IT MAY START WITH THAT first “thwack” of a flyswatter against an insect where a child gets desensitized to the concept of death. To a baby or young child a bug may only be perceived as a toy; the idea of life and death is not something a young mind can wrap itself around. I even remember classmates who would hold a magnifying glass above an insect, directing the light of the sun down to burn the bug. To my fellow classmates it was simply a game they played. There were never any protests or condemnations by other students against this practice. It was not until we graduated to a higher grade level; I think it was around the 6th or 7th grade before a student would report a classmate for torturing an animal. This may shock you but we had a classmate who was known for setting fire to cats. I do not know how he caught them but I always wondered if he tortured and killed any other types of animals. To have such a disregard for life I assumed he must have been getting abused by someone. IT IS NOT UNTIL ONE is faced with a life threatening experience before they truly can appreciate their life. Recently I was talking with someone who had dealt with a deadly health issue. We talked and compared the issues we both had during our individual crisis. It was funny but we each told our loved ones we did not want any words of encouragement like “it will be okay.” During my medical scare I told everyone not to respond to any of the updates I would be sending them. Here is the thing though; everyone handles life and death issues differently. Some people are trained to never talk about death so when someone is facing a life threatening illness they stay away from the patient. Most people I think are trained to look at death as a sad experience. Yes it is sad that person will not be around anymore; but I feel death should be looked at as a celebration of life. Since death is a certainty in each of our lives, the idea of spending time dreading it taking place does not make much sense to me. I will say however there are only 2 things I hope will happen when it is my time to die: that my death does not make the news as part of a tragic event and I have a smile on my face as I die happy. FROM A CHANCE MEETING STRANGERS Annabel and Enoch, played by Mia Wasikowska (Crimson Peak, The Kids are All Right) and Henry Hopper (The Color of Time, The Fly Room), discover they have something in common: Death. This film festival nominated dramatic romance also starred Ryo Kase (Letters from Iwo Jima, Beyond Outrage) as Hiroshi Takahashi, Schuyler Fisk (Orange Country, The Best of Me) as Elizabeth and Jane Adams (Poltergeist, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) as Mabel. I thought Mia shined in this movie; her acting was soft and subtle. The story piqued my interest because it was based on a curious idea. However as the story moved forward I started to lose interest. The script was somewhat confusing to me to the point I wasn’t sure if what I was watching had some important symbolism or was a metaphor for a particular issue. I really wished the writers would have delved more into Mia’s character, developing it fuller. She was the focal point as far as I was concerned; the other characters were secondary in my opinion. Sadly this DVD really never came alive for me.
1 ¾ stars — DVD
SHE/HE is a special kind of friend. Sure he/she can be a confidant, a buddy and a protector; but what makes this type of friend special is the fact you are her/his only friend. Plus, you are the only one who can see this friend. I had such a friend who was everything I described above; he looked almost identical to me except he was thinner and incredibly strong. He was more than a protector; he was a vigilante. Right after an altercation, where I was on the receiving end of some form of violence/bullying, my friend would appear and take swift action against the perpetrators. If I was punched, my friend was ruthless with the revenge he would administer. No one around would even know what was taking place as my friend’s fists would be pummeling the bodies of the people who attacked me. Usually in less than a minute my friend would have knocked each attacker unconscious, battered and bloody. THERE were some individuals who had a similar friend to mine, but theirs was more of a sounding board for any dilemma the person was pondering. I guess you could say they were created to be the person’s conscious who would play the saint role as well as devil’s advocate. These friends provide a valuable service. Speaking for myself my friend did not provide much consoling for me. I knew I was not going to meet violence with actual violence; it was not part of my makeup, plus I knew I would never win. My friend satisfied the desire/need to make a stand and show the bullies I was not passively sitting by and letting them have their way with me. The anger inside of me was funneled into my friend who in his world could get away with everything and pay no consequences. If you would like to see an example then feel free to watch this dramatic fantasy film. WHILE his mother, played by Felicity Jones (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Inferno), was fighting a fatal disease and a bully was picking on him at school Conor, played by Lewis MacDougall (Pan), one day was visited by a monstrous talking tree who had a story to tell him. This film festival winning movie had a wonderful mix of special effects that fit in well with the actors’ scenes; it created a stylish visual narrative. With Sigourney Weaver (The Cold Light of Day, Alien franchise) as the grandmother and Toby Kebbell (Ben-Hur, Fantastic Four) as the Dad, I have to say all the actors were on their “A” game. Lewis was extra special with his role in my opinion. The story was interesting to me because there was one part that was dealing with terminal illness, another part that was focusing on bullying and lastly the fantasy of the talking tree monster. This is not a film for young children; there were many theater patrons at my showing with tears in their eyes due to the heavy subject matter. As a coming of age story this film provided a different spin on it and as a person who had a special friend, I totally identified with Conor’s monster.
DEATH does not owe anyone an answer; it takes what it wants and all we can do is experience grief, relief or believe it or not, happiness. I say happiness because of a funeral I once attended where I knew the deceased but not all of the other people in attendance. Sitting in the chapel I was shocked with some of the comments people were so free to share with those around them. One person said they were there to make sure that bastard was buried deep in the ground; another guest wanted to come to see if there was actually someone who was mourning the death. I could only silently sit in my seat because I was too stunned to say anything. As a side note the funeral service was done quickly with only a couple of eulogies. FROM a previous review I mentioned the hardest deaths involve those where the person was taken early. When a person reaches an old age one can hear comments such as, “he lived a long life” or “she did what she wanted to do,” at the funeral. Sadness could be wrapped up in the sense of loss but rarely have I heard anyone question why the individual perished. If there was a long growing illness I could understand the sense of relief one would feel at the time of death. From my experiences I have learned when a person dies unexpectedly; it is harder for those who are left behind. When the individual has suffered for a long time, finishing their journey here, those remaining do feel a sense of relief. I do not recollect anyone questioning why the person died. Personally I think asking questions that you cannot get answers for only delays the healing process. I know a couple of people who still want to know why a friend of theirs committed suicide. This makes for a hard road to travel, the asking of questions. You can see for yourself in this dramatic movie. DEVASTATED by the death of his young daughter Howard, played by Will Smith (Suicide Squad, Concussion) began writing letters to Death, Youth and Love. It was not long before they started answering him. This film festival winner had an excellent cast that included Edward Norton (The Grand Budapest Hotel, American History) as Whit, Kate Winslet (The Dressmaker, Finding Neverland) as Claire, Michael Pena (End of Watch, The Martian) as Simon, Naomie Harris (Moonlight, Skyfall) as Madeleine and Helen Mirren (Trumbo, Woman in Gold) as Brigitte. For a story line I did not mind the concept and felt the actors were more than capable to do a fine job. Out of the cast the 2 that stood out for me were Naomie and Michael; they were believable and conveyed true emotions. Outside of them I did not feel a connection to anyone else. Whether the rest of the actors knew the script was poorly written or not, they did not provide any substance to their characters. As for the script I found it to be in manipulative in a sappy way. I felt the film was created just to get viewers weepy and use that as their connection to the story. Sitting through this picture was like experiencing a slow death.
1 ¾ stars
FOR many people only fond memories resurface when they travel back to their old neighborhood. The discount store that had the best penny candies, the shoe store with the jovial shoe clerk who told the best stories, the house where one’s best friend lived; there could be many places that bring a smile to one’s face. But not everyone may have a similar experience when they go back home. There are some people who tentatively traverse the streets that are fraught with landmines of dark emotions. RECENTLY I had to travel back to my old neighborhood, the place where I grew up. The street I lived on looked the same except several houses on the block were painted in different colors. The tree in the alley next to my home, where I would climb up to hide, was no longer there; it was replaced with recently poured concrete to add parking spaces. My secret place to hide at school was in one of its parking lots; it was still there. I would wait inside until I felt everyone in the school had gone home for the day, before venturing out from it. Driving east I passed a place that was a few houses down from a relative’s place. That spot nearby was where one time I did not get to their home in time before being attacked. I continued on until the street ended at the beach. Here is where I started developing my creative side, building elaborate sand castles and forts. Alas, some of them were meant to fall once the tide came in. No matter which way one looks at it, each neighborhood has its share of good and bad memories. RETURNING home due to the death of his brother Joe, played by Kyle Chandler (The Wolf of Wall Street, Zero Dark Thirty); Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck (Out of the Furnace, The Finest Hours), was stunned to find out he was made the guardian of Joe’s son Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom, Kill the Messenger). There was a problem, Lee did not want to move back home. This film festival winning drama had some of the best acting I have seen this year. Casey, Lucas and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Blue Valentine) as Randi Chandler were so good together that my heart ached. The atmosphere for this movie was one of sadness and depression; however, the script was smartly written to allow Patrick to act like a typical high school boy. I enjoyed the scenery of the east coast and never felt the camera work was intrusive. There were a couple of spots where I found the story deflated a bit, but seriously the acting in this picture could get a few nominations this awards season. Let me reiterate this was not a happy story; but it was a moving experience, especially the way the story unfolded. Even if the distance is far, it would be worth your time to travel over to the neighborhood in this winning film.
3 2/3 stars
Slowly you remove yourself from the warmth you were lovingly lying next to, to give them a couple of extra minutes of sleep before the start of their day. You did not even think about the clothes you have at the dry cleaners because they will be hanging in your closet when you get home that night from work. When the two of you are out at a restaurant, you do not have to ask the waitstaff to remove the veggies you do not like from your salad; your significant other will take them without having to be asked. The two of you have an easy symbiotic relationship. Not that you take each other for granted, but the daily things that transpire between you two become their own type of routine. It is sad to say, but it is not until you no longer are a couple that you realize the extra wonderful things that made your relationship so special. I do not mean to paint this in a bad light; but I have found it is the small things that take place between two people that re-enforce the glue which keeps both in a relationship. It is part of the support system each one has created in unison and like anything that occurs on a constant schedule, it may appear less special and sweet as it fades into a routine. This is one of the reasons that I have always insisted on keeping up a date night so the two of us can break out of our daily routines to focus on each other. Not only do I understand but I have experienced what it feels like when that special love is no longer with you. SUCCESSFUL investment banker Davis, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Source Code, Nightcrawler), only began to realize what he was missing after his wife was killed in a tragic automobile accident. This film festival winning comedic drama also included Naomi Watts (While we’re Young, The Impossible) as Karen, Chris Cooper (Adaptation, American Beauty) as Davis’ father-in-law and Judah Lewis (Point Break) as Chris. Though the acting was good I found the script to be dismal though in a way this played to Jake’s strengths. I do not even know if I would classify this movie as part comedy. There was nothing in it that I found funny. Now there were several opportunities to create impressive dramatic scenes but they tended to fall short. Also, I usually do not notice but this time I thought Jake’s shower scenes were unnecessary and wondered if they were inserted for eye candy value. The other odd thing I found was the lack of time awareness. I became aware to the fact that he wasn’t working yet these different events were taking place with him over time. For some reason this stood out for me. The idea behind this story was interesting and the script had some valid points; however, I did not connect to this film, nor did I miss it after it was over.
1 ¾ stars
It is something many of us avoid talking about with each other. There are a few, the more practical ones, who at least took some steps to prepare for it one day. The thing about it though, is each of us learns about it at a young age and then we forget about it or push it to a far corner of our brain. However, no matter what you do to avoid it, it stays put like an exotic island in the ocean of your soul. The first time I experienced a death it was short and quick; they went into the hospital and died within 24 hours. When the next time came along it was ugly and drawn out. Their body was like a burning candle; it slowly melted away over time as the image of their skeleton became prominent. Because of that experience I pushed any thoughts about my own mortality deep down away from my conscious mind as best as I could. As the years roll by, if we are lucky, the beauty of our youth starts looking like a well-worn frayed, baggy sweater. Friends and family begin talking about what they would like to see happen for their final years. As I said if they are lucky to have lived a full long life. Maybe I should not say this but have you ever noticed how it sometimes takes someone’s early death to make someone else start to have more appreciation for their life? Can one say death is the ultimate reality check? UNFOCUSED and self-destructive James White, played by Christopher Abbott (Martha Marcy May Marlene, A Most Violent Year), did not know what to do when his mother Gail, played by Cynthia Nixon (5 Flights Up, Sex and the City franchise), had to battle a serious illness. It would be easier to run away. This film festival winning drama was one of the hardest movies I had to sit through in a long time. Not because it was bad or anything like that, it was due to it being so authentic. One had to hand it to both Christopher and Cynthia; their acting was outstanding. Granted the script was geared mostly to their characters; the other actors such as Scott Mescudi (Project X, Need for Speed) as Nick and Makenzie Leigh (The Slap-TV, Gotham-TV) as Jayne were fine but their characters were secondary. I am not sure how the general movie audience will react to this film; it is not the type of movie one leaves and wants to go out for a good time afterward. There were times I actually wished the story would end because I was watching some tough scenes. The theater I was in was utterly silent at the end of the film; everyone quietly filed out. I cannot imagine anyone who sees this film will not be moved in some way. In fact, this movie could certainly make one appreciate their life more.
3 1/4 stars
As every day fades away less and less people will be around that remember what it was like to watch family movies. It is not so dissimilar to the photographs we took with Kodachrome film. Those color pictures slowly leaked out their hues that diffused into thin air, leaving sepia ghosts on the paper until they turned into light silhouettes. Now with videos being made by such things as smart phones and computer tablets, most people have to huddle around the videographer’s outstretched hand like puppies coming to nurse at their mother. I am willing to bet they do not know what it is like to get settled into a family room with all your relatives around you. On the far side there stood a 3-legged white screen with an 8mm film projector pointing at it from the opposite side of the room. As someone turns off the light, the film operator starts up the projector; you hear the rapid tat, tat, tat sound repeating itself as the reels of film spin around. It does not matter if the lighting is poor or the images are a bit out of focus because half the fun is hearing the running commentary from all the relatives seated around the room. There was nothing like seeing younger versions of everyone either dancing, mugging or eating on that white screen. I can still remember sitting on the floor with my cousins as we watched our aunts and uncles celebrating at some event, dressed in what we thought were some goofy looking clothing. One of the best parts of looking at these old movies was seeing deceased relatives who you had only heard about and now can see them “live” so to speak. I cannot say the same thing for the family in this horror movie. AFTER moving into a rural home where a murder had taken place, the Collins family had something else that scared them. The first thing I have to tell you is I could not figure out if I was watching a prequel or sequel. Having sat through the first one, I had same faint memories that I was trying to plug in to what I was seeing in this picture. Starring Shannyn Sossamon (A Knight’s Tale, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) as Courtney Collins and Lea Coco (J. Edgar, Dorian Blues) as Clint Collins, I wished the writers would have done more with their story. The reason being the rest of the movie was boring with nothing scary about it. With my confusion and the lack of suspense, I have to say this was a real waste of time in my opinion. The script was so bare bones, that it felt like it was still in workshop when the studio decided they wanted to jump on it and bring it to the big screen. All I can say is I was grateful there were no extra scenes after the credits.
1 1/2 stars
When you find someone who has the same type of humor and similar likes/dislikes as you, it feels like you two are members of a secret club. The two of you may have the opposite reaction to something compared to everyone else around you but it is fine; both of you are sharing the same thought which only strengthens the bond between you. There is a term called “thick as thieves” which means two or more people are very close or friendly, sharing secrets. The term is an informal version of “partners in crime.” Growing up I had a cousin who was my partner in crime. We would take dishwater detergent bottles, pour the contents into a bowl, then fill the bottles up with water to use them as squirt guns. Our neighbors’ kids thought we were weird until they got doused with a blast of water from our bottles; they were more powerful than the average squirt gun. Even in my adult life I have several friends who are like my partners in crime. There is one friend I enjoy going with to the theater because we have such similar tastes; we usually get the same reactions to the things we see up on stage. You may find us laughing or crying at a scene while the theater patrons around us remain blank and emotionless. At least we had each other; can you imagine what it would be like if you were with someone who did not get you? It would be awkward. OLIVER Whynacht, played by Jay Baruchel (This is the End, The Art of the Steal), inherited a funeral home that was nearly bankrupt. Things looked grim until mortician Roberta Knickle, played by Rose Bryne (Neighbors, This is Where I Leave You), found a way to increase the number of funerals at the home. This film festival winner was a twisted dark humored dramedy. Having been introduced to Rose in more current films, I enjoyed watching her in this older movie because it showed she had excellent comedic timing even back then. The cast, which also included Grahan Green (Dances with Wolves, The Green Mile) as Henry Sanipass and Nigel Bennett (Legends of the Fall, The Skulls) as Chief Knickle, was fine overall. As for the story it had a familiar vibe to it; I could predict what was going to happen in several scenes. Compared to other movies of a similar vein, I would have to say this was an average one. With this being a black comedy I would suggest you watch this DVD with someone who enjoys this type of humor; otherwise, they may sit there and think you are just odd. There were scenes with blood in them.
2 stars — DVD
Those I call friend join me on a life long journey. We walk side by side down a long and winding road, where we discover amazing sights along the way. Sometimes they have to push me up a hill of doubt; other times, I have to pull them through a thicket of low self-esteem. Either way we take this journey together without any judgements, only unconditional love. Though every step is precious, there is an extra comfort when we share the high and the low points along our way. This comedic drama reinforced the deep affection I have for my friends. After recently reviewing special effect laden blockbusters, it was peaceful just to sit and focus on the art of acting. Recently widowed Arvilla Holden, played by Jessica Lange (The Vow, Big Fish), was distressed further when her stepdaughter demanded her father’s ashes be given to her, to be buried next to his first wife. Not wanting Arvilla to take the trip alone; her two friends Margene Cunningham and Carol Brimm, played by Kathy Bates (Titanic, Midnight in Paris) and Joan Allen (Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, Death Race), decided to join her. The trip would take the three women to unexpected places. For me the story was a generic blueprint; it had no embellishments or surprises to set it apart from similar stories done before. I wished the writers would have done a stronger story line because it really was not fair to the actresses. The acting power of Jessica, Kathy, Joan and Christine Baranski (Mamma Mia, The Good Wife-TV), as the stepdaughter Francine Holden Packard, deserved a better script. There was sweet, gentle moments throughout the film, along with chuckles provided for the most part by Kathy Bates’ character. An added bonus for me was the beautiful scenery the trio stopped at during their journey. This was not a great movie by any means; however, I simply enjoyed the underlying theme of friends being there for each other.
2 1/4 stars — DVD
Sudden death is easier than a lingering one. As I get older I have started thinking about death; but not too often. Most people consider death to be a sad occasion; I on the other hand, want my death to be looked at as a cause for celebration. I would want a big party where people could have some of my favorite foods. My cream cheese pound cake was my calling card when I was invited to someone’s house for dinner. It would be a hoot if I could arrange to have a couple of cakes on hand in the freezer for my funeral. Since picture taking has been a big portion of my life, there would be pictures everywhere; from my old photo albums (before there were digital cameras) to framed pictures hanging on the walls of the funeral home. Recently I have toyed around with the idea of leaving a video recording of me talking to my friends and family. In this lush, dramatic mystery; the main character had a better idea than me. Feared hermit Felix Bush, played by Robert Duvall (Deep Impact, Secondhand Lions), wanted to be at his own funeral while he was still alive. Holed up in the backwoods for 40 years; the town folk feared Felix, believing the numerous stories they had heard about him. Felix wanted to hear the stories and set them straight; not only for himself, but for the woman that was in the photograph he had kept close at hand for all these years. Speaking of photographs; this film had such a visual warmth to it, I felt I was looking through an album filled with deep, dark rich photos. It was a joy to watch the cast. Besides Robert’s excellent acting, Sissy Spacek (Carrie, The Help) as the woman Mattie who had a history with Felix and Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom, Hyde Park on Hudson) as funeral director Frank Quinn were both wonderful. There were a couple of places where the story was predictable but I enjoyed the mix of folklore, mystery, humor and redemption. I felt a kinship to Felix because when the time should come I only hope I do not have any unfinished business.
3 1/4 stars — DVD