I BELIEVE IT IS SAFE to say all of us at one time or another will have to do something we do not want to do. Though I am not a fan of this word I would almost venture to say “something we hate to do.” There are some things that one does not like but has to do such as pay taxes, clean house, shovel snow and so on. My major dislike falls under home and car repairs; I am not handy and have a hard time dealing with repair people. However I know necessity overcomes distasteful, uncomfortable situations. Remembering my elementary school years, I can honestly say I always hated going to our 1st PE class after the summer break. Every year the gym teachers would use this day to weigh each student. Getting on the scale in front of the whole class was bad enough, but then to have the instructor loudly call out each weight to the student they picked to record it was humiliating. There was always snickers and giggles from several classmates when the weight was high. HATE TOOK ON A WHOLE different meaning the more I studied history. Where my dislike was more of an abstract type, like a procedure or function, the hatred I was seeing among human beings was ugly to me. To dislike or distrust someone because of their looks or differences was hard for me to comprehend. One of the things I noticed about hatred was its ability to draw in multiple individuals like a magnet, without them even questioning the validity of their new found hatred. In a warped way it evokes feelings concerning being left out if you know what I mean. It is a fear some people have where they are afraid they will be missing something or not be part of a group, which makes them act without thinking about what they are doing. I guess what I am trying to say is there are people who hate for hate’s sake. From my own experiences, I have seen two people hate each other for so long that they cannot remember why they started to hate each other in the first place; that is how blind and undiscriminating hate can be. If you are interested in seeing an example of what I am talking about then do see this film festival winning dramatic, adventure western. FORCED AGAINST HIS WILL Captain Joseph J. Blocker, played by Christian Bale (The Big Short, Out of the Furnace), was ordered to accompany and protect Chief Yellow Hawk, played by Wes Studi (Heat, The Last of the Mohicans), on his journey back to his homeland. Captain Blocker would rather have seen the chief dead. Set in the 1890s this film included actors Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, A United Kingdom) as Rosalie Quaid, Ben Foster (Hell or High Water, The Messenger)) as Sgt. Charles Wills and Scott Shepherd (Bridge of Spies, Side Effects) as Wesley Quaid. Watching this picture was akin to reading a book; it told a story from beginning to end. With incredible acting from Rosamund and Christian, these two elevated the sometimes uneven script. Beautifully filmed I found the story as relevant today as it was back then. I thoroughly enjoyed the way the script unfolded, never getting cheesy or preachy. There were times where the multiple silent scenes seemed to drag out the story longer than it needed to be; however, I felt the story carried some importance to it. In my opinion I cannot imagine someone hating this well acted, beautifully filmed picture.
LOOKING at him there was nothing that distinguished him differently from anyone else. The only thing one could say about him was his height; he was one of the tallest boys in the neighborhood. He was a friend of mine who lived across the street from me. What did make him stand out from everyone else in the neighborhood was his name. No one had a name even remotely close to his or anyone else in his family. Their last name as well as some of his siblings’ first names had so many syllables. As far as I knew no one really cared that they had unusual names compared to the rest of us in school. I remember at some point being told by him that his family was Armenian. It sounded so exotic and far away compared to the rest of the families on the block. This bit of information was treated more like a footnote; all it meant to our circle of friends was his family had traveled halfway across the world from a place none of us had ever heard about before. THROUGHOUT my schooling; I am talking elementary, high school and college; I cannot recall ever hearing or having a discussion about the historical events that were depicted in this dramatic movie. I do remember the events that led up to World War I started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. With World War II a prominent part of its history was the systematic extermination of people based on their faith, heritage, sexual orientation, among other distinctions. Regarding the First World War, I cannot recall part of its story involving a particular group of people targeted for elimination. Sitting through this film a part of me was shocked by the action taking place in several scenes. Not because it was especially graphic, gratefully it was not, but due to the historical significance that somehow was missing from my education. The story in this picture was something larger than what I had imagined. MEDICAL student Mikael Boghosian, played by Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), always wanted to be a doctor. The Ottoman Empire had other plans for the Armenian man. This film festival winning movie also starred Charlotte Le Bon (The Walk, The Hundred-Foot Journey) as Ana Khesarian, Christian Bale (The Fighter, The Big Short) as Chris Myers, Shohreh Aghdashloo (Rosewater, The Story of Soraya M.) as Marta Boghosian and Marwan Kenzari (Ben-Hur, Loft) as Emre Ogan. Oscar who I think is a gifted actor did not disappoint in this movie; however, Christian Bale was miscast. His role not only did not offer him much to work with, but was more involved with the 2nd story line that I found did not belong in this film. The culprit for this film not reaching full potential was the script. I get the idea studios believe a story needs a love interest, but the whole love triangle scenario in this story was a distraction. There were so many opportunities to mine dramatic intensity that instead was passed over to focus back on the relationship between the three main stars. It was sad because based on what I saw this picture really could have been memorable. After the film was over I had to stay seated and think about how extraordinary it was for my friend and his family to have been living across the street from me.
2 1/3 stars
My first piggy bank started out its life as a jar of chocolate syrup. With a lid that had a plastic bear’s head on top with a coin slot in back, once the syrup was gone and the jar washed I would save any money I would get inside of it. I had a total of 6 banks before I got a new type of bank; a metal rocket ship with a spring loaded docking port. Putting a coin on the catapult device, all I had to do was press the red launch button and the coin would be jettisoned into a slot just behind the rocket ship’s pilot cabin. As I got older all my change found its way to an actual bank with friendly tellers. I grew up in a time when banks were staffed by local residents; it was a place you could trust to hold your money and if lucky earn a little interest on those funds. As one bank started buying another bank which would then buy another bank, the small local banks became satellite locations for large nationwide banks. Some of the employees were replaced and though the new ones were friendly, it was a scripted friendliness as their goal was to sell you one of the bank’s new financial products. So they were not as personal as I remembered, but I still trusted them. It was not until later in life when I refinanced my place that I lost all trust with the banking institutions. And the fact that this happened around the same time as the story in this biographical film only made me angry all over again. FUND manager Dr. Michael Burry, played by Christian Bale (The Flowers of War, Public Enemies), discovered something that no one else realized about the housing market. The banks thought he was crazy. Based on Michael Lewis’ (The Blind Side, Moneyball) best seller, this comedic film festival winning drama had such a great cast that included Ryan Gosling (Gangster Squad, Half Nelson) as Jared Vennett and Steve Carell (Freeheld, Foxcatcher) as Mark Blum. I have a new appreciation for Steve’s dramatic acting abilities. The script was laced with numerous funny moments as three stories were running parallel to each other. What I found to be a brilliant stroke of genius was the way the writers used plain talking speech in a humorous setting to explain some of the business products and practices discussed in this film. In fact, I learned more from this excellent movie than numerous articles and publications I have read about the economy. Now before you say you get bored when people start talking about business, let me tell you this film kept things interesting, moving along with the help of the film editor and director; there was not a dull moment. However, there is a chance you may get angry after you see what took place in this well done picture.
3 1/2 stars
I am not sure if the word is “refreshed” or “encouraged” when it comes to how I feel when I see an act of kindness. There are many incidents where I see or experience rudeness, meanness or hatefulness; so when I see someone doing an act of kindness it really stands out for me. Even with horrific news that gets reported these days, sometimes an act of kindness comes out in the middle of it. Recently I heard about a person who was dealing with a life threatening disease. Before they went into the hospital for surgery they were comforting their significant other, telling them everything would be okay. I was touched by such a selfless act. Of course if the person had always been kind, it would not be a surprise. However, it would be a bigger surprise if the person who did the act of kindness was not considered a nice person. There was an employee I used to work with who was so miserable that you would get a sour taste in your mouth if you were just near them. They never engaged in a friendly conversation; heck, they barely made eye contact with you if you had to talk business with them. Imagine the shock all the employees felt when there was an article in the local papers about this particular employee’s generous contributions made to a shelter. None of us could believe it. I guess one could say never judge a book by its cover; but I have to tell you, when situations like this come up it does give me hope. MORTICIAN John Miller, played by Christian Bale (The Dark Knight franchise, The Fighter), arrived in the city of Nanking, China just as Japanese forces staged an invasion. His main task now would be to stay alive. This historical drama was a Golden Globe nominee and film festival winner. I was familiar with the story, having seen it in documentaries; books and news articles. The invasion was brutal; in turn, there were several tough scenes in this film. Christian did a very good job of acting, as did Ni Ni (Back in Time, Up in the Wind) as Yu Mo and relative newcomer Xinyi Zhang as Shu. Maybe it was challenging to tell this story in a way that would keep the viewer’s interest, but I found it disjointed. It would go from torturous scenes to poignant ones. I was disappointed because the cinematography at times was stunning; though I must say I felt some of the scenes used too much blood if you know what I mean. On any level I think this would have been a challenging story to transform onto film; however, it was obvious there was much thought put into this one. Despite its shortcomings I was surprised by the turn of events in this war film that had its own sense of hope. There were multiple scenes where Mandarin and Japanese were spoken with English subtitles.
2 1/3 stars — DVD
Taken out from a religious context what does the phrase, “Let my people go,” bring to mind? For me it is Charlton Heston playing Moses in the film, The Ten Commandments. I was too young to understand everything about the movie, but several of its iconic scenes have been etched inside of my brain. It would be inconceivable to me to find someone who saw this film prior to the creation of current CGI effects, who was not struck with awe by the parting of the Red Sea. I can remember when we studied that time period in school; I would get confused when the lesson did not match what I remembered in the picture. There are just some films that remain with us for our entire life and this was one of them. So here was my dilemma: could I watch and review this dramatic adventure film without being biased. SURPRISINGLY I was able to sit through most of the action scenes without thinking about Charlton or Yul Brynner. The main reason was due to the special effects; the scope and expanse of the scenes were nearly overwhelming for me. I sat in my seat with stunned surprise at the amount of people used and especially the vast visual depth to the scenes. On a visual basis this film was beautiful, even though the 3D effects did not do much for me. Christian Bale (American Hustle, The Fighter) was excellent playing Moses as was Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty) who played Ramses. However, Joel must have realized the script was quickly tanking as he became more of a caricature as the movie progressed. Directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, American Gangster), this film was all surface with no substance. I was saddened on how quickly I became bored with the uneven script that at times would be wonderful then quickly turn dreadful, especially due to the modern macho vibe. Though there was variety with the cast, I thought Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Iron Man 3) as Nun and Sigourney Weaver (The Cabin in the Woods, Avatar) as Tuya were utterly wasted in this mess. I believe a good portion of the fault was due to having four writers working on the script. There was never a time where I felt emotionally moved by a scene. And of all scenes not able to stir me, the parting of the sea was such an anticlimactic moment for me. I wished the time spent on creating a visual feast would have gone more into the script; I was looking down at my watch a couple of times, which is never a good sign. To give the benefit of the doubt, maybe there are certain stories/movies that should never be remade. I am not sure; but with our technical prowess in special effects, if the movie studio would have spent more energy on the script this would have been a modern epic.
2 1/4 stars
One would think with my love of movies I would see a favorite film more than once. In all honesty it happens very rarely. If there is a movie I just have to own, I will see the film again when I buy the DVD. As far as I can remember, I think there are only 4 movies I have seen twice while they were still playing at the theater. One of those films was The Sting with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. If I were reviewing movies back then I would have given this film a 4 star rating. Everything from the acting to directing to the music was as close to perfect as possible. Now the reason I brought up this film was because this crime film reminded me of The Sting. From writer and director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter) this film festival winning movie was loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal from the 1970’s, which was an FBI sting operation against public corruption. Forty pound heavier Christian Bale (Out of the Furnance, American Psycho) and Amy Adams (Man of Steel, Enchanted) played con artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser. Forced into service by ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, The Words), they discovered their lives could be at risk when some dangerous individuals suddenly became involved. The first thing in this Golden Globe nominated movie that reminded me of The Sting was its story. Besides both being about a sting operation, the story had several twists and surprises. The next thing that was similar was the unbelievable, amazing acting. Everyone in this film held their own with their terrific acting skills. One of the youngest actors in the cast gave such an astounding performance that she should get nominated for an Oscar. That actress was Jennifer Lawrence who played Irving’s alcoholic wife Rosalyn Rosenfeld. I thought her young age would be a hinderance in playing this role, but that was not the case. However, Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, North Country) who played Mayor Carmine Polito looked too young for the part. His acting was first rate, but I felt he needed to look older for the part. Everyone in this dramatic film had equal amounts of screen presence which carried me through the couple of parts I found to be slow. With a little more editing the already fantastic dialog would have been ideal for me. The music and sets were perfect for the times. This movie certainly will get a couple of Oscar nominations and is definitely worth seeing. Now that I have seen it I have this urge to see The Sting again.
3 2/3 stars
In our everyday life things we don’t know do not necessarily cause us stress or anxiety. In a math class, there may be an unknown variable in an equation you must figure out. Maybe you have an appointment in a part of the city that is not familiar to you or you were invited to a party where you do not know what type of gift to buy for the host. As I said before, these scenarios should not be too stressful for you. Now if the unknown is the whereabouts of a loved one that would be a different story. I have been fortunate not to have experienced such an awful thing. When newscasts report on a missing child or relative, they usually show family members in distress. Days or weeks can go by without any news and the relatives just want to know what happened to their loved ones. This type of scenario was the premise for this dramatic crime thriller. Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, Gerry) played Iraqi war veteran Rodney Baze Jr. Experiencing a hard adjustment to life back home, in the small steel mill town, Rodney could not find employment except for some clandestine fighting matches. When he did not return from one of his matches his older brother Russell, played by Christian Bale (American Psycho, The Prestige), could not wait for the local police to find him. He took matters into his own hands. From the start, this intense film created heaviness within me. It felt as if each scene was created to convey a sense of resigned depression. The cinematography which was beautiful further helped convey those feelings. As for the acting it was subtly superb by Christian and Casey. Then there was Woody Harrelson (Rampart, No Country for Old Men) playing Harlan DeGroat. He was as wickedly sinister as he has every been. I also thought Willem Dafoe (The Hunter, The English Patient) was perfect for his role as John Petty. The disappointment in this film festival winner came from the script. I found it weak as it lost steam by the end. If the actors’ incredible acting had a stronger screenplay, this movie would have been close to a 4 stars rating. Instead I left the theater knowing I had seen a great cast, but not knowing what the writers were thinking when they wrote the screenplay. There were scenes that had violence and blood in them.
2 3/4 stars