THERE HAS ONLY BEEN a small handful of individuals I have known who had a natural ability to excel in their life’s journey. Things came naturally to these people, where they did not need to be schooled or guided in conquering their dreams/goals. I am sure when you were in school you had at least one student who did not study before an exam and yet would still get a perfect score. From my college days I remember a student in one of my writing classes who had a book and few short stories published before the semester even began. The entire class looked up to this individual. Even outside a school setting I know a young adult who already is displaying an uncanny ability when it comes to electronics. Without any instruction, he wired and set up a burglary alarm system for his family’s home. NOW THERE ARE SOME people who excel at something but they need to work at it. You know that old joke about how does one get to Carnegie Hall and the answer is practice, practice, practice? Some individuals work hard trying to achieve their dreams. Whether it involves mental concentration or physical training, the individuals in this group sacrifice social interactions among other things to reach their goals. I am a firm believer in people attempting to reach their dreams; for it is better to have tried then spend the rest of one’s life wondering what life would have been like if they had at least attempted to reach their goals, in my opinion. I am sure it has crossed some of your minds, especially if you have watched some of those reality shows, that there are some people who should stop trying to be something they will never be. I know what you mean since I have seen a couple of those singing and dancing reality shows where some of the people auditioning show no talent for the task. It would not be fair for me to judge, but see how you feel about the main character trying to reach his dream in this dramatic comedy based on a true story. REFUSING TO ACCEPT THE negative comments about his acting abilities Tommy, played by James Franco (The Interview, Why Him?) not only liked the idea from his friend Greg, played by Dave Franco (Warm Bodies, Now You See Me franchise), he agreed to it; they would make their own movie to star in. This film festival winning picture also starring Seth Rogen (Funny People, Neighbors franchise) as Sandy, Ari Graynor (The Sitter, Mystic River) as Juliette and Alison Brie (Sleeping with Other People, Mad Men-TV) as Amber; was hilarious in parts. I and the audience around me were laughing out loud. The story is so bizarre it took me some time to actually believe this was a true story and not some big satire. Interestingly I was initially annoyed with James’ character, but after awhile I realized he was doing an excellent acting job playing this mysterious, odd character. I also enjoyed the variety of cameo roles that popped up throughout the movie. As I mentioned earlier it took me time to get into the story; I was confused by the script and was getting “antsy” for something to take place. However with James’ directing and the absurd idea behind the story coming to life, I had to applaud the achievements that were on display by the end. It goes to show you, follow your dreams because you never know where they will lead you.
3 1/3 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
AFTER SPENDING A good portion of one’s life making decisions for others, a person may have forgotten how to make one for themselves. Ideally you grow up and learn how to be self-sufficient, in other words to be a responsible adult. Depending on your life’s course people and/or children can come into your life so your decisions will then have to incorporate them. It only makes sense if you are in a relationship the two of you would consider each other in your decisions. I had a friend who saw most things in black and white; you may know this type of person where all of their decisions come out of a pool of two options: yes or no. There was no room to negotiate with them. After several years they fell in love and soon after the two of them moved in together. I do not know what happened but from that point on this person could not make one decision without getting approval from their partner; it was the oddest thing to me. HAVE YOU EVER noticed how some decisions are influenced by peer pressure? I cannot recall the exact percentage but I read a study where at least 25% of mothers alter their parental decisions in public due to peer pressure. For me this falls into the same category of decisions that get based on statements with the word “should” in them. For example, “you should act your age” or “you should lose weight,” would fall into that category where someone is trying to dictate what they think you should be doing in your life. I am all for friends sharing their opinions about something that affects my life; but I hear them better when it is a discussion with feelings involved instead of just being told I should do such and such then everything will be fine. No, I do not operate that way; if they can tell me the reasons why they feel I should make a change then of course I would give consideration to what they were saying to me. The challenge is when you have more than one person telling you what they think you should do and it is not the same advice; somewhat similar to what was going on in this comedic, romantic drama. MOVING ACROSS THE country after separating from her husband Alice Kinney, played by Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line, Wild), found her life taking a different course when she had too much to drink while celebrating her birthday and found herself in bed with Harry, played by Pico Alexander (A Most Violent Year, Indignation). He came with friends. With Nat Wolff (Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars) as Teddy, Michael Sheen (Passengers, Midnight in Paris) as Austen, Jon Rudnitsky (Patchwork, Saturday Night Live-TV) as George and Candice Bergen (Rules Don’t Apply, Gandhi) as Lillian Stewart; the cast was fine for this story. I would have preferred more scenes with Candice and Michael however. The idea behind the story had some valid components, but I found the script was not able to carry them throughout the movie. There was a hodgepodge of scenes were some were cute, others unrealistic and some were simply bland. My overall feeling for this film was “meh;” for me there needed to be more story so I could find some connections to the characters. I do not want this to sound like I am telling the writers what they should have done; I only want to share my feelings with them and with you.
AWKWARDNESS is the initial feeling but depending on the crowd it can hopefully be replaced with something more on the pleasant side. There have been occasions where I have accompanied a date/friend to one of their family or business functions. Personally the business ones are easier for me because there is nothing expected of me; if my date is involved with others no one usually comes over to fill “the void.” At family functions there is always a relative who can’t wait to get me alone to either pump me for information or try to turn me into their personal confidant. Of course more of this takes place when I am the date instead of the friend. There are some relatives who want to know my intentions; others have no problem grilling me like FBI interrogators asking how we met, what I do for a living, where is my family from and so on. I have to just sit there with a smile on my face, choosing how to deflect some of their questions. When the environment is like this it really becomes tedious for me. However I would never do anything to embarrass the person who brought me. NOT wanting to sound like Mr. Gloom & Doom, there have been other times where I had a wonderful time. Some of the business functions I have attended have been close to obscene due to the amount of money that must have been spent on the affair. One dinner was held in a ballroom where the doorways were manned by immense ice sculptures in the shape of swans. Inside the room dining tables were set up with gold and silver tablecloths. On each table tall vases sat, filled with those fake ice cubes that light up in colors. Sprouting out the top were sprays of floral plants. The food was outrageous and plentiful; I would need more of your time to describe it all. And the ultimate feature was having a popular band performing for us. So you see these types of events can be a hit or miss; this is why I gave the main character in this dramatic comedy credit for agreeing to the travel arrangements. WHEN her producer husband Michael, played by Alec Baldwin (Blue Jasmine, 30 Rock-TV), had to cut their trip short due to his work; Anne, played by Diane Lane (Unfaithful, Night in Rodanthe), agreed to travel by car to Paris with his business associate Jacques, played by Arnaud Viard (Higher Still, Carole Matthieu). It would be a road trip with unexpected turns. This romantic film written and directed by Eleanor Coppola (Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Coda: Thirty Years Later) had two big things going for it: beautiful scenery and great looking food. Initially I felt I was connecting with the character, having been “stuck” with someone I did not know. But as the story unrolled I felt like I was a 3rd wheel in their carpool. The script and directing did nothing to enhance the characters. I appreciate Diane’s acting ability but felt she was wasted here; there was no character development. The only one I found interesting was Alec’s character, but he was used sparingly. At one point I felt I was on one of those touring tourist buses where the driver is rambling off tidbits and statistics about every single place to the point of almost numbing their passengers. If I knew this was what was going to happen on this trip I would have booked a flight instead.
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
CONTROL was something that had been a part of me for so long that not being in control was becoming a distant memory. Using myself and several people I know who also prefer being in control, I believe certain events in one’s life steers them to becoming a “control freak” or as I prefer to say “control aficionado.” For some experiencing disappointment multiple times can trigger them to stop counting on others. For example at work if you have an employee on your team that isn’t working up to the level needed to succeed in a specific task you are involved in, you might decide to take on some of the co-worker’s responsibilities to finish your project to your satisfaction. Another thing I have noticed for some people is their lack of spontaneity increases their desire for control. I know I can relate to this one because my brain is wired to the logic, “for every action there is a reaction.” My days are usually planned out due to my multiple jobs and responsibilities. To do something out of the norm would throw off the rest of the day for me. NOW with everything I just said I recently discovered or better yet I should say rediscovered the feeling of not being in control. I have to tell you when I first realized I was relinquishing control it was unsettling for me. So you have a reference point, let me tell you that the level of my control used to be where I would not participate in a group decision on where to go out for dinner. If I did not like someone’s choice on where to eat I would not order any food. Reading what I just wrote doesn’t make me sound like a fun person does it? I hope I do not grow old and get a similar reputation like the main character in this dramatic comedy. SUCCESSFUL businesswoman Harriet Lauler, played by Shirley MacLaine (Bernie, Elsa & Fred), had such control over her life that she even needed to know what her obituary would say about her before she was gone. That tough task would fall onto newspaper employee Anne Sherman, played by Amanda Seyfried (Dear John, Mamma Mia!). Casting Shirley in the main role was a big asset for this story. Both her and Amanda worked well together I thought. Also starring newcomer AnnJewel Lee Dixon as Brenda and Thomas Sadoski (John Wick franchise, Wild) as Robin Sands, I did not mind the rest of the cast; however, even if they were all renowned thespians it would not have helped the contrived script. The scenes did not come across as totally believable and it was long into the movie before I even felt a connection to Shirley’s character. For the most part none of the scenes went beyond standard fare; what I mean is Shirley’s character could have been more extreme, the scenes if they were believable could have been pushed for more emotion. As a result I was left with a “blah” feeling by the end of the film. In fact my strongest feelings came from the idea that I could wind up like Harriet if I don’t start giving up some control in my life.
1 3/4 stars
IT always comes as a surprise to me when people make the assumption that an individual’s job is the ultimate definition of that person. Just this past week a co-worker and I were talking about a couple of restaurants we both enjoy. When I mentioned something about putting ketchup on my entrée they reacted with surprise. I asked them why they were shocked and they said they did not take me for a “ketchup guy. “ It was such an odd statement to me since I did not have a clue what constitutes being a “ketchup guy.” Here I come to find out because this employee knows I teach fitness, they assumed I kept a strict diet of eating only healthy foods. Well anyone who knows me knows all food types are open game for me on the weekends; it is only during the weekdays that I keep to a restricted diet. FROM this conversation I started to think about how I have experienced this type of thinking numerous times; not only towards me but in daily conversations I have been a part of. In a way you could say it is a form of stereotyping or typecasting. An example would be a librarian; from what I have witnessed a majority of people think of librarians as quiet, reserved individuals who keep to themselves. Or accountants, the perception people have about them is they are socially awkward and quiet. I find this simply odd; it is as if a person is not allowed to have other interests that may be opposite to the perceptions people hold about a profession. It is like me saying a truck driver cannot play the violin in a local orchestra; it makes no sense. If you care to see what I am talking about then feel free to watch this dramatic, comedic film festival winner. EVERYDAY Paterson, played by Adam Driver (Silence, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), goes to work as a bus driver then stops off to see Doc, played by Barry Shabaka (The Terminal, Miami Vice), for one drink after work before going home to his wife Laura, played by Golshifteh Farahani (Body of Lies, Exodus: Gods and Kings). The routine stays the same except when he sits down to write poetry in his notebook. Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch (Only Lovers Left Alive, Broken Flowers), this movie was done in a quiet slow pace. Maybe because I saw it on a Sunday after a hectic weekend but there were times where I was bored with the story. I thought Adam was flat in his acting, though I realized that was part of his character; however, I found the action so subtle that I could not get fully drawn into this picture. My favorite characters were Laura and Marvin the dog; they seemed to have the most life and maybe that was exactly the point. I know this film has received high praise but I have to tell you from an entertainment standpoint I was not entertained. For me, this movie would have been better seen on DVD in the comfort of my own home. That way, audience members would not have had to see this group fitness/yoga instructor fighting to keep his eyes from not shutting down into a nap.
MADE especially for you by those knotted skinny fingers, you could only imagine it must have taken months to create the gift. She is one of your favorite relatives who always remembers you on holidays and your birthday. This year she knitted you a multi-colored, bulky sweater. You could tell immediately the sweater was going to be way too big even before you unfolded it. Holding it by the shoulders you lifted it up so the body of the sweater cascaded down like a flood. The array of colored yarns clashed in such a sharp way that your eyes squinted as a few dominant colors seemed to vibrate in their confined patch of the sweater’s landscape. Gratefully you were not asked to try on the massive sweater; you did not want her to feel any anxiety seeing you lost in the yards of yarn spinning around you. It is always the thought that counts and the fact that it must have taken her months to knit only affirmed the affection and love the two of you share for each other. SINCE I believe there are no bad pets only bad owners, I keep the same attitude when I encounter someone’s dog or cat. I do not want the owner to know I am not fond of their pet; I simply remain quiet unless their pet is constantly jumping on me or is trying to bite me. Even the friends of mine who have dogs that greet you by sticking their snouts into your crotch are a bit annoying but still loveable. Having started out in veterinary science during my college years, I have always had a soft spot for animals. With that being said, I was looking forward to this comedic drama; however similar to what I said previously, I loved the dogs in this adventure film but was not fond of the script. THE relationship between dogs and their owners is explored in this heartwarming film. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Hachi: A Dog’s Tail) and starring Dennis Quaid (Frequency, Vantage Point) as Adult Ethan, Juliet Rylance (Frances Ha, Sinister franchise) as Ethan’s Mom and Luke Kirby (The Samaritan, Shattered Glass) as Ethan’s Dad; this movie based on the novel could have been a much better picture. I was aware of the controversy surrounding a video that recently popped up of one of the dogs, but I did not feel I had all the facts to make a proper decision yet. In the meantime the script was so heavy handed that it was dripping with cloying sweetness to purposefully pull at the viewer’s heartstrings. The story was predictable and kept everything in a narrow band of emotional depth; it could have been decent if the writers had backed off from focusing on manipulating the audience’s hearts and concentrate on telling a straightforward tale. I found myself getting bored though I mostly enjoyed Josh Gad’s (The Wedding Ringer, Love & Other Drugs) voicing of Bailey. Part of me wants to give a better rating for the dogs’ performances but I know I need to be impartial. The movie studio may have had good intentions but the end result did not fit together very well.
1 ¾ stars
GREAT results can happen when one’s dream remains in a somewhat fluid state, like a soap bubble that grows with the input of more air. A young person grew up with the dream of living in the country, where her art studio would inhabit the abandoned barn on her property. Her skills as an artist were refined over the years to the point she was able to earn a living selling her works. From each sale she took a portion of the profit and squirreled it away to eventually become the down payment for her dream. But something happened when she fell in love with a man who had his own dreams. Ever since he was a young boy he wanted to live in a high rise apartment building that had a doorman. All of his schooling was laid out towards making his dream come true; he finally had his dream job that took him to all parts of the world. The only thing left was to save up and find that special apartment that would be his home base, a secure beacon high above the city. DREAMS have always been a part of my internal motivations. The story I wrote to start out this review is similar to something I experienced when I met someone who had their own dreams. Trust me it was not the easiest thing to do, to let someone else’s dream form a bond with my own; however, once I realized our dreams could blend together without losing our goals it got easier. A relationship is partially a negotiation, a compromise; the key is paring down to the important aspects of one’s dreams then finding a way where they can remain intact within the new dream being formed between two people. Let the couple in this musical movie show you. SPARKS formed right from the start when aspiring actress Mia and jazz musician Sebastian, played by Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, The Help) and Ryan Gosling (The Big Short, The Place Beyond the Pines), first met. Each came into the relationship with a dream; the question was how to achieve it. This comedic drama started out with a bang by having a big, opening musical number. If you are not a fan of musicals and their history there is a good chance this film will not have a strong impact on you. I knew Ryan had a musical background but did not know Emma could sing; both of them had a wonderful chemistry together. With J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, The Closer-TV) as Bill and musical artist John Legend (Soul Men) as Keith for part of the cast, the story was partially an homage to those old fashioned musicals from the 1930s and 40s. The dance numbers were fun but I found the music only okay, nothing very memorable. The allure of this film I believe is due to its novelty; there hasn’t been a good film in this genre recently. I will tell you I enjoyed this movie, especially the story line; however, I was a bit confused to the point I felt I must have missed something, wondering if I needed to see the movie again. Maybe from the unavoidable buzz I was hearing I dreamt this was going to be one of my 4 star movies.