THOSE WHO YOU HAVE BEEN FRIENDS with you for a long time hold an extra special place inside of you. I believe this whole heartily because these individuals are the safe keepers of your history. Think about it, your relatives may be familiar with you; but their version is in a different context, based more on family rankings. Your friends may know you in a different light. All of this falls into the analogy I use to describe friendships. Drop a pebble into a still pool of water and look at the rippled rings that spread out from the drop point. The closest and smallest ring represents your inner circle, your closest friends. Each ring moving away from the center point is wider and bigger, encompassing those friends that know you but not in as intimate details as the inner circle friends. At some point the rings of water switch to represent your acquaintances and so on and so on. Your close friends, at least for me, are the ones who can verify your history because they have lived it with you. They also can be reminders of your past. ONE OF THE MANY GIFTS FRIENDS have is the ability to remind us to have fun. I look at my life and notice as I have gotten older it has been a challenge at times to experience fun times. When I was a kid much of my time was devoted to having fun; but as I entered the adult world (at least I believe I am in the adult world) I had to take on more responsibilities. I look at the people around me and realize I am not alone in this situation. It seems as if our responsibilities can consume us if we do not schedule time to have fun. Maybe you have experienced this predicament where you feel like all you do is sleep, eat and work; I have numerous times. With my day job, teaching classes, writing reviews, maintaining the house along with the rest of life’s “chores;” I can get lost in them. This is why I make plans to meet up with my friends from time to time. Granted with all the things I need to handle during the week, I pretty much have to use weekends to meet up with friends; which means I might have to set a date to get together several weeks out. I know it might seem odd to call a friend to make a date 2 months ahead, but it is important that fun remains a part of my life. If you watch this adventure comedy you will understand why. CONSUMED WITH WORK DURING A critical time at his company Christopher Robin, played by Ewan McGregor (Jane Got A Gun, The Impossible), could not take time for himself. That is until an old friend appeared one day. With Hayley Atwell (Captain America franchise, Ant-Man) as Evelyn Robin, Bronte Carmichael (Darkest Hour, On Chesil Beach) as Madeline Robin, Mark Gatiss (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Doctor Who-TV) as Giles Winslow and Oliver Ford (Star Wars franchise, Johnny English) as Old Man Winslow; this movie was ripe to be sweet and charming. I thought the special effects were beautiful of Winnie the Pooh and his friends. A mixture of the script and directing of the cast caused me to lose interest during the first half of the film. It was a surprise to me because based on the trailers I thought I would have fun throughout the picture. It turns out it was not until the second half that I enjoyed watching this story. It is all about fun and at least I got to experience it partially during this viewing; I guess it is better than not having fun at all. Wouldn’t you agree? There was an extra fun scene during the credits.
2 ½ stars
ONE could not help thinking that they were the ideal family living the American dream. They lived in the suburbs in a well maintained house that was surrounded by a perfectly manicured lawn. The husband owned a company; the mother did volunteer work and twice a year they and their children would go on a vacation; never to the same place twice. I was friends with their youngest child. As we all grew old they still looked like one big happy family; I knew better. On the outside nothing had changed except for one detail. If you were to meet them now there would be one less child. INSIDE their house the only signs that there was another child could be found in a few photo albums that were stuffed in some drawers. I never knew what happened but their child was not missing; he did not want to have anything to do with his family. The parents and their other children did not know if he was dead or alive, where he lived or what he did to make a living. It really was heartbreaking to see this though as I said the family always kept up a strong face. My friend had told me a few things that had taken place inside the household. From this I learned never to judge someone based on appearances. As they say you never know what goes on behind closed doors. I have witnessed other incidents with other people where a similar situation took place; things much worse than what I just told you. It truly baffles me on what could have happened to have resulted in such extreme measures. This dramatic crime film is an example of what I mean. LIFE was going so well for Swede Levov, played by Ewan McGregor (The Impossible, Star Wars franchise); which only made it harder when his daughter Merry, played by Dakota Fanning (Man on Fire, I Am Sam), started acting differently around the house. Based on Philip Roth’s (The Human Stain, Portnoy’s Complaint) novel, this film festival nominated movie also had as part of the cast Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Blood Diamond) as Dawn and Peter Riegert (Local Hero, Animal House) as Lou. Set in the 1960s I liked the look of this picture. The film shots were well thought out; this may sound odd, but everything in the scene was well placed. I felt the acting was this film’s strongest suit. I have not enjoyed Dakota’s acting in recent films but I thought she was excellent in this role. If I am not mistaken this was Ewan’s directorial debut and sadly this was the problem I had with the movie. I thought his directing was unpolished; there were times I was bored with the story. It just seemed as if the action was being sucked out of several scenes. The story was interesting but I do not think it translated well into this script because I found parts of it dull and wasteful. Here is the thing though; based on the trailer I thought this was going to be a better film. I need to remind myself not to go into the theater with expectations that are solely based on a movie’s trailer; looks can be deceiving.
2 ½ stars
There is a saying that I have seen in numerous places recently; it goes, “Being kind is easier than being mean.” I have noticed it on social media sites, T-shirts and heard it talked about on television talk shows; it seems to be everywhere. Now here is my question, “Why?” Why are so many people (at least to me) talking about kindness? I can remember a time where it was polite to hold the door open for someone, to give up one’s seat to someone else on public transportation or let a person enter in ahead of you. Really, how much of a burden would it be to do any of these acts? Something happened that has turned kindness into a rare gemstone; days could go by before I would see an example of it being done. There certainly is a layer of distrust that has permeated our consciousness. A good example of why this is would be the time I signed up for a newspaper subscription from a high school student who knocked on my front door. They took my money but I never received a paper, finding out the newspaper company never solicits subscriptions in such a way. Another reason I feel is due to the electronic revolution we have been embracing. With the fraud now associated to our ATM and charge cards, a good portion of us are afraid to click on any email links. That simple click could unleash a virus on one’s electronic device that will steal our identity, wipe out our savings and possibly lead a path for the virus to seek out our contacts. I have gone through at least half a dozen times where my bank has called me due to fraudulent activity on my charge card. It is enough to make a person go back to the old days and pay cash for everything. Stuff like this is only one part of the factors that cause a person to hold back from doing a kind act. Then again, see what happens when one does something kind in this movie thriller. LITTLE did Perry, played by Ewan McGregor (Star Wars franchise, The Impossible), know that the offer of a drink by Dima, played by Stellan Skarsgard (The Avengers franchise, The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo), would have such an effect on his life. This story based on John le Carre’s (A Most Wanted Man, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) novel had a good mix of actors that also included Naomie Harris (Skyfall, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) as Gail. Stellan was outstanding in the role to the point I felt he dominated the movie screen. The story started out slow and though I did not read the book, I found myself able to predict where the story would lead next. Being able to figure out the story was kind of a drag on my enjoyment level while watching this film. At least the acting quality was at a good enough level for me to stay interested in what was going on. I guess this is my way of being kind to this picture.
2 ¾ stars
The melody rolled out of the radio sitting on my desk and I felt I had just been transported to a spacious open aired room draped with flowing veils. It only took a couple of beats from the song before my ears focused on the music like a new born baby to its bottle. The classic musical piece had been used for years by a multitude of ice skaters at the Olympic Games. Hearing it at my desk had an immediate effect on me; the tight shouldered stress I was experiencing literally collapsed inside of me and I was left in a peaceful oasis. I have many reasons to be grateful that I have all of my senses. Though I may not always be appreciative of them each day, there certainly are times where they are prominent in my consciousness. On vacation at a national park as I stand by a cliff looking out into a centuries old canyon, I am absolutely grateful I have my eyesight so I can see such a spectacular sight. Now I am not sure there is actual scientific proof, but it seems when a person loses one of their senses the remaining ones reach for a heightened state of awareness. I think about the various musicians and composers who have lost their sight or hearing yet they still create incredible music. It is as if they are hearing a combination of notes that reside in a different range than the average listener. There is another example I just remembered about a world famous chef from my city that had to deal with tongue cancer. Can you imagine what that must have been like for him? This film festival winning movie will show you what could happen when one of our senses disappears. JUST as Susan and Michael, played by Eva Green (Dark Shadows, 300: Rise of an Empire) and Ewan McGregor (Star Wars franchise, Jane Got a Gun), begin to get to know each other a plague starts to form that robs humans of their senses. This romantic drama was also classified as a science fiction film. I do not know if I would list it as such because it really was not what the average person would consider as a sci-fi story. This movie captivated me; I thought Eva and Ewan were wonderful together. Even the supporting cast like Connie Nielsen (One Hour Photo, Gladiator) as Jenny and Denis Lawson (Star Wars franchise, The Machine) as Boss did a good job of acting with their roles. The story was unique for me; I found myself imagining what I would do as some of the scenes started to play out. Granted there were some slow parts throughout the film, but my curiosity was strong enough for me to want to see what was going to happen next. Seeing the loss of a sense could be a rather bleak experience; I appreciated the fact that I could watch this DVD.
2 ½ STARS — DVD
We would sit and observe the couples sitting near us. It was not on a consistent basis, but there were times where it amused us. Looking at a couple, all of us would try to figure out, just from what we observed, what kept the couple together or maybe not. There were couples that would sit across from each other and never utter a word of conversation; they would slowly eat their meal with little emotion crossing their faces. Other times two people would hold hands from across each other, chatting up a storm interspersed with laughter and surprise. I remember looking at some couples and wondering what attracted each person to the other. Even among my friends there have been times where someone would bring there new significant other into the group and after a few meetings one of us would start to wonder what our friend saw in their girlfriend/boyfriend. I do not mean in a catty or gossipy way; but in a protective way. For example there was one friend I felt was being used by their new love interest, where I finally had to have a conversation with them to share my feelings. When they told me they were aware of being used and did not see the relationship going long term, I was cool with it then. We were all adults; sure we watched out for each other but we would never force our feelings onto another. We would respect each other’s decisions, though there were times it was challenging. I felt the same way about the main character in this dramatic western. WHEN her husband Bill Hammond, played by Noah Emmerich (Super 8, The Truman Show), returned home shot and bleeding from a gang of thieves out to kill him; Jane Hammond, played by Natalie Portman (Thor franchise, Black Swan), had no choice but to contact her ex-lover Dan Frost, played by Joel Edgerton (Black Mass, The Gift), to come help her defend her husband and home. This action drama had some good things going for it. First there was Natalie and Joel along with Ewan McGregor (Star Wars franchise, The Impossible) as Colin McCann; they were real good in their roles. I enjoyed the idea of a strong female character leading the story. Sadly the issue with this western was the script; it was predictable enough where I could almost figure out everything going on. There was at least a cool twist in the story, but the scenes were not consistent. They did not have an easy flow to them as if there was a 2nd director doing several scenes. Too bad the film did not gel well together because I liked the old fashioned feeling to it with its fresh idea of a leading strong female character. Also the script certainly had an interesting take on what brings two people together. There were multiple scenes with blood and violence.
Sadly I have seen a person go into shock due to an automobile accident. It looked as if they had been powered by batteries that were quickly losing power as their physical movements were grinding to a halt. There was a numbness that came over them as they became unaware of their surroundings. Gratefully the shock I am referring to today is the kind where you cannot believe what your eyes have just seen. I was rummaging through my memory, looking for a time where I had that reaction of disbelief and what came to mind was the first time I visited Las Vegas, Nevada. One of the shows I saw there was a pseudo circus type of troupe but without the animals. I sat there in disbelief as I watched these human beings performing non-human things; it was a night filled with fanciful magic that continues to stay with me to this day. Since I started posting my movie reviews I cannot recall having such a reaction of shock like I had to this film. I think the best way I could describe it would be to say I was dumbfounded and had a difficult time processing what I was witnessing on the big screen before me. JOHNNY Depp (The Long Ranger, Transcendence) played well known art dealer Mortdecai. When a famous painting was stolen, Mortdecai was brought in by England’s secret service to assist them in retrieving the artwork before it fell into the hands of a hostile group. There was something special about this painting. I literally sat in astonishment as I watched this action comedy. This movie was so bad and I do not mean that in a good way. Someone needs to tell Johnny it is enough already; this is not acting anymore. He just talks with an accent and mimics to the camera; it is utterly tiresome. I would love to know what Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man franchise, Running with Scissors) as Johanna, Ewan McGregor (Big Fish, The Impossible) as Martland and Paul Bettany (Legion, A Beautiful Mind) as Jock were thinking by agreeing to be in this movie. The story, the script and the acting were all awful. I think I am still shellshocked because I can barely type out my thoughts on this review. It seemed as if the producers were trying to create a mashup of Austin Powers and Inspector Jacques Clouseau, with the hope of creating a new franchise. I hope it does not happen because this movie was like an unfinished painting that did not dry and all the colors ran together to form brown. As a side note, the 8 pm Saturday night showing of this film, in an approximately 300 seat theater, had 22 people in attendance, including me.
1 1/3 stars
It can be a word or a phrase I hear and I immediately get flooded with memories from a long time ago. Hearing “Just a spoonful of sugar…” and I see myself sitting in an ornate downtown theater with my mother, aunt and cousins watching Mary Poppins on the big screen. Afterwards, we walked across the street to a department store where my cousins and I were each able to pick out one toy to buy. When I hear “I’ll get you my pretty” I can picture my aunt’s house where everyone was gathered; with all the kids in the basement sitting on the floor, in front of the television watching a special presentation of The Wizard of Oz. As soon as I heard Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum in this adventure movie; I was swept up into a mixture of childhood memories with storybook characters coming to life. Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, About A Boy) played Jack, the boy who went to town to sell a horse and received magic beans for payment. Except in this updated version there were a few twists to the story. When Princess Isabelle, played by Eleanor Tomlinson (The Illusionist, Alice in Wonderland) was caught and lifted away in the growing beanstalk to the land of the giants; her father King Brahmwell, played by Ian McShane (Deadwood-TV, Snow White and the Huntsman), dispatched a rescue party to save her. Leading the party were Isabelle’s fiancee Roderick and guardsman Elmont, played by Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games, Margin Call) and Ewan McGregor (The Impossible, Big Fish). Director Bryan Singer (X-Men franchise, The Usual Suspects) did a perfect balance between story and wonderful special effects. I enjoyed the almost cartoonish quality to the characters of Ewan and Stanley as they had to endure a more physical type of role. Surprisingly, the two leads Nicholas and Eleanor were just okay compared to the other actors. This was a fun movie, that was easy to watch with consistent pacing. It may not have had many surprises, but how could it really when one has grown up with the fantasy story.
2 3/4 stars
A storyteller takes something ordinary and makes it interesting. With an added twist of words the mundane can be transformed into an extraordinary tale. Before I even began my schooling, I was exposed to a master storyteller–my father. Out of the entire family, my dad was the person who provided tall tales and comic relief for everyone. Anyone who was within ear shot would be drawn into my father’s fabrications. As a salesman, he covered the entire city and always found fodder for his next anecodote. The story of my dad stopping by to surprise my mother and me at the grocery store was completely transformed when he retold it. He would say he went into the store and found me crying at the service desk, separated from my mother. When the service manager asked him who he was, my dad said he was my father. The manager turned and asked me if that was my dad and all I could cry for was my mother, never acknowledging my father. It was these tall tales I grew up with and why this touching movie resonated with me. Albert Finney (Erin Brockovich, Annie) was the colorful character Ed Bloom. After being diagnosed with cancer; his estranged son Will, played by Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, Watchmen), returned home to reconcile with his dad and find out the truth behind the wild stories he had heard growing up. Told in flashbacks the younger Ed Bloom was portrayed by Ewan McGregor (The Impossible, Beginners). Director Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Planet of the Apes) surprised me with this touching, imaginative story. The entire cast blended together so well, that I had no trouble going from fanciful stories to current reality. Jessica Lange was wonderful as she played Ed’s grounded wife Sandra. It was fun to see a younger Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Reservoir Dogs), Danny DeVito (Batman Returns, Twins), Marion Cotillard (Inception, Contagion) and Helena Bonham Carter (Les Miserables, Harry Potter franchise) make up part of the ensemble. This charming movie is being turned into a Broadway play. I believe it will easily transfer to the big stage and do quite well for this simple reason: if you cannot exaggerate the story, then it just isn’t worth telling.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
I cannot remember the last time I have seen a movie that drained me as much as this remarkable film. The intensity, the human hardships, the physical challenges, all left me spent and exhausted. The trailers should have mentioned that tissues were required for all show times; tears periodically slipped out of my eyes during the movie. I am eternally grateful that I have not experienced a catastrophic event. The only awarenesses I have formed have been through media sources. After witnessing the amazing special effects in recreating the December 26th tsunami of 2004, I have a whole new knowledge on the variety of damages that can be inflicted on the human body. This movie was based on the true story of one family’s ordeal after a tsunami struck the Thailand coastal town where they were on holiday. Naomi Watts (J. Edgar, 21 Grams) was amazing in her role as the mother Maria. She may receive an Oscar nomination for this role; she exuded pain and suffering. Ewan McGregor (The Ghost Writer, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) played Maria’s husband Henry. The real standouts of the cast were the three boys who played the sons of Maria and Henry. They were relative newcomers Tom Holland as eldest son Lucas, Samuel Joslin as middle child Thomas and Oaklee Pendergast as the youngest son Simon. In my opinion, Tom Holland was so good with his acting; I would not be surprised if he got a nomination for it. Adding a poignant element I felt was the inclusion of several actual survivors as extras. I have mentioned this before, that I try not to compare one person’s challenges to another. After feeling like an observer to this dramatic thriller, I am not only humbled; but I have been reminded that no matter how big I feel my problems are, they are not a life or death situation. May no one ever experience such a disaster again. Scenes of blood and bodily injuries.
3 1/2 stars
Conjuring up the directional spirit of Alfred Hitchcock, this intelligent suspense movie was beautifully directed by Roman Polanski. Atmospheric scenes added to the thrilling story as Ewan McGregor (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Miss Potter) introduced himself as the Ghost aka the ghost writer. He was hired to complete the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang, played by Pierce Brosnan (Die Another Day, Mamma Mia), when the previous ghost writer died from an accidental drowning. As Ewan’s character delved into Mr. Lang’s past, he discovered something unusual. My attention was totally captured by this exciting film. Without the use of explosions or hi-tech wizardry, this movie steadily built up the anticipation with the aid of a smart script. The characters were all believable to me and with Mr. Polanski’s trained eye for making each frame appear full, I loved the way the tension kept a steady pace throughout the movie. The casting of Pierce in the role of prime minister was bloody brilliant. The only complaint I had about this film was my disappointment in the way it ended. However, it was not traumatic enough for me to have lost my enthusiasm for having been a witness to this gripping movie.
3 1/3 stars — DVD