THE CHARACTERISTICS DETERMINING WHO or what a person is makes up their identity. My question is how much of that identity is affected by outside influences. Recently I had a lunch date with a father and daughter. They had similar facial features but that is not so unusual; their shared characteristics however really intrigued me. Besides having similar personality traits they both had common likes and dislikes, along with some interesting quirks. I was fascinated seeing them together since it was my first time meeting the daughter. Later in the day I remember thinking about the similarities between those family members and wondering how much of my identity was created by outside forces. When you think about it aren’t you usually surprised when a couple has more than one child and each one is so different? You would assume being raised in the same type of environment their children would have similar temperaments, but it is not true. ONE OF THE CHARACTERISTICS I feel a child needs to go out into this world is to be independent. This is a trait that can come about from having parent(s) active in child rearing or on the other hand not having parents involved. I have seen children grow up fiercely independent from both home environments. Not that I would ever cringe if a young adult said they wanted to be just like their mother or father, unless their parent was a serial killer; but being able to discern between positive and negative characteristics is important and I do not believe everyone can tell the difference. In previous reviews I have talked about abusers more than likely having been abused themselves. There is a family I know where the parent neglected their child for the most part. That child grew up and when they had children they did the same thing by neglecting them. On the other hand you can have a parent and child who are so much alike they might not even be aware of it, just like in this film festival winning dramatic comedy. NOT WANTING TO BE the same like everyone else Christine McPherson, played by Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn, Hanna), chose to become “Lady Bird.” It would be her way to escape her hometown of Sacramento, California and her mother Marion, played by Laurie Metcalf (The Big Bang Theory-TV, Roseanne-TV). Written and directed by Greta Gerwig (Jackie, Mistress America) this was one of the best coming of age stories I have seen this year. With Odeya Rush (The Giver, Almost Friends) as Jenna Walton and Timothee Chalamet (Love the Coopers, Interstellar) as Kyle Scheible, I thought the entire cast was perfect with their characters. Laurie was so outstanding I believe she could get a nomination for her role. What I appreciated most about this movie was the authenticity of the dialog and action. Without giving much away let me just say the scene where Lady Bird and her mother are shopping for a dress was pitch perfect. Now granted I have no experience regarding the mother daughter connection, but I have been privy to the dynamics of it through friends and family. I felt Greta did an excellent job capturing the feelings and flavor of the turmoil being experienced by the McPhersons. In a field of comedies and coming of age stories this one certainly stands out as being different, which is a good thing.
3 ½ stars
WHETHER there are one or two parents, raising a child is a daunting experience. Some parents use the way they were reared as a blueprint to raise their baby; others use their family members to assist them with their children. From my experiences I have witnessed such a wide variety of methods I cannot say one works better over another way. I have known some parents who worked diligently to shelter their children from everything they did not approve of in the world. Take for example slang words or as some refer to it as “swear” words. There was a couple who forbade their kids from ever uttering such words, to the point of checking every movie first before allowing them to watch it. When the children reached that age where all kids start to enforce their independence, they were ridiculed when they would tell one of their friends they said a “bad” word. SADLY I knew parents whose children grew up with the same prejudices their parents unwittingly displayed in front of their kids during their formative years. A method I have seen done successfully more times than not is exposing the child to most everything in life and explaining it. When these parents first heard their children say a slang word, they did not show anger or discomfort; the parents sat down and explained why saying such words would be hurtful and ugly. I have been impressed with the parents who take their children to volunteer at soup kitchens and shelters, exposing them to people and things their children may not experience in their local environment. Another thing I have noticed is the difference in children who were raised hearing their given language spoken properly to them instead of being talked to in “baby talk.” To me it seems these kids have an easier time articulating their feelings and thoughts. Being a fan of exposing a child to the world around them I feel I had a better understanding about the mother in this dramatic comedy. RAISING her son Jamie, played by Lucas Jade Zumann (Sinister 2, Chicago Fire-TV), without his father made Dorothea, played by Annette Bening (Rules Don’t Apply, Danny Collins), decide to expose her son to other points of view. Though they did not know it Julie, Abbie and William; played by Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon, Ginger & Rosa), Greta Gerwig (Mistress America, Maggie’s Plan) and Billy Crudup (Jackie, Big Fish); would all be contributing to Jamie’s journey to adulthood. This film festival winning movie’s story was set in southern California during the 1970s. I thought the acting was excellent with Annette making this one of her best roles. The script did not focus much on the character’s history, instead providing the viewer with snapshots of the characters’ current lives. One of the things about the story I appreciated the most was taking what was essentially a coming of age story and turning it into something new and different. In a way I found the story more authentic; in turn, I felt more connected to the characters. There were some scenes that did not work as well however, but nothing in a major way. I may not have agreed with everything Dorothea was doing in regards to raising her son, but I did walk away respecting her choices.
FOUR years attending the same school taught me more about social dynamics than any of my classes. I am not sure this applies to every school; but going into high school I was not prepared for the pecking order that was established for the student body. It could easily have been called a caste system because there were the “haves and have nots.” Within a short time one group that quickly formed were the popular kids. This class was made up of jocks, cheerleaders and anyone who the majority of students deemed beautiful or handsome. From my experience this was the alpha group. STUDENTS with the best grades, who did not qualify for the alpha group, formed their own clan known as the “brainiacs” aka smart students. Now this group used their collective intellect to thwart the jock group as a counterbalance to their top status. This group tended to be more receptive in allowing classmates to join them. If one was not fit for either of these two groups then there was a lower status group known as the “good students.” Though not as high in status, the students in this group never got in trouble, did nothing to standout in an inappropriate way or clash with any of the other groups. Continuing down the food chain so to speak there is the group referred to as the stoners. For anyone displaying behavior associated with drunkenness or high on drugs, this was their group. They did not care about the status of the other groups, barely acknowledged them or did not care at all. There are sub groups and such but down at the bottom were the leftovers in the student body and they were considered the losers. The kids in this group had to be on guard because they could be easy targets for any of the other groups. The toughest part of this caste system was trying not to carry it with you as your time served was ending. ALREADY not feeing connected to her fellow classmates Nadine, played by Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, Begin Again), at least had one good friend. However that was not going to be enough considering her brother Darian, played by Blake Jenner (Everybody Wants Some, Glee-TV), was a star football player. This coming of age comedic drama was not like the other films that have been done in this category. With Woody Harrelson (Out of the Furnace, Now You See Me franchise) as Mr. Bruner, Kyra Sedgwick (Gamer, The Closer-TV) as Mona and Hayden Szeto (The Unbidden, Chop Shop-TV) as Erwin; this cast not only performed well together, they appeared authentic in a modern way. My experiences both helped and hindered my involvement into the story. On one hand I understood the dynamics perfectly, but then some of the scenes did not seem real to me only because I had never encountered them when I was in school. There were a couple of times that my disbelief took over which lost the scene for me. However the acting was sharp as was the script; so I was able to get back on track with the story. Having seen this movie only confirmed my belief that high school is not meant for the weak.
ONE of my first supervisors in fitness was a woman; I was one of only two male fitness instructors on staff. It was not a big deal to me because I did not care about my boss’ gender. My concern was having a boss who would support me since the job there was early in my health and fitness career. All went fine for the most part, but I have to say the staff meetings annoyed me and the other male instructor. Half the meeting the two of us would sit there as the other instructors talked about their kids, hot looking celebrities, fashion and female health issues; in other words, nothing about the health club or its program. Gratefully this was not the norm because as I added more health clubs to my schedule I had other female supervisors and that type of conversation never happened during our meetings. GOING on a parallel course was my business career. I will never forget one of my first jobs where I was hired around the holidays. At a family function I mentioned the new job and a relative asked if I liked my boss. I used a pronoun to refer to my boss by saying, I thought she was cool. The relative had a puzzled look on their face and asked me if I felt okay having a woman as a boss. In my head I was screaming, “Are you kidding me!?” I told them it made no difference to me if my boss was a man or woman. As far as I was concerned good or bad bosses are not based on gender. Since I am speaking about gender in the work place I cannot confirm if true but I read a statistical piece that stated, based on current trends, women will reach parity with men in the workplace in 170 years. That means women will have equal pay and ½ of the bosses will be female. With that little tidbit how can you not love the 13 year old girl in this film festival winning documentary? HAVING been born into a family with a long line of eagle hunters all Aisholpan wanted to do was be one of them. The only problem with that was her being a female. This family adventure film was absolutely gorgeous to watch on the big screen. The aerial views of Mongolia’s landscapes were beautiful to me. I have always been a fan of eagles, ever since a camp counselor brought one to our class one day, so this story intrigued me greatly. What I found charming about this film was its simplicity. Seeing and hearing about the townsfolk along with me witnessing a lifestyle foreign from mine, I found myself being drawn into Aisholpan’s life. Especially with our current times this coming of age and female empowerment story seemed so appropriate. Let me add I thought it was genius to have Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) narrate this documentary. One of the best things about this movie happened at the end; all the women and men in the audience applauded during the ending credits. Kazakh was spoken with English subtitles.
3 1/3 stars
Though I grew up in a large metropolis, the neighborhood where I lived was pretty much self-contained. Besides knowing everyone who lived on the block, anything we needed was within walking distance from our home. My classmates and I grew up together through elementary school and into high school. It was funny, even with four other elementary schools being filtered in, all of us found a routine that carried us through the four years of high school. One of my friends and I would always meet up in the yearbook office on Tuesday afternoons to sit and catch up with each other. I knew never to go into the 3rd floor men’s bathroom on the far south side of the building because there was a gang of tough boys who hung out there to smoke cigarettes. Not until senior year did we all start to realize changes were coming. A friend of mine had to get a full-time job to help support his family, forgoing college. Some friends were going to out of state universities, others were going to the local city college; it was a scary time for me. I was going away to college and was nervous about living on my own. For a majority of people this was a natural rite of passage, which this dramatic coming of age film tried to show in a small Texas town. Shiloh Fernandez (The East, Red Riding Hood) played 19 year old Ritchie Wheeler. Content managing the local roller skating rink, Ritchie would be forced to look at his life when not only his circle of friends began to change but when his parents announced they were getting divorced. Set in the 1980s, this Sundance Film Festival nominated movie had a great soundtrack. The story started out slow for me, but I eventually found myself being interested in some of the characters. I thought Haley Ramm (Into the Wild, Flightplan) as Ritchie’s sister Mary and Ashley Greene (Twilight franchise, LOL) as Ritchie’s friend Michelle Burkham were a couple of the better actors in this drama. There have been coming of age stories done before, so I looked for this film to do something different; it really did nothing special in my opinion. I will say it was interesting to see teens in a small town going through similar things that took place in my city high school. Maybe I have had a slight prejudice towards small town living, but I did not see a real difference in the manner in which individuals from both ways of living reacted to the same situation. We really are creatures of habit aren’t we?
2 stars — DVD
I never understood why adolescence needed to be a long process. It was such an awkward time as things started to change on me. I would hear my voice and wonder who was talking for me; the cracking noises coming out of my mouth sounded like a venetian blind covering an open window on a windy day. Due to an army of acne that started to invade my skin, setting up campsites on my face, I went to a dermatologist who told me to stop eating chocolate. I remember asking him why I now had to be miserable besides being upset over these stupid pimples. Then there were the names kids would call me. Besides making comments on my face; my hair that was already wavy took on a new persona and looked like the twisting thorny vines that tried to prevent the prince from saving Sleeping Beauty, became a new source for nasty remarks. I just wanted to go to sleep and wake up the following day being fully grown as an adult. As you may guess, I easily sympathized with the main teenager in this Sundance Film Festival nominated movie. Jacob Wysocki (Pitch Perfect) played 15 year old teenager Terri. Not knowing what happened to his parents, Terri was living with his uncle James, played by Creed Bratton (Mask, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X), who was beginning to show signs of dementia. After meeting with Principal Fitzgerald, played by John C. Reilly (The Aviator, Carnage), weekly meetings were set up so pajama clad Terri and Mr. Fitzgerald could check in with each other to see how the week was going. The strongest part of this comedic drama was the scenes that involved Terri and the principal. I thought Jacob and John did the best with their characters. The classroom scenes had enough teenage angst going on that I would think a majority of people could easily relate to them. This film was listed as a comedy and drama but I hardly found anything that I would consider funny; maybe humorous with touching moments. Possibly this had to do with me remembering what my high school years were like, but I could not get into portions of this movie. I felt the character of Terri’s uncle was never fully developed into the story. In a way I felt this film was in its adolescent phase, not fully grown into a complete picture.
2 1/3 stars — DVD
My tongue instinctively brushed the surface of my teeth looking for my braces that were made from the shiniest metal on the planet. I had to check my face to see if any angry pimples were about to burst out from under my skin. Then there was the vision of me seeing the first wave of facial hair spreading across my face like a brewing storm, warning me of the impending turmoil of adolescence that was coming over me. All of those awkward and confused moments swirled up from my pooled memories while I sat and watched this wonderful, coming of age film. Liam James (Fred Claus, 2012) was perfect playing the 14 year old character Duncan. A simple look from him easily conveyed those embarrassing emotions we all felt at one time or another during our adolescent years. Duncan was stuck going with his mother Pam, played by Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, United States of Tara-TV) and her overbearing boyfriend Trent, played by Steve Carell (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Get Smart) to Trent’s summer home during summer vacation. Uncomfortable with his surroundings, Duncan found refuge at a run down water park managed by the kid like Owen, played by Sam Rockwell (Moon, Seven Psychopaths) and his wife Caitlin, played by Maya Rudolph (Grown Ups, Bridesmaids). This was one of the best performances I have seen from Sam; his character was crazy and memorable. I loved the unexpectedness of this poignant film. Everyone’s acting was so strong and realistic; Allison Janney (Juno, Liberal Arts) was hilarious as Trent’s alcoholic neighbor Betty. The script offered up such ideal lines, I actually felt a bond forming between me and several of the characters. After experiencing many memories from my youth during this film, a shadow of my adolescence remained behind as I walked out of the theater.
3 1 /3 stars
There were two extreme examples of love I saw when growing up. One was a married couple who lived in our apartment building. They bickered and argued almost every day; their voices sometimes reaching the decibels of a roaring jet engine. Though they fought constantly they still were affectionate to each other. The other example was Tony and Maria from the movie West Side Story. It was the scene in the gymnasium where all the lights dim except for a spotlight on each of them; as they see the other for the first time, from across a crowded gym floor. I preferred this example, believing it would happen to me when I fall in love. It took a long time before I experienced something close to that scene from the movie and I thought I would live happily ever after. We learn by example and sometimes those examples give mixed messages. This beautifully filmed drama showed different ways people were motivated by love. Part thriller and part coming of age tale; the story revolved around 14 year old friends Ellis, played by Tye Sheridan (The Tree of Life) and Neckbone, played by newcomer Jacob Lofland. Upon discovering a mysterious stranger living in a boat stuck up in a tree, the two boys agreed to help him reunite with the love of his life. Matthew McConaughey (The Paperboy, Magic Mike) played the stranger who called himself Mud and Reese Witherspoon (This Means War, Walk the Line) played his girlfriend Juniper. Matthew and Tye were the big standouts in this richly textured film. I was impressed with Matthew taking this edgy role and making it his own, similar to what he did in Killer Joe. Tye reminded me of a young Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), having that same type of face that easily expresses emotions. The supporting cast enriched this film. Sam Shepard (Safe House, The Right Stuff) was excellent as sharpshooter Tom Blankenship. I only wished the gifted Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, The Runaways) as Neckbone’s Uncle Galen had a bigger role. This Cannes Film Festival nominee told a multilayered story that was filled with diverse characters. The only commonality shared among the individuals was the effects of a shared or fading love.
3 1/2 stars