AS WE CROSSED THE THRESHOLD; I saw one standing guard by the door, another lounging on a chair and a third smaller one acting as the greeter. It was some scene; these white powder puff dogs with their individual, distinct roles in the household. The “guard” dog was the only male; I do not know if that had any bearing on him assuming his role in the house. I will say he was good at his job; any little sound from outside would trigger him to jump on the sofa to peer out the window for any intruders, before he would run to the door to make sure it was secured. The one dog who was reclined on the cushion of the chair was an attention seeker. Evidently, her goal in life was to get everyone to come and pet her. The smallest one was the youngest of the group and her motivation for greeting everyone at the door was to find someone to play with her and her toys. Each of the dogs had their own personality; yet, they got along quite well for the most part. The only time the three would fuss was during mealtime. Like little kids in a candy shop, they always wanted more food than what they got in their bowls. As soon as one was done eating, he/she would go to one of the other bowls and try to get a portion of its food. ALONG WITH THOSE FURRY SIBLINGS, I HAVE met some other extraordinary dogs. One dog understood commands in both English and German. He was a water rescuer; in other words, he was deployed to accidents that occurred in water. For example, things like boat crashes and missing people. Another dog I knew had an amazing vocabulary. This dog could retrieve specific items from different rooms in a home. You could ask the dog to get you your hairbrush from the upstairs bathroom and the dog would know exactly where to go to get it and bring it back to you. I found it both incredible and a bit freaky at the same time. I would be remiss if I did not mention the service dogs that help their blind owners and the ones that help with security. It was because of my early experiences around dogs that originally led me to study veterinarian science. One of the things I used to say back in school was I never met a bad dog, only a bad dog owner. When it comes to the dog in this family, adventure drama; all I can say is I never met a dog like that one before. SPANNING FROM CALIFORNIA TO THE ALASKAN YUKON, a dog’s journey would change the lives of the people it encountered along the way. Adapted from the classic novel by Jack London, this movie starred Harrison Ford (Ender’s Game, Star Wars franchise) as John Thornton, Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, Not Another Happy Ending) as Mercedes, Cara Gee (Empire of Dirt, The Expanse-TV) as Francoise, Dan Stevens (Lucy in the Sky, Beauty and the Beast) as Hal and Omar Sy (The Intouchables, Jurassic World) as Perrault. Having read the book years ago in school, I still retained the feelings I felt for the dog, Buck. I do not know if this will be a spoiler for some; but Buck in this film was completed created by CGI effects, as well as all the other animals. Normally, I am fine with CGI effects; however, in this picture I found it to be a distraction. Having animals displaying human facial features was too weird for me. Even the landscape was created with CGI which resulted in me not enjoying this movie. There were a few scenes that were decent; but overall, I found this film was not dog friendly.
1 ¾ stars
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
IT IS STILL A MYSTERY, at least to me, how a person winds up with a strong sense of confidence. In fact is it even a sense? Maybe it is more of a belief; either way it is something I have struggled with for a long time. When I look back all the way to my school years, I do not recall any of my actions being motivated from a base of confidence. Now granted my brain is wired to be a defensive pessimist which I have always considered to be an asset. With this type of mindset I go into something expecting the worst; so if it fails I am not disappointed and if it comes out good then I am elated. The thing about being wired this way is it allows me to look at all the possibilities for ways things can go wrong, pushing me to go harder in finding a solution. Yet I still would like to know how it feels to do something without having to question oneself. THERE WAS A PROFESSOR who periodically would get his manuscripts published into books. He never thought about what market he was writing for or if his work would be successful; he just knew when he was done writing his final draft the piece would get sold. I was fascinated to the point of being enthralled by the confidence he exuded when it came to his writings and teaching. There never was a point where he would second guess, doubt or even think he would not be well received in his world of academia. I wondered if by hanging around him some of his confidence would rub off on me. The whole confidence thing is such a curious puzzle to me. Is it something that gets instilled in a child from their living environment? Can a person be taught to have confidence? And how much influence does the classroom experience have on a child? I wish I had answers to these questions for it would have given me more insight into the amazing confidence the main character had in this biographical, dramatic movie. DURING THE TIMES WHERE there were “White Only” water fountains NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall, played by Chadwick Boseman (Get on Up, 42), was sent to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman. It was a case that would take on historic significance. Based on a true event the cast also included Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast, The Wedding Ringer) as Sam Friedman, Kate Hudson (Bride Wars, Deepwater Horizon) as Eleanor Strubing, Sterling K. Brown (This is Us-TV, The Suspect) as Joseph Spell and Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, The Guest) as Loren Willis. First let me say the acting in this film was incredible; Chadwick and Josh embodied their characters fully. I am so impressed with Josh’s versatility and movie choices; he commanded the screen. The script and direction worked hand in hand to create not only a monumental event, but wrap it into a court thriller. Personally I would have enjoyed if the writers put in more of Thurgood’s back story because his confidence, especially in the environment he resided in, was unbelievable. With the courtroom drama taking up most of the air, the secondary side scenes were relegated to the background in my opinion. Please excuse the pun but the movie studio did justice to this story and I only wish I could have just a tenth of the confidence Thurgood Marshall had inside of him.
3 ½ stars
AMONG the employees he was the “go to” guy, for almost anything you needed. Not for work related issues, it was for almost anything you were looking for personally. You see, it always seemed as if he knew someone; or if he did not, he knew someone who knew someone who could handle any of our requests. If you needed a new sidewalk, he knew someone in the cement industry; if you were looking for a new car, his cousin’s brother-in-law sold cars. I cannot recall ever hearing him declining someone’s request; this guy always had some type of connection to get any of us help. Now I cannot honestly say every person he recommended did the best job, because many times I heard employees describe the work done as fine or adequate; but with the promise of getting the work at a cheaper price, I guess one could say you get what you pay for as the saying goes. When I needed new windows in my basement I used this employee’s connections. I did not think doing glass block windows would be too hard, but I did have to call them back to fix the caulk job on a couple of windows. HAVING been employed for many years I learned a long time ago it is not what you know but who you know. In my personal life I know a couple of people who have friends in the entertainment industry. They are part of an association that allows them to attend some of the award shows. Since one of my dreams is to attend the Oscar awards telecast, I would have no issue seeking them out. Granted I wish they were friends of mine instead of being friends of a friend. When I have had the good fortune to attend a special screening of a new film, I always try to stay afterwards during the Q & A session with cast members and the director. If there is an opportunity to give any of them my business card, you better believe I will do it; however, I don’t come anywhere near the skills of this dramatic movie’s main character. ALWAYS coming close but never being a party to the big power brokers Norman Oppenheimer, played by Richard Gere (Arbitrage, Primal Fear), begins to realize something is happening when a politician he had met in the past drops his name. This one connection could change Norman’s life. This film festival nominee also starred Michael Sheen (Passengers, Kingdom of Heaven) as Philip Cohen, Lior Ashkenazi (Later Marriage, Footnote) as Eshel, Charlotte Gainsbourg (Melancholia, 3 Hearts) as Alex and Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, Criminal Activities) as Bill Kavish. The script to this story allowed Richard to shine; he was excellent in the role. The movie for the most part was dialog driven. At first I felt the story was going to become a drag; but the more I saw of Richard’s character, the more involved I became. It was surprising to see this film was also tagged a thriller besides being a drama. Maybe in the loosest of terms was it thrilling; for the most part I took it to be a believable telling of those in power. Not having connections to any powerful bigwigs, I enjoyed getting an up close seat to this party.
ACTIONS speak louder than words. Sometimes they do more than just speak louder. There are some people who do things with little fanfare, but their actions have a profound effect on many. Recently on the news I saw there was an anonymous donor who provided enough funds to rebuild a charitable organization’s offices after they were damaged by a tornado. Another news source reported on a patient who needed a kidney transplant. A donor had stepped forward after hearing the patient’s story. This donor had no connections to the individual, but after hearing the patient’s story he said he felt it was the right thing to do. He did not want any compensation or recognition for his healthy kidney, nor did he want any fuss. Of course the news sources jumped at the chance to bring a “feel good” story to the public. During these current times I find it refreshing to find individuals doing good deeds without the need to broadcast or brag about them to the world. LOOKING towards the opposite end of the spectrum, there are individuals who have no idea their actions can have a negative impact on people. How many of us have experienced at work where one worker does something shady or let me say “against policy” that causes the company to install a new procedure that affects all the workers? I was employed at a company where the owner was carrying on an affair with a woman who was not his wife. Luckily I did not get sucked into the drama, but several employees were put in an uncomfortable spot when the wife would call looking for her husband. The employees were put in an awkward place because they had no choice but to lie to the wife if they wanted to keep their job. You might be thinking the affair would not last long and you would be partially correct. Some did not last long but there was always some other woman waiting in the wings. I so wanted to tell the owner to take a look around and see how his actions were affecting his employees. Too bad he did not have the insight that the main character found in this fantasy comedy. GLORIA’S, played by Anne Hathaway (The Intern, Rachael Getting Married), constant drinking was having an effect on her boyfriend Tim, played by Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, The Guest). She could not see what her actions were doing to him, let alone to people nowhere near her. This film festival winning movie’s story was quite unusual. It started out slow or more to the point confusing to me; however, once I felt I understood what Gloria’s drinking represented I was able to sit back and enjoy this quirky film. Anne did a wonderful job of acting with her character and the bonus was watching her play against Jason Sudeikis (Masterminds, Mother’s Day) as Oscar. He was amazing in his ability to switch back and forth between comedy and seriousness. I honestly do not see this picture going into wide release because I would not consider it a mainstream movie. However the story really had a way of pulling in the viewer; one only needed to suspend reality and watch how actions speak louder than words at times.
WHEN I ask why they are attracted to that certain feature of the individual, the answer is never the same. It is perplexing to me how people acquire a particular attraction to a person’s height, hair color or body type. Friends of mine to this day test me because they cannot believe I do not pay attention to the surface details of an individual. They will point at someone and ask me if I would be attracted to that person. Each time I have to tell them I do not know until I have had a couple of conversations with that particular individual. Maybe from my studies in psychology I attempt to rationalize a person’s tastes in potential dates. In some circles of thought one could say one of the reasons a person is attracted to redheads is because they are less available, rarer if you will. This person wants to stand out from the pack. Someone may be attracted to facial hair because it represents a father figure, an authoritarian. There are so many different interpretations, yet they still do not answer my fundamental thought: why should it make a difference what a person looks like? You can have what looks like the most perfect apple in your hand, but it still may be rotten underneath the skin. TAKING this a step further, I feel the same way about a person’s ethnicity. The only thing a person’s ethnic makeup tells me is what region of the world their ancestors were born. After taking in the cultural differences, I do not find anything different between people of different races. Each group produces geniuses, thieves, liars, bigoted and loving people. I find this whole discrimination thing puzzling and troubling. People are quick to make judgments about individuals solely based on skin color; I just do not get it. From what I have said you may begin to suspect, this fairy tale is one my favorite stories from childhood. SIMPLY by plucking a single rose off a bush Maurice, played by Kevin Kline (Cry Freedom, My Old Lady), was imprisoned by a monstrous beast, played by Dan Stevens (The Guest, Downton Abbey-TV). If it was not for his daughter Belle, played by Emma Watson (The Bling Ring, Harry Potter franchise); Maurice would have never survived the ordeal. This live action, fantasy musical was based on the animated film version of this story done in the 1990s. With Luke Evans (Dracula Untold, The Raven) as Gaston and Josh Gad (The Wedding Ringer, Jobs) as LeFou, the cast members not associated with singing surprised me with their vocal abilities. Emma took her character and made it a somewhat more modern and determined figure. I do not know if it was because of this or not, but I found her interactions with the Beast emotionally too fast. She never had a sense of revulsion upon meeting the Beast; in other words there was a lack of tension between the two. The same argument could be made with other portions of the film; the story was quickly pushed from one action scene to another I felt. At least the creativity and imagination that went into the sets and individual pieces were thoroughly entertaining. Along with the wonderful musical score and beautiful story, there are more things to like about this film than not. Maybe just do not look too deep under the surface to find the cracks.
There was nothing they did that caused you to be alarmed. They were pleasant, engaged and most importantly attentive to your friend. Though the two of them had been dating for a few months, this was the first time you were meeting them. This was known as moving the relationship to the next stage, where it was time for the boyfriend/girlfriend to meet the best friend. Hoping to keep the get together as stress free as possible, it was decided that everyone would meet for lunch; nothing else was planned in case by some small chance there would be any kind of friction between the two. In spite of everything going well, there was something about them that set off a tiny alarm in your head. You could not explain it but you had a sense that something was not right about them. The tough part was deciding whether you should tell your friend about your feelings; it was a no win situation. Though there would be several more get togethers, you were always on guard; looking for something concrete you could casually bring up to your friend to see how they would react. You were smart enough to know when a friend was involved in a relationship it was your job to be supportive and not say anything unless something blatant was being done by the girlfriend/boyfriend. HESITANT at first, the Peterson family quickly opened up their home to the stranger David, played by Dan Stevens (A Walk Among the Tombstones, Hilde), when he explained he and their deceased son had been friends in the military. With Laura and Spencer Peterson, played by Sheila Kelley (Matchstick Men, One Find Day) and Leland Orser (Independence Day, Taken franchise), insistent that David stay with them for a while, it was soon after he had settled in that a couple of accidental deaths occurred. This film was a surprise for me with it retro vibe and fun script. Dan Stevens was so good in the role; he easily commanded the viewers attention. Like those scary thrillers from a decade ago, the tension came more from the chase instead of the violence. Now granted there were a few violent scenes with blood, but they were almost minor compared to the buildup. Another aspect of the movie that i enjoyed was the script; it had a fun dose of cheesiness, yet made the characters real to the point where I was feeling concerned for them. In addition, just when you thought the story was going in one direction, it veered off in another direction. This sounds strange to say but I really had a fun time watching this film, despite my initial wariness. A few scenes had violence and blood in them.
It is important to have a comfortable setting. Location is a priority for some while comfort is a necessity for others. Once you are in your perfect place a calmness comes over you like an old comfy sweater; all that is left is for the movie to begin. The opening scene rolls onto the screen and there is a twinge of excitement as you are prepared to be taken on a journey by the film’s story. A short time passed and that hopeful, emotional expectation dimmed as it took its last breath of light and you realized something was not right. You were reacting to the film, there was something familiar about it. There was a moment where you quickly wondered if you had seen the film before and had spaced out about it. As it turned out you did not see the picture before, but the film studio just used the same formula that was successful for the main star in a prior movie. This left you feeling unsatisfied to the point of feeling cheated. It was like craving your favorite chocolate wafer sandwich cookie only to find the grocery store was out and only had a cheap knockoff–it was not the same. TOUGH, fearless, confident and tall; this seemed the niche Liam Neeson (A Million Ways to Die in the West, Non-Stop) was gravitating to as he played private investigator Matt Scudder. When drug trafficker Kenny Kristo, played by Dan Stevens (The Fifth Estate, Downton Abbey-TV), asked the private investigator to find the men who killed his wife, Matt initially refused. It wasn’t until he heard how the wife died that he agreed to take on the case. I found this crime drama to be for the most part standard fare. It came across as a formulaic vehicle for Liam to go through the motions, having done this type of role a few times already. There was the “bad guys” who in this case had a real ick factor; the young streetwise innocent TJ, played by Brian “Astro” Bradley (Earth to Echo, The X Factor-TV) and a script that tried to have Liam deliver lines that would become iconic sayings for the movie goer. At least I was not completely bored thanks to the several scenes that were well directed to deliver tense excitement. The first time Liam took on the role of a middle-aged tough guy it was different and fresh. The second time it lost some of it luster and was not as exciting to watch. By now all I wanted to say to Liam was, “It is enough already.” If this is the first time you are seeing a Liam Neeson film then you might enjoy this movie; if not, then you may feel as if you had seen this all before. There were scenes of violence and blood.