I knew that had a son and daughter. The two siblings never got along and would act out in some outrageous ways with no regard to personal or commercial property. Inside their home there were the usual scuff marks on the walls and floors. However there were a few unexplained holes in the walls too. If anyone visiting asked about the holes the stock answer given was a delivery man knocked into the wall. Regarding the siblings’ teacher/student conferences, whenever the parents were questioned about their children’s behavior they would blankly stare and say everything was fine at home. I never understood this type of logic, where people think it is better to just smile and say everything is fine than talking issues out. Just because family members may have some troubles between them does not mean they are no longer a unified family unit. Besides, don’t people root for those who come to terms with their issues, who reveal their real selves flaws and all? UNBEKNOWNST to the other Avengers Tony Stark/Ironman and Bruce Danner/Hulk, played by Robert Downey Jr (The Judge, The Soloist) and Mark Ruffalo (Now You See Me, Foxcatcher), were working on a new technology that would help and maintain world peace. Instead it would facilitate the destruction of mankind. This action science fiction sequel had a lot of pressure to live up to its predecessor. What made this adventure film fun was the returning cast and their ability to do justice to the smartly written script. There was just the right amount of sarcasm, wittiness, pathos and excitement to keep the viewer entertained. A perfect example would be Robert Downey Jr’s character. His timing which was as impeccable as Jarvis’ (Tony Stark’s virtual assistant) diction was great when he had to deliver one of the clever quips or jokes. The cast really worked well together like a family, but I want to give an extra shout out to Mark Ruffalo and newcomer Elizabeth Olsen (Oldboy, In Secret) as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. These two had a strong impact across the screen due to their acting abilities with their given lines. Now to the crux of why this sequel worked; the characters were allowed to show their flaws and insecurities; they were more real to us where we could sympathize with them. Personally I enjoyed the 1st film more than this one. Yes the action scenes were intense, the special effects were good and James Spader (Lincoln, Boston Legal-TV) was perfect as the voice of Ultron; but the story was a little too long and there was a feeling of familiarity, a sense of deja vu. However, by letting the characters show more of their baggage and flaws, I only wanted to root for them more. There was one extra scene in the middle of the ending credits.
There is a feeling of anxious anticipation many of us experience when our budding romantic interest says they will call or see us later. The heart trips over the flow of excited joy as the mind tries to recall if there are any commitments on your mental calendar. You want to be available and you want to be ready when you see or hear from them again. But as the days pass without any sign from them, all of the excitement dives into a vat of thick, questioning self-doubt. You start picking at every detail from the previous meeting, seeking out a reason why they have not called you. It can turn into a vicious cycle that very few people are immune from. Even if your boyfriend is a super hero it can still happen; just ask Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman (No Strings Attached, Brothers), who was waiting for 2 years. In this action adventure sequel there was a reason why Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers, Rush), did not come back to see Jane. He was busy trying to establish order in the nine realms. But when an ancient race of beings lead by Malekith, played by Christopher Eccleston (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Amelia), sought to convert the realms into their world; Thor had a good reason why he had not called Jane. I am being silly to match the silliness that was in this fantasy film. It was too much for me. I would have preferred a little more seriousness interjected into some of the scenes to make them more dramatic. Though the returning cast was okay for the most part, the scene stealer was Tom Hiddleston (War Horse, Midnight in Paris) as Loki. He had the strongest presence out of everyone, including Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock,The Wolfman) as Odin. What lost it for me was the jumbled story line. The jumping back and forth between dimensions, if that is even what they were, was too confusing. I felt it took some excitement away from the fight scenes. It was a shame because I really liked the great stylish look to the movie. In a way I guess I had been waiting for this sequel like it was a 2nd date. Too bad the anticipation for it was more exciting than the actual viewing. If you do watch this film, stay through both sets of credits.
2 2/3 stars
The racetrack had to have elaborate turns, at least one bridge, hills and a long stretch of flat road. These were my requirements when I would set up my slot car racing track when I was a kid. Back then it was all about the speed; how fast could I navigate the course without the car spinning off the track. My interest in fast driving continued into adulthood; as long as I was behind the wheel I would get a thrill from driving. However, if I was in the passenger seat or a spectator I lost all interest. Because of that I have no desire to watch auto racing competitions; they leave me bored with their cars repeating the same track over and over into a monotonous blur of metal and sound. This is why it was all the more amazing to me how director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) got me totally interested in this action film based on a true story. The film followed the rivalry between 1970’s Formula 1 racing car drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor, Red Dawn) and Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds, Good Bye Lenin!). I do not know how accurate the depiction of hard partying British playboy James and no nonsense Austrian Niki were to the real men, but for this drama it worked in propelling the story forward. With Chris and Daniel playing the central figures the rest of the cast was left in the background. Olivia Wilde (Drinking Buddies, In Time) as James’ 1st wife Suzy Miller was forgettable for the most part; but Niki’s wife Marlene Lauda, played by Alexandra Maria Lara (Downfall, Youth Without Youth), had more staying power. If I had not known this was a Ron Howard film I would have never guessed he was the director; the film had a fast pace with quick editing shots that made me dizzy at times. Action and speed were the main drivers (get it?) for this story which did not allow much time for character development. The CGI effects were seamless to the point I was not even aware of them. I appreciated the different angles the director used in filming the racing scenes, from driver perspectives to overhead long shots. With the use of voice-overs, I felt the story was well rounded enough for the viewer to get a good sense of these championship drivers. I especially enjoyed the way the movie ended. Please do not tell the state police, but after the movie I made it home in record time. A few scenes had blood in them.