I HEARD THE MOST OUTRAGEOUS STORY recently. It was told during a dinner party. In one of the departments of a mid-sized company there were approximately a dozen co-workers. Besides the usual annoyances and bickering that can take place at work, most of the employees got along with each other. However, there was one employee who strongly disliked one of her co-workers; though, no one in the office could tell. This person felt she was slighted by her co-worker, but those facts were not available. Let me call this person Carol, though that is not her real name. One day Carol’s co-worker came into the office and found a small gift-wrapped package on her desk. There was a note attached that only said, “To someone who makes me happy.” The co-worker, who I will call Deb, was stunned. When she opened the box there was a small scented candle. Deb asked her co-workers if they saw who put the gift on her desk, but no one saw anything. A week went by and another gift with another message signed, “Your secret admirer” showed up. It was a mystery because no one came forward to claim they were the one leaving gifts and cards for Deb. That is because Carol was doing it just to drive Deb crazy and make her think there was someone in the company who liked her. After several weeks of doing this Carol stopped, but never told Deb she was the one leaving gifts as a joke. WHEN I HEARD THIS STORY, I could not believe someone would take the time to do such a thing to annoy one of their fellow workers. If that had been done to me, I would have driven myself crazy trying to find out the mystery and who was behind it. Gratefully, I do not work with such an employee and have to wonder what would motivate someone to do such a thing. The more I thought about that story, it suddenly occurred to me that entire scenario could have easily been a scene out of that old board game where players receive clues to try and figure out the mystery. I remember relatives trying to teach me the game, but I was not catching on to it. The reason being was those family members were experienced in playing the game, so just gave me quick directions before we started playing it. They had to tell me what to do as we were playing it and it only frustrated me more. However, if the scenario had been like the story in this film festival winning movie, I would have quickly gotten into playing it. WHEN THE FAMOUS MYSTERY WRITER HARLAN Thrombey, played by Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World, Beginners), was found dead in his mansion; the only people who had been around him were his family members. It would take a super sleuth to try and figure out this mystery. With Daniel Craig (Logan Lucky, Cowboys & Aliens) as Benoit Blanc, Chris Evans (Gifted, Captain America franchise) as Ransom Drysdale, Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049, Overdrive) as Marta Cabrera and Jamie Lee Curtis (A Fish Called Wanda, True Lies) as Linda Drysdale; this comedic, crime drama was exciting to view. The script was twisted and funny which allowed the actors to have fun with their characters. I enjoyed the twists and turns as the writer took delight in testing the viewers’ ability to figure out the mystery. Keep in mind, I am not one to try and figure out what will happen; I live in the moment and let the story unfold in front of me. This picture provided great entertainment for me as I tried to look at every detail so I could guess the reason behind the mysterious death.
3 2/3 stars
IF THERE IS SUCH A survey then I do not know about it. I am curious to see; when asked, how many children want to grow up and be like their parents? Back from my school days I remember reading a book that focused on parents who were toxic. Several of the families that were discussed in the book were shocking to me. There was a set of parents who had two sons. The older son committed suicide using a shotgun. For Christmas the following year, the parents gave their remaining son the same shotgun as a gift. What sort of message do you think that mother and father were trying to convey to their only remaining child? I still remember this example from all these years and have wondered from time to time whatever happened to that younger son. My guess would be he never wanted to grow up and be just like his parents. Now on the other hand, this past week I read that Heinrich Himmler’s daughter died recently. He was the architect of the Holocaust and she became known as the “Nazi Princess.” She denied the existence of the Holocaust, even after visiting a concentration camp. It sounds like she chose to grow up and be like her Dad. ANOTHER ASPECT ABOUT THE CHILD/parent relationship I find fascinating is the similar traits that get established. I am not talking about the physical features; my interest is in the mannerisms, such as speech patterns, movement and quirks. I knew a family that had 2 children. Assuming both kids were treated equally, only the older child had the same mannerisms as the father; the younger one had no similar traits to either parent. This makes me wonder if there is something genetic that scientists have not discovered yet. Of course, I have considered learned traits; but certain things show me that may not always be the case. I have wondered if a child who has the same tastes in food as a parent was trained to be that way or maybe they came to their own decisions based on their own taste buds. Possibly they received the same genes as their parent when it came to their perceptions of flavors. The whole parent/child relationship thing is such a minefield in many ways. It reminds me of this line I heard a psychiatrist say once, “Just because they birthed you does not mean you have to love them.” I certainly thought of this while watching this comedic drama. DUE TO HER FATHER BEING kicked out of his nursing home Laura, played by Vera Farmiga (The Commuter, Up in the Air) was forced to drive cross country to drop him off at her sister’s place. Little did she know there were going to be some unexpected stops. This film festival nominee starred Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World, A Beautiful Mind) as Jack Jaconi, Lewis MacDougall (A Monster Calls, Pan) as Henry, Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future franchise, The Addams Family franchise) as Stanley and Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man, Blue Jasmine) as Leonard. The acting was good overall but Christopher’s was exceptional. I enjoyed the dynamics that were created between him and Vera in this story. There were a few powerful scenes between them. Unfortunately, the script did not provide something new to this estranged family story that I have seen done before. It was not too hard to figure out where the story was going most of the time. Adding in the repetitive scenarios of Laura being upset, I soon found myself getting periodically bored at times. This movie is proof that a family’s dysfunction can be handed down from generation to generation.
2 1/3 stars
WHEN IS ENOUGH, SIMPLY enough? One of my business subscriptions sends a supplemental edition focused on real estate, that I always glance through to check out the photo spreads of high end residences. I am amazed by the amount of money, I assume, that must have been spent on these places. Sure I understand it cost more to buy a place that is on the higher floors of a building or has a coastal/mountain view; but some of the upgrades I have seen border on the ridiculous in my opinion. Seriously, how important is it to have an extra long sofa covered in an elaborate, expensive fabric or bathroom fixtures that are gold plated; do they really make a difference in one’s comfort and hygiene? I find it ridiculous just because a person is wealthy; they feel they need to show off their wealth. You would not believe some of the places that are highlighted in my subscription. The fact they are even being put on display tells me something about the owners, unless they are trying to sell their property. JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE HAS a vast amount of money does not make them smarter or more thoughtful in my opinion. I have noticed some people who are rich feel they are entitled, more important than anyone else around them. I knew this person who was quite successful; having started out in humble beginnings, they overcame the obstacles before them and amassed a sizable fortune. For all their hard work they deserved it and I had no issue with their success. However, the more money they made the more they would voice their opinions on everyone else’s daily life; whether it was personal or business problems it did not matter. They would expound on all the things they felt everyone else “should” be doing to better themselves. I do not know about you but I took offense at their behavior. Having money does not give a person a license to dictate to others about how they should be living their lives. If you want to see what I am talking about then feel free to watch the powerful performances in this biographical, crime drama. WHEN KIDNAPERS CONTACTED GAIL Harris, played by Michelle Williams (The Greatest Showman, Blue Valentine), about her son; the ransom amount was way beyond her means, but not for her ex-father-in-law J. Paul Getty, played by Christopher Plummer (The Insider, The Man Who Invented Christmas). However Mr. Getty was not one to part easily with his money and Gail did not have the time to negotiate a price on her son’s life. With Mark Wahlberg (Deepwater Horizon, Daddy’s Home franchise) as Fletcher Chase, Charlie Plummer (King Jack, Lean on Pete) as John Paul Getty III and Romain Duris (Heartbreaker, The Beat That My Heart Skipped) as Cinquanta; the acting by Michelle and Christopher was outstanding. I will say Mark was somewhat better in this role, but he still came across as the same type of character that he has done in previous movies. Set in Rome during the 1970s, this story inspired by true events kept my interest as it weaved its way through some harsh and tense moments to despair. The pursuit scenes were well done to the point where I was feeling a sense of dread waiting for the outcomes. My only issue with this film was the lack of connection between some of the characters, making some of the scenes feel disjointed. The story really was amazing and reminded me of a phrase I have used in the past when someone was being cheap: you never see an armored car following a hearse to the cemetery.
ONLY FOR A MOMENT did I catch a glimpse of a shadow against the wall before it retreated. I quickly changed directions and walked away from the alleyway. Purposely I tried keeping my footsteps quiet by taking little steps with the soles of my shoes rolling from heel to toe against the pavement. It did not help as I heard a rustling sound behind me. Darting into a gangway between two apartment buildings, I saw each of them had wrought iron fire escapes that mirrored each other. They looked like origami figurines with a limb reaching out to grab me. Walking up to one of the fire escapes I grabbed a hold of the bottom rung of a ladder that easily gave way for me to pull it far down enough for me to hoist myself onto it. Quickly I made my way up to the first floor and cowered against the building in a crevice of a black area the nearby street lamp could not reach. The dark shadow I had seen lengthened down the alley towards my location. A looming figure attached to the shadow came into view… WHAT YOU JUST READ was something out of my imagination. I apologize if you wanted to find out what happened next, but that scenario never took place. However I will tell you as I was writing it I was looking at it as if it really did take place. You see whenever I write a piece of fiction I see everything in my mind first and then it appears before my eyes. My own version of virtual reality I guess you can call it. In fact I have been accused of not paying attention in class or when someone is speaking directly to me because I do not maintain constant eye contact; I actually am listening to them and picturing what they are telling me. When I think about it I have always had this capability, even before I found my fondness for writing; all that was needed was an imagination. Being a visual learner I certainly can attest to the benefits of visualization. What a surprise it was to see Charles Dickens did the same thing in this comedic drama. DISAPPOINTED WITH HIS RECENT works Charles Dickens, played by Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, Downton Abbey-TV), was desperate to overcome his writer’s block and produce a successful story for the holidays. All he needed to do was look at the people around him. This film festival winning movie based on a true story also starred Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, A Beautiful Mind) as Ebenezer Scrooge, Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Game of Thrones-TV) as John Dickens, Simon Callow (Amadeus, Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Leech and Miriam Gargoyles (The Age of Innocence, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) as Mrs. Fisk. The idea for this story was a new twist on the Christmas Carol story. I enjoyed watching the process Charles Dickens went through to create his iconic story. The acting was a mixed bag for me; I thought Christopher Plummer far outshined Dan in this biographical film. At times I thought the humor was a bit much, inching the Charles Dickens character closer to buffoonery. I may have felt this way because Dan was not totally believable to me. I would have preferred added focus on creating more drama in the script. Despite these issues there still was a certain charm to this picture and fans of Charles Dickens or at least his novel “A Christmas Carol” will get a kick out of the imagination used to bring the novel’s characters to life.
2 ½ stars
When one does not have the opportunity to form memories of someone, made-up ones have to suffice. The make-believe memories can be a kinder, gentler, more loving version of the real person. I have heard individuals carry on about someone they barely knew, painting the person in sweet coats of affection; whereas, my memories recall that person being somewhat mean and angry. Growing up there were some relatives I never got the chance to meet; I only had old photographs and other people’s stories to form any connection to the unknown family members. Whenever the mood struck, I would pull out these old photos and study the features and outfits of my relatives. There was one photograph where a bespectacled man dressed in a suit was standing with one foot up on what I thought was a big wooden block. He was holding up a violin as if he was giving it the once over before placing it on his shoulder to play. I would imagine he was practicing for a recital. He would perform in a garden, where the relatives would be seated all around as they listened to the rich deep notes of a concerto. Besides my imagination, any hearsay or tidbits about a relative I would incorporate into elaborate stories; turning some of them into heroes, gangsters, spies, or some other fanciful characters. Where my fake memories were about deceased people, there is a world of difference when the memories are based on someone who is still alive. INSPIRED by a true story, a letter written by John Lennon arrived 40 years late to singer/songwriter Danny Collins, played by Al Pacino (Righteous Kill, Scarface). Seeing the letter sparked Danny into seeking out Tom Donnelly, played by Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine, Chef), the son he never knew. This comedic drama was driven by its outstanding cast. Al was perfect for this role; he not only looked the part but I was convinced he was this aging singer who was well past his glory days. Besides him and Bobby there was Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, A Beautiful Mind) as Frank Grubman and Annette Bening (Ruby Sparks, American Beauty) as Mary Sinclair. I thoroughly enjoyed the acting in this movie; it was believable and filled with great depth. Now I admit the script was somewhat predictable, besides being manipulative; but I did not care because I liked the way the story carried me throughout the film. There were even a couple of surprises along my journey. The dynamics between the characters were engaging; I was intrigued with their perceptions and memories. And after you see this picture I hope you too will have developed fond memories.
In my world the most powerful two words to use at the beginning of a sentence are, “I love…” Now I love chocolate chip cookies but that is not what I am referring to here. For a human being to feel and express their love for another human is one of the grand prizes for living; at least that is what I think. There is a poem that has the line, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” and I have to agree with it. Some folk may disagree with me, questioning how someone can miss something if they have never experienced it. If I understand, it would be similar to saying how does someone miss or know if they like a sweet tasting food item if they have never tasted one before. Okay, that makes sense to me. However, one of the many advantages to being in love is having the comfort that one’s tightrope walk through life now has a safety net below to catch them if they should fall. There are people who fall in love and remain together until death. When one dies the other chooses to remain single for the remainder of their life; on the other hand, some individuals may have the opportunity to fall in love again. I admire the people in both scenarios. If someone later in life is fortunate to find love all I can say is more power to them. To me it is like walking through a forest and coming upon a large mighty oak tree. It may not have the flexibility of a young sapling but it has a wide reach to protect you along with deep roots that have been filled with knowledge and nourishment throughout the years. RECENT widower Fred Barcroft, played by Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, Beginners) was pushed into a new home by his daughter Lydia, played by Marcia Gay Harden (Miller’s Crossing, The Mist). Neighbor Elsa Hayes, played by Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment, Bernie), was quite curious with the quiet gentleman who moved next door to her. This film festival winning movie’s saving grace was Shirley and Christopher. They tried their best, having a few touching moments I might add, to keep the story alive in this comedic romance. There were a couple of parts I enjoyed; however, the story was such a disappointment. It was filled with sappy, predictable, poorly written dialog; this picture could have been so much better. I did appreciate however the idea of folks, who were getting up in years, still making discoveries in their life. Isn’t it amazing what love can do to people?
So many people have told me to “live in the moment,” yet it has always been a challenge for me. Do not get me wrong, I am actually better at it now; but, it takes some effort on my part. Being a credit manager, yoga/cycle instructor and movie reviewer; I have to plan out my days. However, I can live in the moment wherever I am; I just have a time limit on it, aware there is something afterwards that will need my attention. I guess this explains why the word spontaneous is not part of my vocabulary. Ironically, the one area where I am totally in the present is when I am watching a movie. I never sit and wonder what will happen next or how a certain action will cause a type of reaction. This would explain why a film such as this one provided me a fuller thrill experience. With all the different clues and pieces of American history, I just sat back and enjoyed the exciting ride. Nicholas Cage (Adaptation, Face/Off) was his family’s latest treasure hunter, Benjamin Franklin Gates. Handed down from his ancestors was a story about a fortune hidden by this country’s Founding Fathers. When a mysterious clue was finally solved by Benjamin, it led him on a multi-state adventure to historic American landmarks hidden with clues. Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings franchise, Equilibrium) was the wealthy unscrupulous adventurer, Ian Howe who was intent on beating Benjamin to the treasure at any cost. When getting this DVD I understood the story would be far-fetched, but the way each clue was laid out from scene to scene had me questioning if there really was some truth to this tall tale. With his recent string of poor movie choices, it was good to see Nicholas doing himself proud playing this character. I also enjoyed Justin Bartha (The Hangover franchise, The Rebound) as Benjamin’s assistant Riley Poole and Diane Krueger (Unknown, Troy) as Abigail Chase, a museum employee who accidentally became involved in Benjamin’s quest. If you can sit back and live in the moment, this movie will take you on a wild escapade.
2 2/3 stars — DVD
His novels were not the only place where drama took place. In this movie, Leo Tolstoy’s personal life was filled with substantial drama. Played magnificently by Christopher Plummer (Beginners, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), the majority of this fiery drama occurred between Tolstoy and his wife of 43 years, the Countess Sofya, played with electrifying fire by Helen Mirren (Arthur, The Tempest). Determined to prevent her husband from changing his will, relinquishing his copyrights and property to the Russian people, Sofya enlisted a confederate in recently appointed assistant to her husband, Valentin played by James McAvoy (Wanted, Atonement). The acting was superb in this movie, as the dialog had a fine accompaniment in the musical score. Completing the movie’s feel were the beautiful set pieces, with the attention to detail; I felt as if I had been transported back to Tolstoy’s estate, to witness the final years of this great writer’s life.
3 1/3 stars — DVD