I FELT SAD FOR MY FRIEND and his girlfriend; I liked her. He liked her a real lot, having dated her for nearly a year. They looked happy together, laughing at the same things and stealing glances at each other during parties. My friend broke the news to me that he was going to break up with her. I asked him why, did something happen? His answer made this situation worse in my opinion. He did not have any reason to break up with her, but his family had insisted. My first question was asking him what in the world did she do that made his family make such a demand? The reason came down to one thing; she was of a different faith. Before I could filter my mouth, I blurted out, “That is the only reason, what is wrong with them?!?!” He got this sheepish look on his face, and I started to feel bad for what I had said to him. I tempered myself; in a calmer voice, I asked him if her religion bothered him. He said he did not have an issue with it, but his parents did. Without trying to add any further embarrassment, all I could offer was my condolences. I knew his family was wealthy and thought to myself, maybe that is playing a part in this recent development. MANY YEARS AGO, I DATED SOMEONE twice. We dated for 9-10 months, broke up for half a year then reconnected and dated for a few months before we broke up again. Our backgrounds were completely different, but that was not the reason for our breakup. Without going into the sordid details, let me narrow it down to this: there were trust issues. Several friends, I could see, were perplexed that we were a couple. I was always grateful to listen to their concerns and comments. Not that I would necessarily act according to what they said, but I would store it in one of my memory banks, like a reference. Rarely have I ever acted on a relationship based on information that I have not personally experienced. There was a couple I was close friends with who literally hated the person I was dating. They made no bones about their feelings which caused me to have a face-to-face talk, explaining they have the right to feel that way, but they do not have the right to tell me who I can date. So, if they want to be included in events, they needed to be respectful. It turns out, I could have helped the main character in this dramatic adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. AFTER BEING CONVINCED TO END HER relationship with a modest man several years ago, the two meet again under different circumstances. Who will she listen to this time? With Richard E. Grant (Palm Beach, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) as Sir Walter Elliot, Dakota Johnson (The Lost Daughter, The Peanut Butter Falcon) as Anne Elliot, Henry Golding (Snake Eyes, Last Christmas) as Mr. Elliot, Ben Bailey (Level Up, Strange Hill High-TV) as Charles Musgrove and Yolanda Kettle (Made in Italy, The Crown-TV) as Elizabeth Elliot; this romantic story left me conflicted. On the one hand, I thought Dakota gave one of the best performances I have seen come out of her; yet the script was a bit schizophrenic. I am not a fan of characters shifting gears to directly face the camera and explain what is going on with the scene. Add in the odd mix of dramatic and tongue-in-cheek scenes and I was left feeling disconnected. There were beautifully done emotional scenes that I enjoyed, but then it was followed by a jarring change of emotions that left me confused. Too bad, because there were other characters, I enjoyed besides being interested in the story. If you are a huge fan of Jane Austen, then you might enjoy this movie more than I did. I wish the producers would have asked me for my advice prior to committing to this picture.
2 ¼ stars
IN FRONT OF ME WAS A pile of recipes I had printed out. I had a dinner party planned and I was looking for a couple of new things to serve. As I leafed through and scanned the recipes, I found one that was titled, “Savory Snack Mix.” The word “savory” intrigued me, so I stopped to read the ingredients and instructions. Some of the ingredients listed were pretzels, rice and wheat cereal squares and what the author called, “potato sticks.” Wow, I had not thought of that snack food in decades and was immediately transported back to my childhood, sitting at the kitchen table with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a plate. Accompanying the sandwich were potato sticks, but I only knew them as “shoestring potatoes.” I loved eating this snack, partially because no matter how many were poured on a plate, it always looked like there were a lot. One of the things I used to do was move them around on my plate, looking for the ones that did not uniformly match the others, such as longer, darker or curved sticks. Once I picked them out to eat, I was left with a uniform shaped space that I could pile closer together to make a wall or spread them out to pave a road across my plate. My imagination was quite active when I was a little boy. ISN’T IT FUNNY HOW ONE LITTLE thing can trigger a memory that was untouched for so many years? Cleaning out a junk drawer, I found a pencil sharpener shaped like a flying saucer. Instantaneously, I saw myself holding it our at arm’s length, pretending it was flying around our home as I went from room to room. This took place decades ago; yet I could see it as fresh as day, like I had just done it. The mind is such a fascinating organ. How can I forget to pick up the one item I needed at the grocery story, yet I can remember myself from so many years ago, down to what I was wearing at the time? I have mentioned this before, but I can hear the first few notes of a song and immediately know where I was when I first heard it. Now granted, I have only been talking about “happy” memories; it is a whole different feeling when one remembers a troubling time in one’s life. I guess that is where guilt comes into play and the reason why one tries to forget the incident. While watching the main character in this drama, I was wondering what she was remembering while on her vacation. WHILE ON HOLIDAY LEDA, PLAYED BY Olivia Colman (The Favourite, The Lobster), becomes intrigued by a vacationing family. Their child’s baby doll intrigues her even more. With Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose, Judy) as young Leda, Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, A Bigger Splash) as Nina, Ed Harris (Apollo 13, The Truman Show) as Lyle and Peters Sarsgaard (The Sound of Silence, Garden State) as Professor Hardy; this Oscar nominee stood out due to Olivia’s performance. In my opinion, she has one of the most expressive faces and knows how to use it to her advantage. Jessie Buckley was the other standout for me. The rest of the cast was excellent, but I found Olivia more noticeable. The directing, along with the visuals, were done in a thoughtful, beautiful way; I especially enjoyed the outdoor scenes. On the downside, this was not enough to keep my attention; it began to wane halfway through the film. I disliked the way the story went, especially the ending. It was a shame because I so enjoyed the acting aspect of this picture. There is a good chance I will not forget Olivia’s acting; but as far as the rest of this movie is concerned, I do not think I will remember it years from now.
2 ½ stars
HOW IRONIC, WE WERE HAVING THIS conversation over dinner. Friends for years, we had gotten together to catch up with each other; it had been some time since we had last seen each other. During our meal the conversation had turned to the topic of how busy everyone seemed, including us. I was talking about my schedule and how I was booking dates a couple of months ahead already, to get together with friends and family. My friend did not understand why I was having a challenging time in getting together with people. I explained I enjoyed getting together with people over a meal; but after a couple of times meeting in restaurants, I like to plan some type of activity we can both experience. It does not have to be anything elaborate like a boat cruise or indoor sky diving; it can be as simple as going bowling or to a movie. For me, doing something together adds fiber to the relationship. Let’s face it, how many of us will remember a meal we had from a year or so ago? Ok, well maybe I would; but food is not a reliable memory maker. Seeing a museum exhibit that moves both of you or a play that you thought was fantastic or even horrendous, would stay longer in your memory I believe. THESE SHARED EXPERIENCES PROVIDE ME WITH A deeper emotional connection and understanding to my friends and family members. Being together and witnessing feelings in “real time” is better to me than having someone sitting and telling me about it. The exhilaration of being at a concert, sporting event or discovering a new place on a walking tour; are things that will stay with me. Another option is taking a trip together. They say you really get to know about a person when you take travel with them and I am telling you, it is absolutely true! Granted, this may not always be a positive thing; but you would certainly know more than you did if you hadn’t taken a trip together. One of the fun aspects of sharing an event together is hearing about it years later. Seeing your memory through someone else’s eyes is a fascinating learning experience. You might be surprised to find out something you did not know before. I am not only talking about the activity; it could also be about yourself. Either way, if you want to take a visual trip and see for yourself then watch this film festival winning, comedic drama adventure. IT WAS NOT ENOUGH FOR ZAK, played by newcomer Zack Gottsagen, to only see his idol on television. He needed to escape the nursing home where he lived and go find his favorite wrestler, the Salt Water Redneck, played by Thomas Haden Church (Sideways, Easy A). This movie was a treat. Playing out like a modern Mark Twain story, the filming of it was beautiful. Enough time was given to the scenes to allow the viewer to settle into them. With Shia LaBeouf (Fury, American Honey) as Tyler, Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, The Social Network) as Eleanor and John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, The Sessions) as Duncan; the acting was outstanding. Shia was such a force on the screen that I was surprised by it. Though I have not been a big fan of Dakota in the past, she was wonderful in this role. Thanks to the direction and script, watching this film was like reading a novel. I felt like I was experiencing things at my speed, allowing me to get the most I could out of the scenes. An original story with a lead actor representing a group that has less exposure on screen; I wish I would have taken someone with me when I went to see this exquisite film.
3 ½ stars
IS THERE ANYONE WHO DOES NOT wonder where those stains and marks come from in a hotel room? I for one cannot ignore them when I see them. This is why I am never 100% comfortable when I am staying at a hotel. On a trip to the southwest I stayed at a hotel that was one of the tallest buildings in the city. When I walked into my room everything looked fine. Just like most hotels I have stayed in; this one had a bed, 2 nightstands, an armoire, a desk, an easy chair and a floor lamp. When I walked into the bathroom I was immediately horrified because there appeared to be a blood-stained streak on the shower curtain. My mind was flooded with scenarios that could have caused blood to get splattered in the bathroom. I was not going to attempt to clean it, nor could I simply ignore it. If that was not enough, I decided to relieve my bladder before going downstairs to request a room change. When I went to flush the toilet, the water gurgled inside the bowl but never flushed down; it looked as if the water was simmering close to a boil. I wasn’t about to wonder what was causing the toilet not to flush. The room and in turn the hotel creeped me out. ON ANOTHER TRIP I BOOKED A ROOM in this huge, old majestic hotel. I do not remember the year the building was constructed, but it was originally built as an apartment building. With terra cotta appointments on the façade and a lobby that looked like it came out of 1920’s detective story, I thought the hotel was cool looking. The elevators with jet black doors and silver trim creaked as they traveled up the floors, slightly unsteady like an elderly patient. When I walked into the room I was met by a wall that had worn-out flocked wallpaper. As soon as one entered the room they had to make an immediate right turn to go into the living space. It appeared the original apartments must have been carved up to form the hotel rooms; the room had odd shaped corners and the bathroom door nearly grazed the toilet bowl when it was being closed. There was something about the hotel that made me think about the original residences who must have resided here earlier. During my stay little things happened such as the lightbulb burning out and the water faucet groaning whenever it was turned on. I stayed there despite the odd sounds and my concerns for my safety and hygiene. But I will tell you this; I would rather stay in either of the hotels I mentioned than the one in this mystery thriller. A GROUP OF STRANGERS CHECKED INTO the El Royale but not all of them would check out. This dramatic crime film starred Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) as Father Daniel Flynn, Cynthia Erivo (Widows, Mr. Selfridge-TV) as Darlene Sweet, Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, A Bigger Splash) as Emily Summerspring, Jon Hamm (Baby Driver, Million Dollar Arm) as Laramie Seymour Sullivan and Chris Hemsworth (Thor franchise, 12 Strong) as Billy Lee. I enjoyed the cast and the diversity of the characters they portrayed. This picture had a great look to it with a smoldering script, which allowed every actor a chance in the spotlight. I also liked the way the pieces of the story fit together; however halfway through I started to get bored. It seemed as if scenes were written with less detail and emotion. Sometimes it appeared shocking twists were put in for the sake of shocking the viewer. For me this was not as much of a thriller as a slow burn and I had no desire to book a room at this hotel.
2 ¼ stars
NO ONE IS GOING TO UTTER a negative comment, I cannot imagine, about a child’s music or dance recital. Who would sit in a school’s auditorium filled with the students’ parents and say a snide remark about a child’s playing or dancing? I have sat through recitals where I barely could recognize the song, but still congratulated the performers. It was not like I expected to hear classically trained musicians or see professional dancers; these were elementary school students. I will admit I have sat at a couple of performances where I had pity for the parents who had to listen to their child practice the same musical pieces over and over, errant notes and all. There was one year where I had to go watch a school football game. The weather was awful, cold and windy. I sat on that cold bleacher bench, bundled up in layers with a scarf nearly wrapped around my entire head; it was that cold outside. If I remember correctly despite only getting their hands on the ball once I still congratulated them on the good work they did. NOW WHEN IT COMES TO situations that do not involve children, reactions can be different. I was at a music concert where the world famous musical artist did a poor job of performing. At times she even turned her back to the audience and sang entire songs to her band, ignoring the people out in the audience who spent a good amount of money just to hear her sing. There were some people in the crowd who started booing, even yelling comments, that is how poorly she acted on stage. I vowed I would never spend a dime on her and haven’t since that concert. The way I look at it is if I am paying to see something I want to be entertained and expect the person or company to do their best to make the event a memorable one. To me this just makes good business sense. Well sadly that was not the case with this final (I hope it is the final) installment of this dramatic, romantic thriller franchise. SETTLING INTO THEIR NEW ROLES as husband and wife Anastasia and Christian, played by Dakota Johnson (How to Be Single, The Social Network) and Jamie Dornan (Marie Antoinette, The Fall-TV), soon discover not everyone is happy for them. With Eric Johnson (Legends of the Fall, Smallville-TV) as Jack Hyde, Eloise Mumford (In the Blood, So Undercover) as Kate Kavanagh and Marcia Gay Harden (The Mist, Miller’s Crossing) as Grace Grey; this movie was a waste of time and effort. There was no chemistry between Dakota and Jamie, besides the fact Jamie came across more like a robot than a human being. The script was filled with clichés and predictable scenarios that tested the intelligence of its audience. I disliked the soundtrack because the song choices were picked to inject some type of dramatic moment that the script and actors could not provide; the music was relentless. The thing that bothered me the most was the lunacy the writers put into the script. I mean seriously, why would someone with a security detail take matters into their own hands, putting their lives in jeopardy?!?! As far as I can tell except for the luxuriousness of the sets and locales, there was little effort put in to make this final installment a memorable one. Believe me when I say it was more torturous for the audience to sit and watch this film than it was for Anastasia in her dominant/submissive scenes.
The landscape of one’s life may be properly maintained, with a meticulous eye to detail to make everything look ideal. Each component made to fit together so no one would see a gap or break across the land. It pretty much has everyone fooled. The reason I say this is because if someone from your past, who parted not being in synch with your feelings, suddenly showed up in your life the blurred lines around you both could cause a ripple effect that tills the soil around your present life. I have seen this for myself and to be honest have experienced it too. There was a couple I knew where I was originally friends with one of them before they were in the relationship; so I knew much of their history. The two of them lived together and anyone who met them thought they made the perfect couple. However when a person my friend had lived with previously came back into their life, the foundation for the present relationship started to crumble. Maybe there had not been much communication or the expression of feelings before but it was obvious there still was a connection with their former lover. I remember being at a small dinner party where the past and present relationships were together and it was obvious there was a murky tension between all of them. It was a tough situation and in fact I may experience something similar in the near future because I have heard talk about someone from my past is planning a visit to come here and meet up with friends. And this trip would include the new person in their life. I know I do not want to experience any of the drama that I saw playing out in this dramatic movie. ENJOYING a peaceful, quiet time off the coast of Italy rock star Marianne Lane and her boyfriend Paul De Smedt, played by Tilda Swinton (Trainwreck, Only Lovers Left Alive) and Matthias Schoenaerts (The Drop, Rust and Bone), suddenly had their trip disrupted by the appearance of record producer Harry Hawkes and his daughter Penelope Lannier, played by Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter franchise, Spectre) and Dakota Johnson (How to be Single, Fifty Shades of Grey). Their visit would stir up things that were better left alone. This film festival winner had some beautiful outdoor film shots; besides the acting it was a highlight for me. As for the cast I thought they all were wonderful and because of them I was able to still stay somewhat interested in what was otherwise a dysfunctional story. I thought the script was a mess; the story morphed from a drama to a mystery and changed the entire tone. A shame because I could not stay engaged with the characters despite the good acting. If the script had stuck with one story line I think it would have made for a better movie experience. The idea behind this story was something I could follow; I just wished it had been cleaner in its execution. Several scenes were spoken in Italian with English subtitles.
2 1/4 stars
The rules for dating as far as I can tell are constantly changing. I use to wish for a handbook to make the process easier. From my experiences I feel the underlying reason for all of the confusion these days is mistrust. It seems as if very few people take another person at face value. There was a time where most dates did not have an issue getting picked up at their home. I do not know if it is partially because of the internet or all the different crime shows on television, but a majority of people prefer meeting at some type of public establishment. Now I actually agree with this logic; I’m all for meeting someone out publicly for the 1st time. Here is the thing though; even after a couple of dates I noticed some individuals balk at the suggestion of being picked up at their home or coming over to mine. There have been times when I’ve offered such an arrangement but sensed their uneasiness at the suggestion. I get the sense they feel I have an ulterior motive in offering such a thing. It is just weird to me; but I never force the issue. Now there is something else that I find perplexing; maybe you have noticed it yourself. Those friends that go from being single to being in a relationship quickly become outdated on the latest dating rules; it is as if their set of rules expired over night. You can query them, asking them how they knew their date was the right one; but to no avail, everyone has a different answer. When you think about it, it is amazing how people wind up being in a loving relationship. If you do not believe me just take a look at the women in this comedic romance. Alice, Robin and Meg; played by Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey, Black Mass), Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect franchise, Bridesmaids) and Leslie Mann (The Other Woman, This is 40); each had different reasons for dating. It only became more confusing when love was introduced into it. Based on the best seller, the cast also included Anders Holm (The Intern, The Interview) as Tom and Jake Lacy (Carol, Obvious Child) as Ken. Though I have not read the book, I did get the idea the story was meant to shine a light on the dating world from a feminine perspective. I thought Leslie and Rebel were better when it came to acting skills. Honestly though, I did not think this movie did anything different; I was constantly getting bored with the story. In fact, the trailer for this film showed the best parts; throughout the movie I never connected to any of the characters. Now here is the funny thing, I could see where the story could have taken a bigger risk and delve deeper into the characters but the script was not geared to do it. After seeing this film I am just as confused about dating and love as I was before.
1 3/4 stars
The only reason I started listening to their conversation was because I thought they were talking about Russian royalty. As I stood in line to check out my groceries, two women in front of me were talking about someone named Anastasia. Since it was the title to one of my favorite Ingrid Bergman films, my ears perked up upon hearing that name. I quickly realized they were not talking about the movie so I lost interest in their conversation. Some time shortly after I was in a store and while in the shoe department I heard some people nearby talking about Anastasia and Christian. What were the chances I would hear the name Anastasia twice in one week? It was not long before I kept hearing about these two individuals everywhere I went, from the office to the health club to any retail establishment; it was unreal how many people were talking about them. Feeling like I hadn’t been invited to the party I asked a couple of coworkers to explain to me who were these two people, Christian and Anastasia. After getting acquainted with these characters from author E.L. James’ 2011 book, 50 Shades of Grey, I became even more fascinated by their ability to draw so many people into their world. AFTER all this time I have finally been introduced to the infamous couple in this dramatic romance film based on the book. Dakota Johnson (Need for Speed, Beastly) and Jamie Dornan (Marie Antoinette, Shadows in the Sun) played Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey; she, a college student and he, a young successful business entrepreneur. If there is anyone left besides me who has not read the book, the story is about these two characters’ attraction to each other, though for different reasons. Starting with the screenplay written by Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks, Terra Nova-TV), I really wished E.L. James would have written it because I thought the script was poorly done, with some real awful lines. I do not know if it was due to the lack of chemistry between the two main stars (there was none), but I still do not understand what the attraction was for Christian. From her 1st entrance into his office to him suddenly flying out to see her at the hardware store where she worked, I just did not get it. Scenes seemed disjointed or maybe I should say they lacked the emotion one would expect for such a scene. Again I want to stress I did not read the book; but as for this movie, I found sitting through it to be a painful experience. However, maybe you should check with the majority of women at my viewing who were hooting and hollering whenever Christian took off any of his clothing.
1 2/3 stars