FIRST thing we would do is look for a thick stick or broken tree branch. If none could be found then we would head down the alley to see if there was anything lying around that had been discarded by the neighbors. Once something was found the next step was to look for a place to impale the object; a mound of dirt, a pile of leaves, or a large snowdrift would do. As soon as the stick or piece of wood was stuck into the ground it became our sword, a special one. If it was during winter we would break up into 2 teams and battle each other with snowballs as each of us tried to get to the sword and pull it out as the rightful owner who would be king. All of us were familiar with the story about King Arthur and his knights of the round table. Also I think each of us at some point had seen the movie, “The Sword in the Stone.” I saw it 3 times; hoping a bit of Merlin’s magic would rub off on me. AFTER all these years there are certain story lines that remain embedded in my brain. I may not remember every detail but certainly have a good idea of what took place. I find it fascinating that fairy tales read or seen as a kid remain more vivid in my memory than where I parked my car in the parking lot on a recent trip to the grocery store. There is something about these childhood fantasies that always stay strong in us. I wonder if part of the reason is due to the morals of the story, especially in the animated versions. A kiss that wakes up one’s true love or the physical ramifications of lying to someone; until this very moment I never consciously realized these stories were teaching me a lesson. Maybe because of these memories I have about King Arthur caused me to now be confused by what I was seeing in this dramatic, action adventure film. UNTIL King Vortigern, played by Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes franchise, The Talented Mr. Ripley), forced every male to make an attempt to pull the recently discovered sword from out of its stone; Arthur, played by Charlie Hunnam (The Lost City of Z, Crimson Peak), had no idea about his heritage when he became the only successful male to remove the special sword. Written and directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), this movie also starred Astrid Berges-Frisbey (The Sea Wall, I Origins) as the Mage, Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, Gladiator) as Bedivere and Eric Bana (Troy, The Time Traveler’s Wife) as Uther. The story hardly represented the one I had known as a child. Normally that would be okay; however, the script was so loose and disconnected that I sat through most of this picture puzzled by what I was watching. There were some scenes that worked for me, where I enjoyed the CGI effects like the eagle and massive elephants. But then other scenes literally looked like video game clips which were lost on me because I did not care for the quick cut and paste editing. I also dislike modern language in a period piece. For the amount of money the studio spent, all I can say is Jude plays a good evil person and Charlie has a definite presence that lights up the movie screen. They should have kept the sword locked in the stone and forget this story; what a mess.
1 2/3 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
WHEN I ask why they are attracted to that certain feature of the individual, the answer is never the same. It is perplexing to me how people acquire a particular attraction to a person’s height, hair color or body type. Friends of mine to this day test me because they cannot believe I do not pay attention to the surface details of an individual. They will point at someone and ask me if I would be attracted to that person. Each time I have to tell them I do not know until I have had a couple of conversations with that particular individual. Maybe from my studies in psychology I attempt to rationalize a person’s tastes in potential dates. In some circles of thought one could say one of the reasons a person is attracted to redheads is because they are less available, rarer if you will. This person wants to stand out from the pack. Someone may be attracted to facial hair because it represents a father figure, an authoritarian. There are so many different interpretations, yet they still do not answer my fundamental thought: why should it make a difference what a person looks like? You can have what looks like the most perfect apple in your hand, but it still may be rotten underneath the skin. TAKING this a step further, I feel the same way about a person’s ethnicity. The only thing a person’s ethnic makeup tells me is what region of the world their ancestors were born. After taking in the cultural differences, I do not find anything different between people of different races. Each group produces geniuses, thieves, liars, bigoted and loving people. I find this whole discrimination thing puzzling and troubling. People are quick to make judgments about individuals solely based on skin color; I just do not get it. From what I have said you may begin to suspect, this fairy tale is one my favorite stories from childhood. SIMPLY by plucking a single rose off a bush Maurice, played by Kevin Kline (Cry Freedom, My Old Lady), was imprisoned by a monstrous beast, played by Dan Stevens (The Guest, Downton Abbey-TV). If it was not for his daughter Belle, played by Emma Watson (The Bling Ring, Harry Potter franchise); Maurice would have never survived the ordeal. This live action, fantasy musical was based on the animated film version of this story done in the 1990s. With Luke Evans (Dracula Untold, The Raven) as Gaston and Josh Gad (The Wedding Ringer, Jobs) as LeFou, the cast members not associated with singing surprised me with their vocal abilities. Emma took her character and made it a somewhat more modern and determined figure. I do not know if it was because of this or not, but I found her interactions with the Beast emotionally too fast. She never had a sense of revulsion upon meeting the Beast; in other words there was a lack of tension between the two. The same argument could be made with other portions of the film; the story was quickly pushed from one action scene to another I felt. At least the creativity and imagination that went into the sets and individual pieces were thoroughly entertaining. Along with the wonderful musical score and beautiful story, there are more things to like about this film than not. Maybe just do not look too deep under the surface to find the cracks.
SITTING in the semi-darkened theater waiting for the movie trailers to begin, I was wondering how many different film variations of King Kong I had seen. I believe I saw every one of them and I could even include the robotic one Bette Midler used in one of her concerts, where she played the Fay Wray character who was sprawled out across King Kong’s palm. Thinking about these different versions of the big ape, we really have come a long way from the 1st one to the latest one I was about to see. Of course I was basing it on the movie trailers I had recently seen. Recalling the earlier Kong versions, I can still remember how fake looking he was in the oldest movies. My guess is the writers needed to fine tune their script to keep the audience engaged with the story since an unrealistic looking gorilla would quickly become boring. SPEAKING of story lines I wondered what the writers would do to keep me interested in this umpteenth time of me watching a King Kong film. More often than not I have noticed when a movie comes out with a well known character that has played before the script is updated to reflect current times. Sometimes it works and sometimes it is a bust. I can remember a group of classic horror monsters like Frankenstein and the Mummy being part of a series of movies that were based in comedy, starring comedians and comedy duos. Personally I found them ridiculous; taking such classic horror characters and placing them in a genre of films that no one would ever consider for them, diminishes their scariness in the public’s eyes. With these thoughts in mind the movie theater lights became dark and I sat back in my seat to see what Kong was up to these days. FLYING over the Pacific Ocean, bound for a newly discovered uncharted island, a group of scientists and soldiers did not know they would be disturbing the inhabitants to the point of making them angry. This action adventure fantasy succeeded because of the special effects. From all the different versions of King Kong I have seen on film, this was the best looking or should I say the most realistic version of King Kong. The fight scenes were exciting, especially the opening one. If this film had not been so technically advanced I would have been bored by the script. With Tom Hiddleston (Crimson Peak, I Saw the Light) as James Conrad, Samuel L. Jackson (The Legend of Tarzan, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) as Preston Packard, Brie Larson (Room, Short Term 12) as Mason Weaver and John C. Reilly (Carnage, Step Brothers) as Hank Marlow; I only found Hank’s character interesting. Samuel was doing his identical acting thing, so no surprises there. However I was surprised how stiff Tom and Brie were with their characters. This was partially due to the script that offered no insights, along with the direction that kept them one dimensional. Only John C. Reilly and John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane, The Monuments Men) as Bill Randa offered any interest among the cast. If you are into visual experiences then you would want to see this picture inside a movie theater. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
FROM my experiences I know every person treats religion differently. I also am aware of the differences between someone who is religious compared to a person who is spiritual. Some years ago I knew a man who went to temple every day to pray. He followed his religion’s customs and traditions fully, handing them down to his children. The interesting thing was after he died his wife stopped following the rituals; not totally but she became more relaxed about the structure shall we say. I know another person who partakes in all the customs of her religion, but her actions are not of a religious person. Just because you attend services and donate money to charity does not automatically make one religious. In other words you have to practice what you preach. This person discriminates against a variety of minorities; I am talking blatantly speaks out against them. I just sit and wonder how they can justify their actions based on how much they talk about their religious participation. THOUGH I understand the circumstances were devastating for the individual I still find it curious when they suddenly become religious. I have experienced this myself on some level at a time when I felt there was no hope of me coming out unscathed. It took place one of the times I was being chased by a group of bullies after school. Hiding behind a couple of garbage cans on the back porch of an apartment building, I could hear them below me. They must have been looking up at the porches of the 4 storied building before running up the stairs to only check on the top floor they could not fully see from the alley. I remember praying to God to keep me hidden from them until they came down the stairway and were long gone. Due to this experience I have gained insight or maybe it is sensitivity to the actions taken by someone experiencing tragedy, like the family in this inspirational fantasy drama. DEEP into depression from a tragic event Mack Phillips, played by Sam Worthington (Clash of the Titans franchise, Avatar), one day received a letter in his box without a postmark. It was from someone he stopped believing in. Based on the bestselling book this fantasy movie also starred Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Help) as Papa, Radha Mitchell (Man on Fire, Looking for Grace) as Nan Phillips and Tim McGraw (The Blind Side, Country Strong) as Willie. I appreciated the idea behind this film’s story and felt the cast was certainly capable to bring the story to life. My issue lies with the director; the pacing was slow to the point I felt the story was dragging. Add in the script being stacked in favor of manipulating the viewers’ emotions to shed tears, I did not find this a pleasant movie watching experience. If the story would have been told in a more even handed way, allowing the audience to come to their own conclusions, I feel the film would have been better all around. Sitting next to me through this picture were a couple of friends who are more religious than me. Asking them what they thought, they felt the same way I did about the movie. The story was a sad one that did not give them a sense of comfort due to the poor writing and direction.
2 ¼ stars
WALKING among the ancient relics in the midst of reproductions was exciting. The museum had opened an exhibit devoted to the achievements of ancient man. As I started to walk around the displays I came up to glass cases that had several items in each one. According to the printed cards next to each item these objects were all tools that must have been used eons ago. To tell you the truth except for the obvious hammer and chisel devices I would not know these things were tools. I wondered how the archeologists and scientists figured it out. Among the cases there were blueprints displayed on large easels that stood alongside each case. The plans were modern but they depicted the schematics to ancient structures that historians believed would have been built using some of these same tools that were in the cases. I may be a pessimist but how did they really know? At least I could see the blueprints and corresponding tools would make a good story for the visitors. IN another part of the exhibit there were computer monitors set up to provide visual mini tours of some famous structures. I gravitated towards these monitors and stopped at the first one which was focused on a famous temple in Cambodia. I knew about the temple only because a friend of mine had traveled to it and shared his photographs with me. Listening to the film’s narrator I heard a variety of statements being made about the uses or purposes to several portions of the temple’s structure. How could one really know that a platform jutting out from a side entryway was used for sacrifices I wondered? Maybe it was used as a balcony or it was a portion of a bridge that had fallen apart; who could really say with certainty what something was from so long ago? Call me a skeptic but I tend to need more proof before I will accept someone’s version of an ancient item’s purpose. Maybe this is why I had a hard time believing this action adventure film. MERCENARIES William and Tovar, played by Matt Damon (The Martian, Promised Land) and Pedro Pascal (The Adjustment Bureau, Game of Thrones-TV), were traveling through China in search of a black powder that was rumored to be a powerful weapon. Their search would lead them to something scarier than the powder. Directed by Yimou Zhang (House of Flying Daggers, Hero), this was the largest production to be filmed entirely in China. I will say this expansive fantasy picture had some wonderful visual scenes. Women warriors swinging off of the Great Wall of China looked like a cross between a ballet company and Cirque du Soleil; it was beautiful to watch. Also starring Tian Jing (Special ID, The Warring States) as Commander Lin Mae and William Dafoe (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Platoon) as Ballard, I found the story to be silly and the script to be even sillier. The idea of fending off “alien” creatures was an odd concept, but if that is the idea I would have reluctantly been okay with it if the script was written better. I was periodically bored and the CGI effects did not help the situation. Except for a couple of well choreographed fight scenes I actually enjoyed the craziness of the Great Wall’s defenses. Who knows, maybe there is actual proof somewhere that the wall used to do these things.
1 ¾ stars
SHE/HE is a special kind of friend. Sure he/she can be a confidant, a buddy and a protector; but what makes this type of friend special is the fact you are her/his only friend. Plus, you are the only one who can see this friend. I had such a friend who was everything I described above; he looked almost identical to me except he was thinner and incredibly strong. He was more than a protector; he was a vigilante. Right after an altercation, where I was on the receiving end of some form of violence/bullying, my friend would appear and take swift action against the perpetrators. If I was punched, my friend was ruthless with the revenge he would administer. No one around would even know what was taking place as my friend’s fists would be pummeling the bodies of the people who attacked me. Usually in less than a minute my friend would have knocked each attacker unconscious, battered and bloody. THERE were some individuals who had a similar friend to mine, but theirs was more of a sounding board for any dilemma the person was pondering. I guess you could say they were created to be the person’s conscious who would play the saint role as well as devil’s advocate. These friends provide a valuable service. Speaking for myself my friend did not provide much consoling for me. I knew I was not going to meet violence with actual violence; it was not part of my makeup, plus I knew I would never win. My friend satisfied the desire/need to make a stand and show the bullies I was not passively sitting by and letting them have their way with me. The anger inside of me was funneled into my friend who in his world could get away with everything and pay no consequences. If you would like to see an example then feel free to watch this dramatic fantasy film. WHILE his mother, played by Felicity Jones (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Inferno), was fighting a fatal disease and a bully was picking on him at school Conor, played by Lewis MacDougall (Pan), one day was visited by a monstrous talking tree who had a story to tell him. This film festival winning movie had a wonderful mix of special effects that fit in well with the actors’ scenes; it created a stylish visual narrative. With Sigourney Weaver (The Cold Light of Day, Alien franchise) as the grandmother and Toby Kebbell (Ben-Hur, Fantastic Four) as the Dad, I have to say all the actors were on their “A” game. Lewis was extra special with his role in my opinion. The story was interesting to me because there was one part that was dealing with terminal illness, another part that was focusing on bullying and lastly the fantasy of the talking tree monster. This is not a film for young children; there were many theater patrons at my showing with tears in their eyes due to the heavy subject matter. As a coming of age story this film provided a different spin on it and as a person who had a special friend, I totally identified with Conor’s monster.
WHEN I was little all I wanted was to have a common, average full name; something like John Smith or Robert Jones. I was the only one in my elementary school to have my first name, though there were a couple of boys who had names similar to mine. Teachers never asked a Jeffrey or Deborah to repeat their names but with certain teachers I had to repeat mine a 2nd time so they were sure they heard correctly. Thinking back now I am not sure why it was important for me to want a different name unless it was to be less noticed. It was not like my name was hard to spell or even pronounce. AS we graduated out of elementary school we were joined with students from other schools. There was one boy who had the same last name as a local food company and he was picked on because of it. I remember sitting and imagining if he was getting teased for a food product what would happen to a student who had the same last name of an infamous person from history; such as Churchill, Hemingway or Mussolini? Interestingly I knew a couple of people who were connected to famous individuals but no one knew because they did not have the same last name. There was one friend who was able to trace his family history back 6 centuries. He showed me a couple of artifacts that had been handed down generation to generation; it really blew my mind since my knowledge of my family’s history only goes back approximately a couple of hundred years. Tracing a family’s history can be eye opening, both for the relatives or bystanders. The reason I say this is because there is a famous family business headquartered in my city. The descendants have lived around here for years and a friend of mine is the accountant for a couple of them. Just from a couple of stories told to me, this family has some messed up genes in their gene pool. But they do not as far as I know have an ancestor like the one in this fantasy adventure. CAL Lynch, played by Michael Fassbender (The Light Between Oceans, Steve Jobs), was surprised to discover he had an ancestor named Aguilar who was an assassin. Cal was more surprised when he met him. This action film based on a video game had a heavy hitting cast joining Michael. There was Marion Cotillard (Allied, Rust and Bone) as Sofia, Jeremy Irons (The Man in the Iron Mask, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) as Rikkin and Brendan Gleeson (Suffragette, Troy) as Joseph Lynch. With such a good cast it was a shame the nonsensical script was so poor. It was a patchwork of fights, romance, history; it jumped from one to the other. I enjoyed the exterior shots and I did not mind the story, but this film was barely coherent. The actors tried their best I believe; however, I was bored through parts of the picture. Maybe the video game is fun to play but this was not a film one needs to pay full price to see. In my opinion this was a movie studio and family dysfunction.
1 2/3 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
SHE did not recognize the woman who was standing over her sleeping mother. At the side of her mother’s bed this woman stood still, intently gazing down while the sleeping woman’s torso slowly rose and receded with long breaths. There was no way to tell time but it seemed to only last half a minute before the entire room faded into darkness. Hours later when it was morning the daughter woke up and recalled the image of her mother sleeping and realized it was a dream. Over coffee she told her mother about the dream. SEVERAL days later the mother happened to be going through a box of old photographs. When she came across a picture of her mother she called her daughter over to take a look at the grandmother she had never known. When the daughter looked at the photograph of her deceased grandmother she became a bit flustered. She turned to her mother and told her that was the woman from last night’s dream who was standing next to the bed. I have always believed there are no accidents, that there is a reason for everything. Most of the time I never focused on the possibility an outside source was influencing the event; I just took things at face value. Earlier I mentioned in a review about getting a new furnace but what I did not tell you were the events that led up to it. The thermostat that controlled the furnace broke; I initially thought it just needed new batteries. After trying the different batteries I had in the house, besides keeping up with my hectic schedule, three days had passed before I could get a repair person to come in and check out the equipment. During this time we had unusually warm weather so I did not have to be concerned with my sensitivity to cold. When the service tech came and started to work on the thermostat a device he was wearing started to flash a bright red. It turned out I had a dangerous level of carbon monoxide in the house. If the thermostat had not broken I would not have known. Was it possible someone was looking out for me? MOST of the townsfolk thought Thomas, played by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek franchise, Green Room), was odd. It was just because they did not know he could see dead people. This comedic horror fantasy was based on the novel by Dean Koontz (Watchers, Whispers). I enjoyed the cast which also included Willem Dafoe (The Fault in our Stars, Platoon) as Chief Wyatt Porter and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Free State of Jones, Jupiter Ascending) as Viola. If it was not for the actors this DVD would have been even lighter fare. There was nothing new about the story and the special effects were not all that special. To me it appeared as if this movie was made on the cheap, not that I want to say anything negative towards the actors. They could only do what the script told them to do. What it comes down to is this: there is nothing awful or great about this film. It was just an amusement to pass the time, with a touch of sadness seeing Anton.
1 ¾ stars — DVD