BLOOD IS THICKER than water they say but that is not always the case. For those of you not familiar with this saying, it means relationships within a family are the strongest and most important ones. I have seen examples that both prove and disprove this sentiment. Currently the news in my area has been following a story about a father and son. The dad needs a kidney transplant, having suffered with kidney disease for some years. It turns out the son was a perfect match and immediately agreed to donate one of his kidneys to his dad. They both went on an exercise and diet regiment to get themselves into better shape before the surgery. While this is a positive example, I recently read an article in the newspaper about a grandson shooting his grandmother to death and making it look like a burglary. He did it so he could collect the insurance money. THERE ARE FAMILIES who are close-knit, spending most of their free time with each other. They take vacations together, go to special events, pickup groceries for each other and watch each other’s children when the need arises. I know one family where none of the siblings has a non-related friend, as far as I can tell. I am talking no school or neighborhood friends; they are only friends with each other. To me it is somewhat odd; maybe because when I would meet potential dates, one of my red flags would pop up if they never mentioned anything about their friends. If they did not say something I would work the conversation to the topic of friendship to find out if they actually had any people in their life they could call a friend. Now do not get me wrong I have nothing against siblings being best friends. There are 2 sisters I know who are inseparable; they so enjoy each other’s company and do everything together, but nothing like what was in this movie. I was surprised watching what the main character was willing to do for his sibling in this dramatic, crime thriller. CONNIE NIKAS, played by Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Saga franchise, Remember Me), had to stay a step ahead of his pursuers if he wanted any chance of reuniting with his mentally challenged brother. This film festival winner will finally put to rest any lingering memories of Robert playing Edward in the Twilight series. He was outstanding in this movie. Along with Jennifer Jason Leigh (Road to Perdition, The Hateful Eight) as Corey Ellman, Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips, Eye in the Sky) as Dash the park security guard, newcomer Taliah Webster as Crystal and director Benny Safdie (Person to Person, Yeast) as Nick Nikas; the whole cast was excellent in this fast paced film. Robert was the main focus and the script literally put him through his paces. Some of the scenes were less plausible than others, but watching Robert’s desperation was riveting. There were at least several scenes that could have easily been plucked out of the news, but seeing them on a more personal level made them more intense in my opinion. In fact the whole feel of this picture did not come across as a Hollywood production. I have to say the story in this exciting film shines a whole different light on brotherly love. There were several scenes that had blood and violence in them.
3 ½ stars
SLIGHTLY BELOW AVERAGE height, you would not associate them with unusual let alone average strength. Bespectacled and unassuming, the couple easily blends into a crowd of people without any effort. As they say “looks can be deceiving” and with this couple no truer words have been spoken. For all of their quiet, mild mannered appearances no one would ever guess they both were experts in the martial arts. The only way one would even know that about them would be if you saw them mentoring the students in their classes. Dressed in their off white colored short pants and jacket with a black belt tightly tied around the waist, the two of them periodically demonstrate defensive movements. The speed of their punches and kicks nearly defies nature; they are precise and quick. For some people who would have such skills, they would telegraph it via their enlarged confidence and mannerisms; but for this tiny duo, they conduct their daily life with a sense of peace and calmness. I AM ALWAYS amazed by the amount of people who make assumptions about other people based solely on their outer appearances. And it seems like more and more people are doing that these days. I do not know if it has anything to do with our society’s desire for instant gratification that causes people to make snap judgments; but it seems as if less people want to take the time to learn about another person. It still amuses me to this day when someone finds out what I do for a living and activity. Either they think I am too nice to do one job or not buff enough to do the other job. Think about it; imagine someone freely telling you, you do not look fit enough to teach fitness. I do not believe this would fall into the compliment category; it does not bother me, I find it amusing and rather enjoy seeing the confusing looks given to me. To see what I mean feel free to check out this comedic crime drama directed by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven franchise, Traffic). AFTER LOSING HIS job Jimmy Logan, played by Channing Tatum (Magic Mike franchise, Jupiter Ascending), hashed out a plan to make his life easier and richer. He would just need help from strangers to pull it off. With Adam Driver (Silence, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as Clyde Logan, Daniel Craig (Defiance, Cowboys & Aliens) as Joe Bang, Katie Holmes (Batman Begins, Phone Booth) as Bobbie Jo Chapman and Riley Keough (American Honey, We Don’t Belong Here) as Mellie Logan; the cast overall was fine in this film, though Daniel Craig was the stand out performer for me. His character was so different from what most of us “assume” him to be. I enjoyed the mix of characters in this story along with the side by side story lines; however, I have to tell you I was underwhelmed by this picture. With the buzz about Steven coming out of retirement and the favorable reviews I saw afterwards, I was left with a feeling of light amusement and enjoyment. For some reason the movie came across in a monotone way, without deep emotions attached to it. Some additional background information would have been helpful, but still I just felt I was watching a series of vignettes. It wasn’t like I assumed I was seeing a laugh out comedy or intense drama; I just thought, “Isn’t that a surprise.”
2 ¾ stars
IT WAS THE PHOTOGRAPH along with its headline in the newspaper that caught my eye. The old black and white photo was of a man sitting next to a stuffed animal. I recognized the animal as a cartoon character and began reading what turned out to be the man’s obituary. He had provided the voice for this character in all the cartoons, which was one of my favorite cartoon shows when I was younger. After having read that obituary I started making a point of glancing at the obituary columns whenever I read the newspaper. Discovering someone who was unfamiliar to me yet through their occupation or creation had an effect on my life was something I always found fascinating. I enjoyed reading about that person’s life, looking for any clues on what was the catalyst for the individual to steer to a particular profession or come up with their invention/creation. AFTER A SHORT length of time reading different obituaries, I started to notice how those individuals with some type of prestige or prominence got “top billing” in the layout of the death notices. This started me thinking about the finality of death and no matter how much money or notoriety a person acquired, when the time came for their death, they would die the same way as those less fortunate. From my discovery about the obituaries I started to notice a similar bias in news reporting. If a person of some stature was the victim of any type of crime the reports would spend more time to follow the person who killed them and keep the public updated on any and every detail. However if the individual was “average” or disenfranchised, then they barely received a mention in the news. There was something about this that did not sit well with me. In my opinion everyone has the right to die with dignity. Sometimes the newscasts would show the spot where a poor or homeless person was found dead and it was utterly sad to see. But was there an outcry by anyone or plans in place to avoid something like that ever happening again? This is why I loved the determination shown in this action, crime mystery. AFTER A NATIVE AMERICAN, barefooted woman was found dead in the snow Cory Lambert, played by Jeremy Renner (Arrival, The Avengers franchise), made a promise he would do his best to find out what happened to the young woman. With Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla, Captain America franchise) as Jane Banner, Graham Greene (The Green Mile, Dances with Wolves) as Ben, Kelsey Asbille (Run, The Amazing Spider-Man) as Natalie and Julia Jones (The Twilight Saga franchise, Jonah Hex) as Wilma; the acting in this chilling setting was outstanding. Jeremy and Elizabeth were especially wonderful, each brought life to the well done script. This film festival winner may not have had a fast pace, but the simple settings and landscapes added a layer of despair throughout the picture that added to the mystery. In its own way I felt the story brought to light a subject that may not be familiar to most people. I did appreciate how the writers avoided the typical “Hollywood” ending, yet did not turn the story into a major downer. I could not leave my seat right away because I was thinking about what the world would be like if everyone had respect for each other.
3 ½ stars
HATE DOES NOT discriminate or it just has poor aim. I was standing outside with a group of people who came from diverse backgrounds. We were talking and laughing while deciding where we wanted to go eat. A vehicle driving down the street slowed as it neared us, not that any of us were paying attention to it. A beer bottle flew out the window at us before the vehicle sped away. Luckily no one got hit with glass as it shattered in front of us on the sidewalk, but a couple of people were splashed with beer. There was no reason for it; it wasn’t like we were provoking anyone. You could say it was a random act of violence but I would not believe it. I felt some of the people in our group were the target because I caught a glance of the vehicle’s bumper where there was a sticker. Maybe I was wrong for not mentioning it but I did not want anyone to feel worse or different than anyone else. THE THING THAT puzzles me about hatred is how it gets formed in a person. Having been the victim of both acts of hatred and bullying, I have tried to understand the prejudicial mind or let me say bigot. Why does the life of a complete stranger, who has had no contact with you or whose actions have no bearing on your well being, affect you in such a way to lash out at them? I have thought about this for years; in fact, I still remember a story I heard about a family friend who hated a particular minority group. The reason was because his brother was murdered by an individual of the same minority; that was it. That is one of the reasons why I say hate does not discriminate. I used to think hatred was this laser focused emotion that targeted only a single individual, but it appears to me as if that focus has widened to engulf anyone in its path or intent. And especially when the person filled with hatred is in a position of power it can become intensely lethal. This film’s story is based on true events, so you can see what I mean. THE TIMES WERE volatile as racial tensions rose in the city of Detroit during the late 1960s. From a single sound of a gun going off the guests of the hotel Algiers were subjected to a night of terror. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker), this historical crime drama starred John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Circle) as Dismukes, Will Poulter (We’re the Millers, The Revenant) as Krauss, Jacob Latimore (Sleight, The Maze Runner) as Fred and Algee Smith (Earth to Echo, The New Edition Story-TV) as Larry. The majority of this movie was filled with heightened tension and anxiety; I was mortified by the things I was seeing on screen thanks to Kathryn’s eye for detail and buildup. She did an incredible job as this picture felt part documentary, part reenactment. The acting from John Boyega and Will Poulter was outstanding. I swear John reminded me of a young Denzel Washington; it was amazing to see him in this role and to see the depth of his acting skills. The same has to be said for Will too. There was a bit of manipulation I felt where the violence and human ugliness were used to move the audience members. Despite feeling that way I still was affected by the story. A majority of people might feel uncomfortable sitting through this film and that would be a good thing.
3 ½ stars
A life without music is a life less rich. At least that is how I feel about music. The famous line from William Congreve’s play “The Mourning Bride” goes, “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” It is usually misquoted as a savage beast; either way I agree with its meaning 100%. However I feel music offers us so much more. As the world appears to be more divided currently, music is the one common element that goes past all boundaries. In my opinion music is a universal language that can establish common ground between individuals. One place where I often see this taking place is at a wedding. You have two distinct families with nothing in common except one of their family members is in love with someone from the other side. There could be differences in race, religion or culture but put on some music and people will come together on the dance floor, beginning the first step in making contact with the other side. ANOTHER benefit music offers us is comfort. How many of us have a “breakup song?” You know that one song that you played over and over because it was speaking to you at the time of your separation from the person you loved. Sure it may cause a tear to spill over your eyelid, but it started the path for your heart to heal. I remember whenever I was sad I would sit at the piano and play my favorite music pieces over and over. By the time I walked away I felt some of the heaviness on my heart had been lifted. Music has to be playing whenever I am in the car or when I have to clean the house. I can better tolerate housekeeping when there is a steady beat playing in the background. If I did not have music playing during my commute I would walk into the office frustrated and angry. Maybe it would be different if I had the mad driving skills like the driver in this action crime movie. SURVIVING a car crash as a young boy Baby, played by Ansel Elgort (Divergent franchise, The Fault in our Stars), may have been influenced by it because he became a fearless getaway driver for crime boss Doc, played by Kevin Spacey (Elvis & Nixon, House of Cards-TV). The only problem was he was not allowed to do anything else. With Jon Hamm (Keeping up with the Jones, Mad Men-TV) as Buddy, Lily James (Cinderella, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Debora and Jon Bernthal (The Ghost Writer, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Griff; this film had a banging hard rock soundtrack. The characters and action were all put into synch with the driving beat. I could not recall seeing in a movie such precision between the two. The driving scenes were intensely thrilling; some of the scenes must be seen to be believed. Ansel was amazing in this picture; I felt it was a breakout role for him. Shifting into a lower gear (I could not resist), there was little explanation about the different relationships between characters. I did not understand Baby’s connection to his friend for example. One other thing for me was the change from such high speed action scenes to lesser ones; it made for some odd pacing. The final diagnostics for this music driven movie is it fires on most cylinders.
ALL the furniture was pushed into the center of the room. A large old tarp with splotches of color looking like fireworks was covering all of the pieces. A white haired man dressed in white overalls was carefully outlining the walls with fresh paint. Using a paintbrush that he told me was made of natural bristles, he started at the top of the wall making his way across by sidestepping down a plank of wood he had stuck between two ladders. Once the top of the walls were all done he slowly filled the sides all around so each wall looked like it was a blank picture frame. I would watch him pour cans of paint into a big bucket, stirring it like it was a thick porridge. Once he was satisfied he would start at one side of the room and begin to paint in the walls. He had a steady rhythm as his arm would rise and fall, leaving a trail of fresh paint from his brush or roller. The thing that amazed me the most about him was his overalls; I do not recall every seeing any drops of paint on them. He told me he had been painting houses ever since he got out of high school. Though he may have been in his early 60s, which meant he had been doing this for decades, he still felt the same pride for every paint job. TIMES have changed as far as I can tell. Over at a friend’s house recently, they showed me the poor job their painter did on their front door. The new color did not always reach the boundaries of the door or it would go beyond. It was ghastly looking and he was quite upset. I have had my share of poor service either from repair people in my home or out at a store. Recently in the news I assume most of you have seen the videos of poor customer service with some airlines. It almost looks like a war situation doesn’t it? One has to wonder if some employees are afraid to let people know what they do for a living when they are not at work. It is something the main character in this dramatic crime story experienced on a daily basis. FOLLOWING in the footsteps of his uncle and father Albert Pierrepoint, played by Timothy Spall (Harry Potter franchise, Secrets & Lies), wanted to surpass their records and be the best in the country. He just did not want anyone to know. Based on true events, this film festival winning biography also starred Juliet Stevenson (Bend it Like Beckham, Mona Lisa Smile) as Anne Fletcher, Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes franchise, V for Vendetta) as James ‘Tish’ Corbitt and James Corden (Begin Again, Into the Woods) as Kirky. With Timothy’s outstanding performance I was quickly tied up into the story. It really provided the viewer with things to think about regarding one’s profession, beliefs and feelings. I have to say the topic was something I had not given much thought to and ironically it has been in the news recently. No matter what is your belief system regarding the industry Albert dwells in, I think there is much to gain by watching this DVD. My guess is no one would have thought customer service would be a part of this story.
3 ¼ stars — DVD
THERE was something white and fluttering at my windshield as I walked back to my car. I was hoping it wasn’t an injured bird that had flown into the glass. As I came up from behind I saw it was a sheet of paper that someone had slipped underneath the windshield wiper. My first thought was it had to be some type of advertisement. Wow was I ever wrong when I removed the paper from the wiper and saw what was written on it. Someone had left me a note with their phone number, explaining how their car door flew open from the wind and nicked my car door. I took a look and there was a white mark on my car where the edge of their door chipped the paint. I could not get over someone was kind enough to let me know what happened, since I have never been notified before of all the mysterious nicks and dents my car has received in parking lots all these years. Reading the phone number, I called the person to thank them and refuse their offer of compensation; I kept a bottle of touchup paint for such occurrences. SOME years ago I remember sitting in my car in a parking lot and hearing a loud bang. The parked car next to me had been nudged by a person pulling out of a space across the way. I got out of my car to examine the damage and saw that car’s fender was pushed in. The driver of the car that backed up was starting to drive away. Running up to the driver side window I waved at them to stop, which I was surprised they did to tell you the truth. The person rolled down their window and I told them they dented the fender of the parked car. When they tried to tell me they did not do it I explained I was sitting in the car right next to it and saw the whole thing. From that short delay of time, it was just enough for the driver of the dented car to come out of the grocery store. I explained what happened and gave them my phone number before driving off to leave the two of them to figure it out. It was the right thing to do. ONCE the video of the horrific prank was downloaded to a social media site brothers Stan and Paul Lohman, played by Richard Gere (Norman, Days of Heaven) and Steve Coogan (Philomena, The Trip to Italy), met with their wives for dinner to discuss what they should do next. This film festival nominee had an important theme and message here. However, the script was such a mess I lost interest in this movie pretty quick. I am not a fan of jumping back and forth to pick up fragments of a story to create a complete piece and this dramatic mystery was doing it until nearly the end. Speaking of the end, it was not until this picture was nearly over that I started to care about the story. The acting was excellent, including Laura Linney (Sully, Mr. Holmes) as Claire and Rebecca Hall (The Gift, The Prestige) as Katelyn, for what they had to work with but it was not enough for me. I consider this review an act of kindness in warning you about this film.
1 2/3 stars
THEY knew it was one of my favorite musicals which made them think of me. A relative of theirs was performing in a local, community production; so they offered me the extra ticket in their possession. I am a supporter of the arts, enjoying a variety of venues available all over my city. Normally I would jump at the chance to attend a staged production; however, when it comes to certain plays or musicals I tend to be more cautious. The reason is because those few productions that are my all-time favorites I pretty much have committed to memory; every note, dance move and set design. Going to see anything less than a spectacular production would disappoint me. Do not get me wrong, I have tried many times. I could be sitting on an old rickety, folding chair in some small community center’s space pretending to be an auditorium and if everything is on point I am over the moon with joyous excitement. However if an errant musical note is played or a singer is off pitch it ruins the entire experience for me. ULTIMATELY it is a trade-off I suppose; if a person is willing to gamble and hope for the best they will go for it. But I have a question for you; let us say strawberries are one of your favorite things to eat. You eat them fresh from the garden as well as using them in your baking and making of smoothies. How satisfied would you be to eat something that uses artificial flavoring to make it taste like strawberry? If I had a choice between homemade chocolate chip cookies or store bought packaged ones, I would always go to the homemade ones first. I am not knocking the manufactured ones; heaven knows I have never turned down any type of chocolate chip cookie, but there are just times where I want the real thing. I could say the same thing about this action crime thriller. MEETING at an abandoned warehouse a group of people came together to make a deal to buy and sell guns. It would have helped if some of them had prior training on how to shoot a gun. This film festival winner was executive produced by Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island, The Departed). Starring Brie Larson (Room, The Spectacular Now) as Justine, Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger, The Social Network) as Ord, Cillian Murphy (Inception, In the Heart of the Sea) as Chris and Sharito Copley (District 9, Maleficent) as Vernon; I thought with this much talent the story would have been interesting to watch. The film had a 70s retro look which was fun. As the movie started it appeared there was going to be a sense of mystery to the story. Little did I realize the only mystery was why the movie studio allowed the script to remain in its present form. Essentially if it was not, it sure felt like over ½ of this film was one big shootout. Most of the dialog contained slang words; I was so bored I wanted all of the characters to kill each other and end the picture. If the writers were trying to do a parody on gun violence it was lost on me. And if they were hoping to create an homage to Martin Scorsese, the writers and director failed in my opinion. This was a pseudo action thriller filled with violence and strong language. You have been warned.
1 ¾ stars
SITTING on the sofa after a satisfying meal I was waiting for the punch line to the story that was being told to us. It was not because the story was exciting, though it was the 1st time I heard it some years ago, or that the storyteller always had an animated way of telling a tale; I actually had heard this story enough to be able to retell it without any coaching. The reason I was waiting for the ending of the story was so I could get up and go to the bathroom without appearing rude to the story teller or the other people sitting around. The first time I heard the story I remember how all of us were laughing hysterically; it really was a funny set of circumstances that happened to the story teller. However after hearing the same story again and again, it had lost its surprise and funniness. For my way of thinking once a funny story has been told it needs to go into retirement, put away on a shelf only to come out on special occasions as a reminder about a particular person or period of time. THE retelling of jokes or stories only robs them of their uniqueness. After a time the listener you are trying to entertain is simply lulled into boredom. This reminds me of a person I know who does not fully grasp the art of joke telling. Every time they tell a joke they have to explain the portion of it that they find particularly amusing. This is never a good idea; if you have to explain a joke then it is not a joke. There have been times where I find myself sitting and listening to them and I immediately know anything I might find funny will be weighed down with this explaining thing that will make me cringe into wishing they would stop talking. Telling something over and over again is not exclusive to parties and family gatherings; it can be found in movie franchises. FAMILY was the most important thing to Dom, played by Vin Diesel (The Pacifier, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk). Then why did he turn his back on them? Starring Jason Statham (The Expendables franchise, The Mechanic franchise) as Deckard, Dwayne Johnson (San Andreas, Hercules) as Hobbs and Charlize Theron (Monster, Mad Max: Fury Road) as Cipher; the script for this action crime thriller was the weak link. The action scenes kept coming over and over, most connected by cheesy dialog. I will say the action was outrageous as the stunts were things the viewer has come to expect from this franchise. Another positive point about this movie was Charlize Theron; I found her acting to be above everyone else in the cast. After so many years with this franchise the writers needed to do something different in my opinion. I found some of the characters’ conversations were so typical of past films that I found myself becoming dazed and tired. Good thing there was always some over the top action scene ready to unfold right afterwards. This film franchise has had a long run but based on this installment it might be time for this group to take the exit ramp and take a rest. It might do wonders for them.
2 ½ stars
THE first time I saw a closed circuit security camera (are they even called that anymore?) was at a local currency exchange in my neighborhood. It was this imposing metal contraption that hung down from the corner of the ceiling, looking like a dragonfly created by Picasso. I was too young to have a checking account, so I was at the exchange to get a money order for a purchase. While the man behind the thick paned window at the counter was typing up my money order, I was constantly glancing at the security camera. I knew it had to be something visual because of the lens in front; but with those wires attached to the sides, I had to wonder who was watching me. When the man returned to the window he must have noticed my curiosity because he started to tell me all about it in this ever so proud way. TIMES have certainly changed, haven’t they? Except for restrooms and locker rooms, I think security cameras are everywhere, in all kinds of different places. I am all for cameras being at public transportation locales, from airports to neighborhood train stations. Even covering highways or major thoroughfares, I do not have a problem with it. As I walk through a grocery store I can understand why cameras are installed all across the ceiling in those brown glass dome things; they actually look like chocolate gumdrops. Management would want to be on the lookout for any theft taking place. However, when I walk down the hallway of a movie theater I wonder if someone is actually watching me go to my seat. I guess with the tragedy that has taken place in theaters and clubs, security cameras are a must now. I would think after a while all of us will just become numb to the idea we are being watched wherever we go. However I have to tell you, watching this crime thriller was such a creepy experience for me because I am afraid this might be actually happening now. THERE was something about Amy, played by Ana Claudia Talancon (Fast Food Nation, Tear this Heart Out); that made Doug, played by Colin Hanks (The House Bunny, Orange County), want to watch her all the time. This drama that also starred Jordana Spiro (Trespass, Must Love Dogs) as Jen and Jonathon Trent (Burlesque, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) as Matt, definitely had a way of pulling the viewer into the story. I quickly was uncomfortable by what was taking place; not because of any type of gore or torture (there wasn’t any) but because I, who am already paranoid about big brother watching me, was startled by what was taking place. I really believed stuff like this could be taking place all around us. The story was somewhat predictable; however, with Ana and Colin being convincing in their roles I did not mind this issue. I thought the way this film was shot added to the intensity level; it forced the viewer to be closer into the action. Overall, I felt the concept of the story was the main attraction for watching this DVD. The reason I say this is because there really was not anything new brought in for this type of story; however, for me sitting at home without people or security cameras all around I did shut my computer down once the film was over.
2 1/3 stars — DVD