LOOKING at him there was nothing that distinguished him differently from anyone else. The only thing one could say about him was his height; he was one of the tallest boys in the neighborhood. He was a friend of mine who lived across the street from me. What did make him stand out from everyone else in the neighborhood was his name. No one had a name even remotely close to his or anyone else in his family. Their last name as well as some of his siblings’ first names had so many syllables. As far as I knew no one really cared that they had unusual names compared to the rest of us in school. I remember at some point being told by him that his family was Armenian. It sounded so exotic and far away compared to the rest of the families on the block. This bit of information was treated more like a footnote; all it meant to our circle of friends was his family had traveled halfway across the world from a place none of us had ever heard about before. THROUGHOUT my schooling; I am talking elementary, high school and college; I cannot recall ever hearing or having a discussion about the historical events that were depicted in this dramatic movie. I do remember the events that led up to World War I started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. With World War II a prominent part of its history was the systematic extermination of people based on their faith, heritage, sexual orientation, among other distinctions. Regarding the First World War, I cannot recall part of its story involving a particular group of people targeted for elimination. Sitting through this film a part of me was shocked by the action taking place in several scenes. Not because it was especially graphic, gratefully it was not, but due to the historical significance that somehow was missing from my education. The story in this picture was something larger than what I had imagined. MEDICAL student Mikael Boghosian, played by Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), always wanted to be a doctor. The Ottoman Empire had other plans for the Armenian man. This film festival winning movie also starred Charlotte Le Bon (The Walk, The Hundred-Foot Journey) as Ana Khesarian, Christian Bale (The Fighter, The Big Short) as Chris Myers, Shohreh Aghdashloo (Rosewater, The Story of Soraya M.) as Marta Boghosian and Marwan Kenzari (Ben-Hur, Loft) as Emre Ogan. Oscar who I think is a gifted actor did not disappoint in this movie; however, Christian Bale was miscast. His role not only did not offer him much to work with, but was more involved with the 2nd story line that I found did not belong in this film. The culprit for this film not reaching full potential was the script. I get the idea studios believe a story needs a love interest, but the whole love triangle scenario in this story was a distraction. There were so many opportunities to mine dramatic intensity that instead was passed over to focus back on the relationship between the three main stars. It was sad because based on what I saw this picture really could have been memorable. After the film was over I had to stay seated and think about how extraordinary it was for my friend and his family to have been living across the street from me.
2 1/3 stars
ONLY in rare circumstances would someone want to meet their replacement. One area where I could see it happening would be in the workplace, if the person being replaced initiated the change. If however the person was not planning to make a change, I could see where it would be an uncomfortable situation. A friend of mine worked at a large food company where her department suddenly saw several new employees assigned to each person in the department for training. Once my friend finished the training of her new employee, she was laid off and the new person was sent back overseas to continue my friend’s work at a cheaper labor rate. Another situation where seeing one’s replacement would be uneventful would be with a couple who had an amicable divorce. In other words, there was no cheating involved or the breaking of trust. If the spouse being replaced believes their former partner has issues, I think it would be safe to say they would feel sorry for the new partner coming into the relationship. OUT of my past relationships I have had the good and bad fortune of meeting the replacements sometimes. One long term relationship of mine ended sadly; well at least I was sad. Five days later I was at a shopping mall and unbelievably ran right into my ex with a man who obviously was my replacement. I could not believe after all the time we spent together it only took 5 days to swap me out for someone else. It would be appreciated if you don’t ask me if it was a trade-up; based on that one chance meeting all I can say is I do not think so. Now I know there are some people who handle a status change in their relationship easier than others; I am not one of those individuals. I need time to let things settle and to re-establish new routines before I can move on. This may not work for everyone as you can see in this dramatic thriller. SEEING Julia Banks, played by Rosario Dawson (Seven Pounds, Death Proof), move into the house she used to share with her former husband David Connover, played by Geoff Stults (She’s Out of My League, J. Edgar), was more than she could handle. Tessa, played by Katherine Heigl (Knocked Up, Life as We Know it), had no desire to be the perfect ex-wife. The story to this movie has been done many times before. That alone would not have been an issue for me; however, I thought the script was silly and offered nothing new to this genre. I thought Rosario and Katherine did a good job with their characters, especially with all the physical stunts they had to do. The surprise for me was not recognizing Cheryl Ladd (Poison Ivy, Millennium) as Tessa’s mother, though she too was fine in her role. Let me say because of the horror stories I have heard being done through the internet, there was a certain creep factor to this story. I think if the writers would have expanded out that aspect of it, the movie might have been more engaging. Honestly the only reason one would spend money on watching this film is if they wanted to see two women acting like they were ultimate fighters; I was sad I did not buy a ticket to a different picture.
1 ¾ stars
MINIATURE golf covers my experience with playing the game of golf. For those of you who know my love of travel, you will especially appreciate when I tell you about a miniature golf course I used to play at when I was a small boy. The majority of the holes each had a replica of a national or world landmark that you would have to negotiate, to get your colored golf ball to the cup. For a kid who had not yet seen the actual structures, this was a big deal. I remember one hole that had a tall skyscraper which would light up at night. The goal was to hit your ball between the elevator doors so you could watch your ball rise up to the top of the building where it would be dropped off and disappear for a moment. By the time you ran to the back of the skyscraper you would just see the ball coming out of an exit door right by the cup. My favorite was a reproduction of a famous amusement park roller coaster. If you could get the ball up the entrance ramp, you could watch your ball take a ride on the coaster before it was dropped off at the cup. This was the extent of my golfing prowess. FROM the different comments I have heard about the game of golf, there are a lot of people who consider it a rich man’s sport or a gentleman’s game. Whether it is or not does not make a difference to me. I can appreciate the dedication, raw talent and competitiveness on display; but because I have a hard time justifying the amount of money given to professional athletes compared to school teachers, I find the large sums going into prize money, advertising and betting very odd, troubling. I know this is not exclusive to golfing by any means; at almost any given time I will hear about someone betting on such and such game or being a part of an office pool. Little did I know that this practice has been going on for a long time. SCOTSMAN Tom Morris, played by Peter Mullan (War Horse, Tyrannosaur), had been the groundskeeper and golf club maker of the St. Andrews golf course for many years. The club members assumed his son Tommy, played by Jack Lowden (A United Kingdom, Denial), would take over the family business; however, Tommy had something different in mind. This film festival winning drama based on a true story also starred Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Jurassic Park franchise) as Alexander Boothby and Ophelia Lovibond (Guardians of the Galaxy, No Strings Attached) as Meg Drinnen. The story was the fascinating part for me in this biography; watching how the game of golf was originally played truly was a trip back in time. Unfortunately the script caused this movie to be a bogey instead of a hole in one. For such a game changing story, this script really needed to get gritty and make the characters more than one dimensional. The thing that kept me interested was the historical value the events had in this picture. I may not have any interest in playing golf, but at least I now know how it came to be.
2 ½ stars
UPBEAT and positive is how I would describe the man telling us about the changes in our office. We were being told how these moves decided by upper management would be a good thing for our company. I sat there with my fellow employees and I am sure they were thinking the same thing: who was going to get the ax. Maybe that is too harsh to say so here are some ways I have heard it expressed: laid off, let go, reassigned, reevaluated, eliminated and left behind. None of these terms warrant a happy face with optimistic comments. I used to work at one place that decided after many years to outsource their payroll functions. The staff for each manager had meetings set up to explain the changes in how we were going to be paid. You should have seen the spin job the managers tried to sell us. They talked about the convenience of looking up our paycheck online, the ability to schedule time off and the ease of changing our benefits package. I knew there had to be more to the meeting and sure enough towards the end the manager told us how salaries would be administered. EVERYONE’S salary was scaled back to a standard base amount. From that point you would go up the scale depending on a number of factors; each factor was worth a certain dollar amount. I remember sitting there and quickly figuring out the math and realized a majority of us would be taking a rather large pay cut. There stood this person in front of us stating the virtues of this new pay system, doing their best to sell it as if it was the best thing since sliced bread. With me losing over 30% of my salary I had a hard time keeping my mouth shut and not stating the facts about their so called great new system. Let us face it; there is no good way to promote bad news. WHILE Germany was dropping bombs on the city of London during the early 1940s, the defense department was working on a propaganda film in the hopes of drawing the United States into the war. All it needed was a woman’s touch. This film festival winner was part comedy, part drama and part romance. At first I felt the story was starting out slow but as things began to unfold I enjoyed how the writers were fitting together all the different pieces to create this enjoyable movie. Starring Gemma Arterton (The Voices, Gemma Bovery) as Catrin Cole, Sam Claflin (Me Before You, The Hunger Games franchise) as Tom Buckley, Bill Nighy (Love Actually, Pride) as Ambrose Hilliard/Uncle Frank and Jack Huston (American Hustle, Ben-Hur) as Ellis Cole; I thought the cast worked together beautifully. Bill and Gemma were the standouts for me. The script did a great job of balancing the elements of the story. Things moved naturally between the genres of drama, comedy and romance; there was the ever present war, but it never overshadowed the other story lines. I will say I thought the ending was a bit abrupt regarding one of the characters in particular; it felt somewhat false. However, as I sat and imagined what it must have been like back then, I realized there was no choice; the British government needed to stay positive.
3 1/4 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
OUT of all the people I have conversed with who is either a mother or father, the majority of them believe their children are pretty, beautiful, handsome, intelligent and so on. I firmly believe a parent’s duty is to make their child feel loved, special and instill in them a sense of self-worth. Rarely do I hear a parent say their child is not attractive or is not smart. I actually know a mother though who praises one child over the child’s sibling; you should see what the effect of the mother’s negative comments has done to that child, it is so sad. Now for me the words pretty, handsome or beautiful are subjective. Where one person may think a face is beautiful, another individual will think the person’s facial features are just okay. The way my mind is wired, for me to say someone is beautiful they would need to have a good heart (referring to let us say kindness as opposed to plaque) to go along with whatever their visible, physical features may be. WHEN a student gets straight A’s on their report card, most people will say the student is smart. I agree to a point, but for me there is book smart and street smart; the 2 are very different creatures. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat and listened to a parent go on about how their child is so smart. Here again I wonder how they are defining the word “smart.” I remember there was a time during my schooling where a discussion was in the works about getting away from standardized testing scores. Students were so focused on memorizing statistics and facts; it seems they were not using this limited knowledge to paint a bigger picture of things. There is a teacher I know who had a freshman student who did not fit in with the rest of the class. This student already had an acceptance letter to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The teacher had to teach this special student a different way from the rest of the class without making it appear as if the student was not unusual. It was an important distinction, one that gets addressed in this drama. MARY Adler, played by McKenna Grace (Once upon a Time-TV, Amityville: The Awakening), had a gift for numbers. Her special ability would become a battleground in and out of school. Starring Chris Evans (Captain America franchise, Playing it Cool) as Frank Adler, Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Shack) as Roberta Taylor and Lindsay Duncan (About Time, Under the Tuscan Sun) as Evelyn; I have to say McKenna’s acting was pretty special. I fell into this story, enjoying the acting and directing. Sure there were scenes to manipulate the viewer and the script was somewhat predictable; but I did not care because the story was relatable for me. My earlier review of the new Smurfs movie talked about being different and things I said there apply to this film festival winner. Feeling different is such a relatable experience for many of us; I certainly have felt it and because of it I understood what the story was trying to do in this picture. Be prepared because including me, there was not a dry eye in the theater. Along with celebrating the things we all have in common, there is nothing wrong with us including our special gifts in the celebration.
SITTING comfortably behind the steering wheel, cruising down the road, the celebrity driver was expounding on the finer things about the automobile. It almost looked like this was their main means of transportation. Now I do not care if a celebrity wants to earn income by doing a commercial; everyone deserves to make a living. Will this person persuade me to buy that type of car when I am in the market for a new vehicle? The answer is absolutely not. In fact that goes for any celebrity endorsement. Though I am a big fan of movies and such, I am well aware of the financial inequity between celebrities and let us say teachers. Not that there is anything wrong with making as much money as you can; however, I have a hard time with anyone who uses their position of wealth as a bully pulpit to tell everyone else what they should do. I have experienced this in my own circle of friends and family, where those who were financially well off starting acting like they knew everything and the rest of us were not as smart. That type of behavior is offensive to me. THE area where I can support celebrities is when they use their wealth and status to help a cause they believe in. I know about one celebrity who works with an organization to bring clean water to third world countries. I remember when parts of Louisiana were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. There were celebrities down there helping and rebuilding houses; they had the means and connections to bypass the red tape to get things done. With some celebrities their support of a cause may be due to personal reasons; they could be experiencing it in their own family, for example a celebrity with an autistic child. Whether you feel the same way or not, I admire someone who overcomes challenges in their life to then become a social activist against those very same tribulations. What I saw in this film festival winning movie, which was based on a true story, both stunned and amazed me. THIRTEEN year old Waris, played by newcomer Soraya Omar-Scego, had to leave her village in Somalia. What was done to her there would have a strong impact on her life when she made it to London. Before I talk about this biographical drama I want to say I have very little knowledge about the customs that were performed in this movie. They may be based on religious beliefs or native; I do not know and I do not want to offend anyone who believes in them. Starring Liya Kebede (The Best Offer, Lord of War) as older Waris Dirie, Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Happy-Go –Lucky) as Marilyn and Timothy Spall (Denial, Mr. Turner) as Terry Donaldson; the actual story had to be more powerful than what the script provided here. The back and forth between the young and older Waris dampened the intensity for me. I had a hard time watching some scenes because I could not believe what was being done. The acting was fine; I have always enjoyed Sally’s performances and Liya was perfect in this role. Honestly I still cannot get over that this custom takes place in the world. This DVD provided me with a whole new respect for those who overcome difficulties in their life and decide they want to do something about it.
2 ¾ stars — DVD
SEEING a person willingly jump out of an airplane could elicit one of two responses: the individual is courageous or crazy. Though there is no way I would ever go skydiving, I would not judge someone who wants to experience such an activity. As I go through my daily life I am constantly witnessing acts of courage. There is the individual who admits to being out of shape, who comes to a fitness class, because they want to make a change in their life. The blind person who is navigating down a crowded, noisy city street or the parent who gets sick on roller coasters, sitting next to their child who is thrilled to be on the ride with their parent; to me all of these individuals are courageous and strong. There are so many other examples of courage that I could write about but it would take up all of my time today. FOR the past several months I have viewed news reports with an eye to the future. The news segments can range from peaceful protesters to refuges to the environment; I look at each one of these and am usually amazed at the amount of courage an individual has in the face of life or death, let alone the person who is willing to make a stand against injustice. Thinking back to some of the famous scientists who left their homeland for a better life or to just stay alive, there is something to be said for that individual’s braveness. Imagine if the scientist was not strong enough or courageous enough to leave a place where they were being persecuted; how different would the world have turned out? Whether a person actively engages in a cause or donates time or money to it, for them they are acting in a courageous way. One cannot necessarily compare different acts of courage; however, some do take on more risk and this movie based on a true story shows you how much risk one person was willing to take to make a difference. AFTER German forces took control of Warsaw they set up a camp in the middle of Antonia and Jan Zabinski’s, played by Jessica Chastain (Miss Sloane, The Martian) and Johan Heldenbergh (The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Misfortunates), zoo and got rid of most of the animals. The couple formed an idea that could save lives but they needed the zoo to remain open. This biographic drama was powered with Jessica’s acting. She was the dominant force in this film, though other actors such as Daniel Bruhl (Rush, Woman in Gold) as Lutz Heck and Shira Haas (Princess, A Tale of Love and Darkness) as Urszula still drew my attention to them. The story was amazing, frightening, tragic and a few other adjectives. I will say the script did not come up to what I felt could have been a more powerful story. There were a few scenes that I am willing to bet were created simply for dramatic effect. This produced an odd seesawing effect between intensity and sweetness; for entertainment value it was okay but the story deserved more intensity in my opinion. Regardless, to see Jessica acting in this courageous story was time well spent.
2 ¾ stars
WHEN I saw Rosie helping the Jetson family and Data assisting the crew of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, I believed an opportunity was being created for mankind to better itself. Removing some of the unimportant necessities of the day would allow man to study and learn more about life; in other words humans could reach a higher level of consciousness. Witnessing the blending of mechanical objects with people really has been an extraordinary event. Just think about individuals who received mechanical hearts and valves or athletes getting artificial arms and legs; it has changed people’s perceptions about what it means to be physically challenged. Just in the past several months the news reported on an artificial hand that a person could control with their mind; did you ever imagine this becoming reality during your lifetime? I vaguely remember an advertisement tagline that said something like, “better living through science.” This idea certainly has validity; however, I have a growing concern that science, depending on who is calling the shots, could dominate mankind. ONE of my concerns for some time has been the manipulations taking place in our food chain. I am not comfortable ingesting a food item that has been genetically modified. The idea of animals being injected with growth hormones to create supersized creatures to yield more meat or milk frightens me. This was one of the reasons I gave up red meat years ago. Another area that concerns me is the “beauty” industry. With the amount of chemicals people apply to themselves on a daily basis with their soaps, dyes and makeup; I just wonder what the body does with it when the products get absorbed into the skin. Even seeing people who have gone through extensive plastic surgery to maintain their youthful appearance troubles me. I remember standing next to a television celebrity who was talking to their aide. Their face barely budged as the lips were forming words; their facial expression was totally void of any emotion. The title of this futuristic action film could easily apply to this celebrity. MAJOR, played by Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers franchise, Lost in Translation), was the first of her kind; she was the ultimate blend of human and machine. At least she thought so until she started experiencing flashbacks. Watching this dramatic crime movie was a wild visual ride. All I could think about was it looked like a cross between the films Blade Runner and The Fifth Element. Based on the graphic novel this movie also starred Pilou Asbaek (Lucy, A Hijacking) as Batou, Juliette Binoche (Godzilla, The 33) as Dr. Ouelet and Michael Pitt (Seven Psychopaths, The Dreamers) as Kuze. I am not familiar with the story; however, the first half of this picture had me totally into it. Scarlett was good with the physical demands of the role, but I thought the acting part was one dimensional; unless that was how the character was written in the book. The last half of the film for me turned into a typical action movie; in fact, I am concerned Scarlett is being typecast since her character shared similarities with her Lucy and Avengers characters. I would have preferred if the script had stayed focused on the storyline regarding the flashbacks. The title of this movie remained with me afterwards as I wondered if this is where science will be going in the future.
2 ½ stars
DEATH for some people is not always a permanent state. These individuals maintain their bond to the deceased, though it is not necessarily reciprocal. They may talk to their loved one every day, bringing them up on current events or asking advice on an upcoming decision. I had a relative who went to see her mother every single day, having on hand her mother’s favorite coffee and sweet roll. She would park on the side of the road and walk over to a congested area of headstones. With her folding stool, thermos and the plastic bag that carried the sweet roll and napkins; she would sit by the side of her mother’s grave and pour each of them a cup of coffee. Setting the cup down on the headstone, she let her mother know she brought her favorite sweet roll; she placed the item on a small paper plate to then join the perched cup of coffee. This ritual took place every day and after she had spent an hour or two, she would drink up the coffee from her mother’s cup and ask her if she was done with her sweet roll. She would tear the sweet roll into pieces and once she was outside of the cemetery would scatter the pieces by a tree for the birds. I am a firm believer whatever means a person needs to do to deal with death is fine with me; I do not judge or question. Everyone deals with death in their own way. Also, I feel anything is possible. Recently a friend of mine had died after a year long illness. After notifications went out to family and friends, a few days later out of the blue my friend’s cell phone rang with an unknown phone number. There was no one on the line when the call was answered. You want to talk about an eerie moment? Well someone close to the deceased who is in mourning could see the call as a sign. I could easily understand their thought process with this incident. If you choose to watch this mystery thriller, be prepared to experience something unearthly. Or is it really? WORKING as a personal shopper Maureen Cartwright, played by Kristen Stewart (Certain Women, The Twilight Saga franchise), was convinced her deceased brother was trying to contact her. This film festival winning drama also starred Lars Eidinger (Everyone Else, Clouds of Sils Maria) as Ingo, Sigrid Bouaziz (Portrait of the Artist, The Tunnel-TV) as Lara and Anders Danielsen Lie (Reprise, Herman) as Erwin. I have not always been a fan of Kristen Stewart, but I have to say this was one of her best roles. She pretty much carries the interesting story. Watching this movie was like riding an amusement park’s roller coaster; not the big major ones, but the ones that give you a thrill but do not let your stomach move up into your throat. At first I was not getting settled into the story since the script kept things somewhat sparse. But then layer by layer I found myself drawn into the surreal story. I enjoyed the directing in this picture; but at times the script became muddled and fell apart. The concept of the story interested me overall, because as I said you just never know.
2 ½ stars