FROM MY SEAT, I COULD SEE the setting sun poking through a bank of clouds with long tentacles of deep orange, rays of light. The ocean was quietly whispering its waves gently onto the white sand beach. I felt relaxed as a salt infused warm breeze brushed past me. All this beauty around me suddenly dissolved, replaced with rows of wooden folding chairs, when the person next to me accidently elbowed me. I was sitting in the middle of a bookstore, listening to an author talk about his latest book. He was describing the place he secluded himself to, so he could concentrate on his writing. Because he was so descriptive about the area, I felt as if I had been transported from the bookstore to his beach. The people seated around me had been replaced with palm trees and scattered rocks. That is the beauty of a great storyteller; their words can take the reader/listener/viewer on a fantastical trip to any place in the entire universe. I may have no experience or reference point to a place or event; but through the writer’s words, I can experience and understand it as if I had been a part of it. It is a gift I feel because not everyone can tell a good story. THERE WAS THIS PERSON WHO I DREADED being around whenever they started to tell a story. I know this is going to sound rude, but it was tortuous to sit there and listen to them as they would constantly stop to correct some non-essential detail to the story they were trying to tell. Seriously, who cares if a person is 41 or 42, or if someone drives a blue or black car; I would be cringing in my seat, refraining myself from editing them so they could get to the end of their story. This person ruined every joke they tried to tell. Either they would leave out something or add so much frivolous details that by the time they got to the punchline, the listener had lost all interest. There have been times where I felt like I was being held a prisoner due to this person’s poor storytelling ability. I feel the same way about movie scripts. A good script writer can convey the essence, the feelings in a story, allowing the viewer to experience it even if it is something they have never encountered. Some of you may remember the convention that took place in Chicago in the 1960s; if you do or do not, it will not make a difference when you watch this historical, dramatic thriller. A GROUP OF INDIVIDUALS ARRIVED IN CHICAGO to protest the Vietnam War; several of them would find themselves on centerstage in a trial like no other. With Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts franchise, The Danish Girl) as Tom Hayden, Alex Sharp (The Hustle, The Sunlit Night) as Rennie Davis, Sacha Baron Cohen (The Brothers Grimsby, Les Misérables) as Abbie Hoffman, Jeremy Strong (The Big Short, The Judge) as Jerry Rubin and Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon, Robot & Frank) as Judge Julius Hoffman; this film festival winner written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing-TV) immediately grabbed my attention and never let go. The writing was sharp, witty, enlightening; in other words, outstanding. I felt each actor was talking from their heart and mind; they transformed into their characters. Sacha and Frank Langella were brilliant in their roles. I knew about the event that took place in Chicago but did not really understand what was going on with it. Whether scenes in this film were true or not made no difference to me because I wasn’t looking for historical accuracy; I was looking to be entertained and with this movie I received it 100%.
THE TICKETS WERE A PRESENT TO ME, for a revival of a Broadway musical that was touring the country. I had seen this production a couple of times before, let alone various video clips of it with several iconic actresses starring in the lead role. The actress in this current production was a “heavy-hitter” having won various awards, including a Tony award. I was excited to see her since she had the acting chops and the vocal power to carry off this demanding role. Arriving at the theater we made our way to our seats, which turned out to be directly center to the stage. There were no sight obstructions, nor any issues with the people in front blocking my view because we were looking down at the stage from an elevated height. At the posted time the lights in the theater dimmed except for one spotlight directed at the musical conductor. Classic songs from the musical score were touched upon during the overture before the curtain came up and there on stage was the Tony winning actress. The crowd erupted with applause as the orchestra paused a moment for the clapping to die down. It was not long until the first song was to be sung in the story by the actress; I was excited to hear her voice again. WHAT CAME OUT OF HER MOUTH was a voice that was unfamiliar to me. I did not know if she had a cold or the years of singing had taken their toll on her vocal cords; but she could barely hold a note. My disappointment weighed on me like a heavy knapsack strapped to my back. She was the lead, so she was expected to carry a major portion of the script and songs. Though the sets were beautiful, and the rest of the actors were good, I was underwhelmed with this production. I knew how good this musical could be and what I saw did not carry me to the end of the story; instead, it had to pull me along on broken legs. That is how disappointed I felt, let down with the singing which I knew could have been enthralling. Ultimately, I was glad I saw this production; especially since it was a gift to me, but it did not work out that way. We talked about the actress afterwards and everyone felt the same as I did. I am willing to bet those friends would feel the same way as I did when I saw this latest installment from the world of Harry Potter. WITH THE ESCAPE OF THE WARLOCK GRINDELWALD, played by Johnny Depp (Black Mass, The Lone Ranger), the wizarding world would find itself in jeopardy of splitting apart. It would take someone extraordinary to go against Grindelwald and remain alive. This adventure fantasy starred Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl) as Newt Scamander, Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury, Don Peyote) as Jacob Kowalski, Katherine Waterson (Inherent Vice, Alien: Covenant) as Tina Goldstein and Jude Law (Anna Karenina, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Albus Dumbledore. Let me start out by saying I bought magical wands for family members; so, you know I was looking forward to this 2nd installment. Visually this film maintained the fun and creative special effects as the previous ones. There were new characters introduced, all laying the groundwork to fill in the paths toward the Harry Potter stories. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed these aspects of the film; but the story/script was weak. This movie lacked the excitement I had grown to expect, feeling like we went from one crisis to another with too many story lines thrown in. I almost felt as if this production was partially “phoned in” because it lacked the “magic” that was found in the Harry Potter films. Whether I felt obligation or a sense of duty, I would have gone to this film regardless; however, I do not want to feel as if I am being given a so-so effort in the creation of this franchise.
IT ALL STARTED WITH SEA GLASS. Seeing children bent over picking at the ground like hungry chickens, they were searching the beach for bits of glass that had been polished for years by the ocean. I sat on a park bench above shifting my gaze from them to the calming water slipping quietly up onto the shore. As I listened to the kids periodically shouting out they found a piece of sea glass, I wondered where the glass originated. Could it have been a broken bottle, plate or piece of ceramic that was on a boat that had sunk a century ago, who knows? I wondered what the circumstances might have been; maybe the glass had traveled halfway around the world, tumbling over and over in the currents, until it landed right here up on our shore. Each and every piece of sea glass the children collected had all been part of something else from a different time. The thought fascinated me as I imagined a variety of scenarios based on a historical past. Maybe there was a bottle with a note in it that a child from a war torn country threw into the ocean, hoping someone would find it and come save them. AS I WAS THINKING OF the past I remembered my recent trip to the history museum. Seeing artifacts that were centuries old such as mummies and dinosaur bones created pictures in my mind of what life must have been like for these animals and individuals. Honestly I cannot stand camping so how could I have possibly survived back then? With that being said I do wish there was a way I could look into the past and see for example what circumstances led up to the first person who discovered fire. Another thing, I would like to know what caused someone to make a wheel; was it a boulder rolling down a hill or maybe someone tripped and began falling head over heels that made them think about the possibilities of having a round object as a tool. I could go on and on coming up with different scenarios and circumstances. Through my schooling it was always taught to us to look back on history as a guide to where we are now. Now we just enter something into an internet search engine and read about it; I prefer hearing someone’s story about a time gone past. Granted it would only go up to several decades past, but lucky for us this animated adventure comedy delved far back in time to show us what was really going on. THREATENED HAVING THEIR LAND taken over Dug, voiced by Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl) agrees to a wager. The wager was based on a game that was called soccer. With Tom Hiddleston (Thor franchise, I Saw the Light) as Lord Nooth, Maisie Williams (Mary Shelley, Game of Thrones-TV) as Goona and Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner, Secrets & Lies) as Chief Bobnar; the movie studio that created this film is known for their claymation technique. I love the look of their films and the quirky humor they put into their scripts. Compared to their previous films I have to tell you this one was not one of my favorites. The story was odd with having a soccer game taking place during prehistoric times. As for the script there were some jokes and puns that were not as clever as I have seen them do in the past. Where I could not stop watching their fun previous pictures, this one bored me a little. If I think about it maybe prehistoric men and women did not have the luxury to be funny.
2 ¼ stars
HAVE you ever met someone and there was an immediate, familiar comfort between the two of you? There was very little or none at all the two of you knew about each other, yet you would listen to what they had to say and you had the sense you knew about it already. This recently happened to me. I only knew a few details about the person before our scheduled meeting. Introductions were made and as we sat down we started up a conversation that was void of any silent moments. Each of us found a rhythm to our speech that was open and real as if we had been friends for years. THE same feeling can be found between long term friends who have been out of touch for a long duration. You must have experienced it at some time I would think. I have a few friends who live out of state. One in particular I had not seen for several years; however, when we finally got together it was as if no significant duration of time every happened between us. We started right up where we left off our previous time as if we had seen each other a few days ago. In situations like this I tend to feel a warm familial connection to the person. Now here is the funny thing, I had this type of reaction to seeing this adventure family film. Being a big fan of the Harry Potter books and movies, I immediately formed a connection to this story that takes place 70 years before Harry Potter arrived in the magical world. ARRIVING in New York City to seek out a particular magical creature Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything), was waylaid by a No-Maj (American for Muggle) who mistakenly wound up with Newt’s suitcase filled with magical creatures. This family movie did not disappoint with the abundance of magical special effects. Set in the 1920s I thoroughly enjoyed the sets and costumes. With Dan Fogler (Fanboys, The Goldbergs-TV) as Kowalski, Colin Farrell (The Lobster, Total Recall) as Graves, Katherine Waterson (Inherent Vice, Steve Jobs) as Tina and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk about Kevin, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as Credence Barebone; I thought the actors were good with their characters but had no chemistry between each other. Between the script and the directing, I found the movie on a whole a bit stagnant in some places. It went from a slow pace to a frantic action scene causing an unevenness in the pacing. From what I heard I understand this will be the 1st of 5 films, so I understood this movie would be more of an introduction to all the new characters. In addition, it was very hard not to compare this picture to the Harry Potter movies. This may sound odd but I found several characters were lacking personality; I could not tell you much about them. However with me having an immediate connection to the magical world depicted here the flaws in this film were smoothed over.
2 3/4 stars
At some point the two individuals decide to spend their lives with each other and the weaving begins. Like craftsmen their lives intermingle into a finely woven mesh, similar to a fishing net. The two cast their net out into the sea of hope and dreams, letting the currents spread it wide to capture good fortune. Their net will remain strong through any type of storm; the only thing that could create a hole is doubt. If either person discovers they cannot love unconditionally then the net of their life begins to unravel, parts splitting off and traveling to darker depths. I have always believed a relationship will last when both parties accept their significant other completely. There have been so many times where I have seen someone falling in love who thinks they are in love, but is more in love with the idea of falling in love. Sure they may be fond of the person they are dating, but somewhere inside of them they have this little checklist displaying the things that are “wrong.” There is this friend of mine who for some reason enjoys testing me on my definition of beauty. They will point to a stranger and ask me if I think they are beautiful. I know they want an answer based on the looks of the person, but I keep saying I cannot tell if they are beautiful until I know what is inside of them. Sure there may be surface features that are attractive but it can be so fleeting; the character, the personality, the morals, the compatibility of a person would be some of the elements that are more important to me. Maybe it is easier to simply say their soul. FILLING in as a model for his artist wife Gerda, played by Alicia Vikander (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Ex Machina); Danish artist Einar Wegener, played by Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, My Week with Marilyn), donned the clothing that was picked out and suddenly felt more like himself than he ever did before. This film festival winning biographical drama was based on a true story. It was brilliantly brought to life by Eddie and Alicia; their acting was amazing to see. The depth of their emotions was authentic and convincing to me; I easily see an Oscar nomination for both of them. Even the supporting cast, such a Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone, The Drop) as Hans Axgil and Amber Heard (Pineapple Express, Zombieland) as Ulla, was a good compliment to the two main stars. Set during the early 1920s in Copenhagen, the sets and outdoor shots were ideal. The story was captivating and interesting almost to the end; however, the last part of the film fell apart for me. I felt the script let the cast down. In addition, there were a few scenes that did not register as true compared to other ones. This incredible story explored the meaning of love and the cast delivered it.
I believe one has to look at their past to see where they are going in the future. The opportunities are plentiful if one looks at the past generations of their family, besides learning some surprising facts. Since I look at the world as one large supermarket, I am always curious to find out the heritage of any new person I meet. Listening about their family’s roots only reaffirms my beliefs that we are all connected in some way. I used to fantasize about my deceased relatives, imagining elaborate scenarios for them regarding their professions, their neighborhoods, even their hobbies. Hearing about family members who fought in battles or others who were inventors, only set my imagination into high gear. I wondered if any of these relatives’ genes were flowing in my blood. Just take a moment and imagine you found out a relative of yours did something extraordinary in their life; don’t you think it would inspire you in some way? I had a relative who played the violin; so when I used to play the piano, I would pretend they were accompanying me. Something as simple as that made me work harder on my piano lessons so I would not be the one to make a mistake during our duets. One never knows how the actions of one relative can affect another. WISHING for something more in her life Jupiter Jones, played by Mila Kunis (Black Swan, Oz the Great and Powerful), was not expecting it would be in the form of the alien warrior Caine Wise, played by Channing Tatum (Foxcatcher, White House Down). Little did she know her life was about to drastically change along with her planet. The first thing that grabbed me in this action fantasy was the visually spectacular special effects. Set in the city of Chicago there was one particular outdoor fight scene that used much of the city’s skyline. Though Channing’s character always looked like he was ice skating, it was still pretty cool to watch on screen. Written and directed by the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix franchise, Speed Racer), the visuals were this adventure film’s strongest feature. I thought Mila and Channing had excellent chemistry, besides Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings franchise, North Country) putting in a good acting job as Stinger Apini. However, I strongly disliked Eddie Redmayne’s (The Theory of Everything, My Week with Marilyn) performance as Balem Abrasax. It felt and looked so out of place compared to the other characters. Sadly the script was a mess that never lived up to the visuals. It came across as a mashup of several other films like Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz. If the Wachowskis wanted an epic creation here, I wished they would have created a script that made more sense.
1 3/4 stars
If you happen to trip or fall and break a bone, it usually can get fixed. Joints after years of an active lifestyle are now being replaced with high-tech metal products. However, when the body is attacked by a disease the landscape of the person’s life is forever altered. I am old enough to remember a time when people would avoid talking about their or a family member’s affliction. Those that were children were separated from the general student population; rarely to be seen except for the occasional assembly where they were relegated to a section of seats far from the other students. There were few outlets where adults could get special attention to assist them in achieving or maintaining a level of quality to their lives. It was not unusual for healthy individuals to react with fear and avoid those who were dealing with a physical or mental challenge. In fact, I am going to share with you a tidbit that might surprise you. Kids who were bullied would develop a dislike or even hatred towards disadvantaged peers. You see with the constant barrage of negative comments and physical abuse, the victims would redirect their anger towards an easy target which usually would be a challenged individual. I know this may sound twisted to you; that internalization of not being perfect can warp a person’s perceptions. Gratefully we have advanced and there are people who set a high standard for what can be achieved. PHYSICAL limitations could not stop Stephen Hawking, played by Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn, Les Miserables), from exploring his ideas about the universe. Based on Stephen’s first wife Jane’s book, “Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen,” this film festival winning biographical drama followed the challenges and achievements of two extraordinary individuals. With Felicity Jones (The Invisible Woman, Like Crazy) playing Jane, the two actors were wonderful together. They acted and appeared as these two strong characters who together could take on any obstacles. Eddie was beyond amazing as he physically transformed himself into the brilliant astrophysicist battling a debilitating disease. I found myself at times writhing in my seat with sympathy pains for what I saw Eddie doing on screen. The director allowed the story to flow smoothly whether the scenes were of a scientific or romantic nature; I always felt I was engaged with the characters on screen. If there is fault to be found I felt it was the script. It seemed as if some events were being treated quickly. I would have liked to have seen more story and emotion to them. The satisfying feeling I was experiencing overshadowed this complaint. What an example to see how one man did not let his physical limitations hold his mind back from growing and exploring.
3 1/4 stars
The stage musical of Les Miserables is one of my favorite shows, having seen it three times. It has one of the best musical scores I have ever heard besides incredible set designs. At least the productions I have seen. The story set in the 1800’s in France, revolved around the life long pursuit by police officer Javert of Jean Valjean, a former prisoner who broke parole. There were so many different aspects of the story to hook in the viewer; from redemption and unconditional love to salvation and honor. Everything I loved about the stage show was abused in this film version. While watching this 2 hour and 37 minute movie, I felt the director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Red Dust) sucked the life out of this classic tale. As much as I was impressed with his Oscar winning film The King’s Speech, I was disappointed in this ugly movie. The reason I use the word ugly is because the majority of the scenes looked like they were shot with camera lenses stuck in portrait mode. Constantly seeing angled shots of the actors’ faces quickly became a bore. Then there was the quick cutting from shot to shot, along with using a spiraling camera shoot on actors and buildings, that made me slightly nauseous. Shame on Mr. Hooper; it would have been easy to add drama to the scene if we could have seen some of the body language of the actors. Hugh Jackman (Real Steel, X-Men franchise) who I normally enjoy, had something wrong here as Jean Valjean. While every actor singing had a mellowness to their voice, it seemed as Hugh was forced to sing in a higher key. His voice was shrill and grating on my ears. Russell Crowe (Gladitor, A Beautiful Mind) as Javert did an admirable job with his singing. Playing factory worker Fantine, it seemed as if Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married) knew she had one chance to make the Oscar voters notice, giving it her all to her song performance. I will say she did a great job. The surprise for me was Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn, The Other Boleyn Girl) as Marius. I had no idea he could sing and do it so well. Sacha Baron Cohen (Hugo, The Dictator) and Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows) were comic relief as the crooked innkeeper and his wife. I knew I was going to witness misery in this movie; I just did not realize it would be my own over this poorly done film.