LOOKING at him there was nothing that distinguished him differently from anyone else. The only thing one could say about him was his height; he was one of the tallest boys in the neighborhood. He was a friend of mine who lived across the street from me. What did make him stand out from everyone else in the neighborhood was his name. No one had a name even remotely close to his or anyone else in his family. Their last name as well as some of his siblings’ first names had so many syllables. As far as I knew no one really cared that they had unusual names compared to the rest of us in school. I remember at some point being told by him that his family was Armenian. It sounded so exotic and far away compared to the rest of the families on the block. This bit of information was treated more like a footnote; all it meant to our circle of friends was his family had traveled halfway across the world from a place none of us had ever heard about before. THROUGHOUT my schooling; I am talking elementary, high school and college; I cannot recall ever hearing or having a discussion about the historical events that were depicted in this dramatic movie. I do remember the events that led up to World War I started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. With World War II a prominent part of its history was the systematic extermination of people based on their faith, heritage, sexual orientation, among other distinctions. Regarding the First World War, I cannot recall part of its story involving a particular group of people targeted for elimination. Sitting through this film a part of me was shocked by the action taking place in several scenes. Not because it was especially graphic, gratefully it was not, but due to the historical significance that somehow was missing from my education. The story in this picture was something larger than what I had imagined. MEDICAL student Mikael Boghosian, played by Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), always wanted to be a doctor. The Ottoman Empire had other plans for the Armenian man. This film festival winning movie also starred Charlotte Le Bon (The Walk, The Hundred-Foot Journey) as Ana Khesarian, Christian Bale (The Fighter, The Big Short) as Chris Myers, Shohreh Aghdashloo (Rosewater, The Story of Soraya M.) as Marta Boghosian and Marwan Kenzari (Ben-Hur, Loft) as Emre Ogan. Oscar who I think is a gifted actor did not disappoint in this movie; however, Christian Bale was miscast. His role not only did not offer him much to work with, but was more involved with the 2nd story line that I found did not belong in this film. The culprit for this film not reaching full potential was the script. I get the idea studios believe a story needs a love interest, but the whole love triangle scenario in this story was a distraction. There were so many opportunities to mine dramatic intensity that instead was passed over to focus back on the relationship between the three main stars. It was sad because based on what I saw this picture really could have been memorable. After the film was over I had to stay seated and think about how extraordinary it was for my friend and his family to have been living across the street from me.
2 1/3 stars
ACTIONS speak louder than words. Sometimes they do more than just speak louder. There are some people who do things with little fanfare, but their actions have a profound effect on many. Recently on the news I saw there was an anonymous donor who provided enough funds to rebuild a charitable organization’s offices after they were damaged by a tornado. Another news source reported on a patient who needed a kidney transplant. A donor had stepped forward after hearing the patient’s story. This donor had no connections to the individual, but after hearing the patient’s story he said he felt it was the right thing to do. He did not want any compensation or recognition for his healthy kidney, nor did he want any fuss. Of course the news sources jumped at the chance to bring a “feel good” story to the public. During these current times I find it refreshing to find individuals doing good deeds without the need to broadcast or brag about them to the world. LOOKING towards the opposite end of the spectrum, there are individuals who have no idea their actions can have a negative impact on people. How many of us have experienced at work where one worker does something shady or let me say “against policy” that causes the company to install a new procedure that affects all the workers? I was employed at a company where the owner was carrying on an affair with a woman who was not his wife. Luckily I did not get sucked into the drama, but several employees were put in an uncomfortable spot when the wife would call looking for her husband. The employees were put in an awkward place because they had no choice but to lie to the wife if they wanted to keep their job. You might be thinking the affair would not last long and you would be partially correct. Some did not last long but there was always some other woman waiting in the wings. I so wanted to tell the owner to take a look around and see how his actions were affecting his employees. Too bad he did not have the insight that the main character found in this fantasy comedy. GLORIA’S, played by Anne Hathaway (The Intern, Rachael Getting Married), constant drinking was having an effect on her boyfriend Tim, played by Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, The Guest). She could not see what her actions were doing to him, let alone to people nowhere near her. This film festival winning movie’s story was quite unusual. It started out slow or more to the point confusing to me; however, once I felt I understood what Gloria’s drinking represented I was able to sit back and enjoy this quirky film. Anne did a wonderful job of acting with her character and the bonus was watching her play against Jason Sudeikis (Masterminds, Mother’s Day) as Oscar. He was amazing in his ability to switch back and forth between comedy and seriousness. I honestly do not see this picture going into wide release because I would not consider it a mainstream movie. However the story really had a way of pulling in the viewer; one only needed to suspend reality and watch how actions speak louder than words at times.
MINIATURE golf covers my experience with playing the game of golf. For those of you who know my love of travel, you will especially appreciate when I tell you about a miniature golf course I used to play at when I was a small boy. The majority of the holes each had a replica of a national or world landmark that you would have to negotiate, to get your colored golf ball to the cup. For a kid who had not yet seen the actual structures, this was a big deal. I remember one hole that had a tall skyscraper which would light up at night. The goal was to hit your ball between the elevator doors so you could watch your ball rise up to the top of the building where it would be dropped off and disappear for a moment. By the time you ran to the back of the skyscraper you would just see the ball coming out of an exit door right by the cup. My favorite was a reproduction of a famous amusement park roller coaster. If you could get the ball up the entrance ramp, you could watch your ball take a ride on the coaster before it was dropped off at the cup. This was the extent of my golfing prowess. FROM the different comments I have heard about the game of golf, there are a lot of people who consider it a rich man’s sport or a gentleman’s game. Whether it is or not does not make a difference to me. I can appreciate the dedication, raw talent and competitiveness on display; but because I have a hard time justifying the amount of money given to professional athletes compared to school teachers, I find the large sums going into prize money, advertising and betting very odd, troubling. I know this is not exclusive to golfing by any means; at almost any given time I will hear about someone betting on such and such game or being a part of an office pool. Little did I know that this practice has been going on for a long time. SCOTSMAN Tom Morris, played by Peter Mullan (War Horse, Tyrannosaur), had been the groundskeeper and golf club maker of the St. Andrews golf course for many years. The club members assumed his son Tommy, played by Jack Lowden (A United Kingdom, Denial), would take over the family business; however, Tommy had something different in mind. This film festival winning drama based on a true story also starred Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Jurassic Park franchise) as Alexander Boothby and Ophelia Lovibond (Guardians of the Galaxy, No Strings Attached) as Meg Drinnen. The story was the fascinating part for me in this biography; watching how the game of golf was originally played truly was a trip back in time. Unfortunately the script caused this movie to be a bogey instead of a hole in one. For such a game changing story, this script really needed to get gritty and make the characters more than one dimensional. The thing that kept me interested was the historical value the events had in this picture. I may not have any interest in playing golf, but at least I now know how it came to be.
2 ½ stars
UPBEAT and positive is how I would describe the man telling us about the changes in our office. We were being told how these moves decided by upper management would be a good thing for our company. I sat there with my fellow employees and I am sure they were thinking the same thing: who was going to get the ax. Maybe that is too harsh to say so here are some ways I have heard it expressed: laid off, let go, reassigned, reevaluated, eliminated and left behind. None of these terms warrant a happy face with optimistic comments. I used to work at one place that decided after many years to outsource their payroll functions. The staff for each manager had meetings set up to explain the changes in how we were going to be paid. You should have seen the spin job the managers tried to sell us. They talked about the convenience of looking up our paycheck online, the ability to schedule time off and the ease of changing our benefits package. I knew there had to be more to the meeting and sure enough towards the end the manager told us how salaries would be administered. EVERYONE’S salary was scaled back to a standard base amount. From that point you would go up the scale depending on a number of factors; each factor was worth a certain dollar amount. I remember sitting there and quickly figuring out the math and realized a majority of us would be taking a rather large pay cut. There stood this person in front of us stating the virtues of this new pay system, doing their best to sell it as if it was the best thing since sliced bread. With me losing over 30% of my salary I had a hard time keeping my mouth shut and not stating the facts about their so called great new system. Let us face it; there is no good way to promote bad news. WHILE Germany was dropping bombs on the city of London during the early 1940s, the defense department was working on a propaganda film in the hopes of drawing the United States into the war. All it needed was a woman’s touch. This film festival winner was part comedy, part drama and part romance. At first I felt the story was starting out slow but as things began to unfold I enjoyed how the writers were fitting together all the different pieces to create this enjoyable movie. Starring Gemma Arterton (The Voices, Gemma Bovery) as Catrin Cole, Sam Claflin (Me Before You, The Hunger Games franchise) as Tom Buckley, Bill Nighy (Love Actually, Pride) as Ambrose Hilliard/Uncle Frank and Jack Huston (American Hustle, Ben-Hur) as Ellis Cole; I thought the cast worked together beautifully. Bill and Gemma were the standouts for me. The script did a great job of balancing the elements of the story. Things moved naturally between the genres of drama, comedy and romance; there was the ever present war, but it never overshadowed the other story lines. I will say I thought the ending was a bit abrupt regarding one of the characters in particular; it felt somewhat false. However, as I sat and imagined what it must have been like back then, I realized there was no choice; the British government needed to stay positive.
3 1/4 stars
OUT of all the people I have conversed with who is either a mother or father, the majority of them believe their children are pretty, beautiful, handsome, intelligent and so on. I firmly believe a parent’s duty is to make their child feel loved, special and instill in them a sense of self-worth. Rarely do I hear a parent say their child is not attractive or is not smart. I actually know a mother though who praises one child over the child’s sibling; you should see what the effect of the mother’s negative comments has done to that child, it is so sad. Now for me the words pretty, handsome or beautiful are subjective. Where one person may think a face is beautiful, another individual will think the person’s facial features are just okay. The way my mind is wired, for me to say someone is beautiful they would need to have a good heart (referring to let us say kindness as opposed to plaque) to go along with whatever their visible, physical features may be. WHEN a student gets straight A’s on their report card, most people will say the student is smart. I agree to a point, but for me there is book smart and street smart; the 2 are very different creatures. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat and listened to a parent go on about how their child is so smart. Here again I wonder how they are defining the word “smart.” I remember there was a time during my schooling where a discussion was in the works about getting away from standardized testing scores. Students were so focused on memorizing statistics and facts; it seems they were not using this limited knowledge to paint a bigger picture of things. There is a teacher I know who had a freshman student who did not fit in with the rest of the class. This student already had an acceptance letter to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The teacher had to teach this special student a different way from the rest of the class without making it appear as if the student was not unusual. It was an important distinction, one that gets addressed in this drama. MARY Adler, played by McKenna Grace (Once upon a Time-TV, Amityville: The Awakening), had a gift for numbers. Her special ability would become a battleground in and out of school. Starring Chris Evans (Captain America franchise, Playing it Cool) as Frank Adler, Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Shack) as Roberta Taylor and Lindsay Duncan (About Time, Under the Tuscan Sun) as Evelyn; I have to say McKenna’s acting was pretty special. I fell into this story, enjoying the acting and directing. Sure there were scenes to manipulate the viewer and the script was somewhat predictable; but I did not care because the story was relatable for me. My earlier review of the new Smurfs movie talked about being different and things I said there apply to this film festival winner. Feeling different is such a relatable experience for many of us; I certainly have felt it and because of it I understood what the story was trying to do in this picture. Be prepared because including me, there was not a dry eye in the theater. Along with celebrating the things we all have in common, there is nothing wrong with us including our special gifts in the celebration.
SITTING comfortably behind the steering wheel, cruising down the road, the celebrity driver was expounding on the finer things about the automobile. It almost looked like this was their main means of transportation. Now I do not care if a celebrity wants to earn income by doing a commercial; everyone deserves to make a living. Will this person persuade me to buy that type of car when I am in the market for a new vehicle? The answer is absolutely not. In fact that goes for any celebrity endorsement. Though I am a big fan of movies and such, I am well aware of the financial inequity between celebrities and let us say teachers. Not that there is anything wrong with making as much money as you can; however, I have a hard time with anyone who uses their position of wealth as a bully pulpit to tell everyone else what they should do. I have experienced this in my own circle of friends and family, where those who were financially well off starting acting like they knew everything and the rest of us were not as smart. That type of behavior is offensive to me. THE area where I can support celebrities is when they use their wealth and status to help a cause they believe in. I know about one celebrity who works with an organization to bring clean water to third world countries. I remember when parts of Louisiana were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. There were celebrities down there helping and rebuilding houses; they had the means and connections to bypass the red tape to get things done. With some celebrities their support of a cause may be due to personal reasons; they could be experiencing it in their own family, for example a celebrity with an autistic child. Whether you feel the same way or not, I admire someone who overcomes challenges in their life to then become a social activist against those very same tribulations. What I saw in this film festival winning movie, which was based on a true story, both stunned and amazed me. THIRTEEN year old Waris, played by newcomer Soraya Omar-Scego, had to leave her village in Somalia. What was done to her there would have a strong impact on her life when she made it to London. Before I talk about this biographical drama I want to say I have very little knowledge about the customs that were performed in this movie. They may be based on religious beliefs or native; I do not know and I do not want to offend anyone who believes in them. Starring Liya Kebede (The Best Offer, Lord of War) as older Waris Dirie, Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Happy-Go –Lucky) as Marilyn and Timothy Spall (Denial, Mr. Turner) as Terry Donaldson; the actual story had to be more powerful than what the script provided here. The back and forth between the young and older Waris dampened the intensity for me. I had a hard time watching some scenes because I could not believe what was being done. The acting was fine; I have always enjoyed Sally’s performances and Liya was perfect in this role. Honestly I still cannot get over that this custom takes place in the world. This DVD provided me with a whole new respect for those who overcome difficulties in their life and decide they want to do something about it.
2 ¾ stars — DVD
DEATH for some people is not always a permanent state. These individuals maintain their bond to the deceased, though it is not necessarily reciprocal. They may talk to their loved one every day, bringing them up on current events or asking advice on an upcoming decision. I had a relative who went to see her mother every single day, having on hand her mother’s favorite coffee and sweet roll. She would park on the side of the road and walk over to a congested area of headstones. With her folding stool, thermos and the plastic bag that carried the sweet roll and napkins; she would sit by the side of her mother’s grave and pour each of them a cup of coffee. Setting the cup down on the headstone, she let her mother know she brought her favorite sweet roll; she placed the item on a small paper plate to then join the perched cup of coffee. This ritual took place every day and after she had spent an hour or two, she would drink up the coffee from her mother’s cup and ask her if she was done with her sweet roll. She would tear the sweet roll into pieces and once she was outside of the cemetery would scatter the pieces by a tree for the birds. I am a firm believer whatever means a person needs to do to deal with death is fine with me; I do not judge or question. Everyone deals with death in their own way. Also, I feel anything is possible. Recently a friend of mine had died after a year long illness. After notifications went out to family and friends, a few days later out of the blue my friend’s cell phone rang with an unknown phone number. There was no one on the line when the call was answered. You want to talk about an eerie moment? Well someone close to the deceased who is in mourning could see the call as a sign. I could easily understand their thought process with this incident. If you choose to watch this mystery thriller, be prepared to experience something unearthly. Or is it really? WORKING as a personal shopper Maureen Cartwright, played by Kristen Stewart (Certain Women, The Twilight Saga franchise), was convinced her deceased brother was trying to contact her. This film festival winning drama also starred Lars Eidinger (Everyone Else, Clouds of Sils Maria) as Ingo, Sigrid Bouaziz (Portrait of the Artist, The Tunnel-TV) as Lara and Anders Danielsen Lie (Reprise, Herman) as Erwin. I have not always been a fan of Kristen Stewart, but I have to say this was one of her best roles. She pretty much carries the interesting story. Watching this movie was like riding an amusement park’s roller coaster; not the big major ones, but the ones that give you a thrill but do not let your stomach move up into your throat. At first I was not getting settled into the story since the script kept things somewhat sparse. But then layer by layer I found myself drawn into the surreal story. I enjoyed the directing in this picture; but at times the script became muddled and fell apart. The concept of the story interested me overall, because as I said you just never know.
2 ½ stars
SEEING things through someone else’s eyes would have been one of the superpowers I would have picked if I had the opportunity. Since it was non-existent it took me a long time to achieve something comparable, where I could gain insight into a person’s train of thought or experience of a situation. The reason why I would have liked this supernatural ability is because I did not realize 2 people could react so differently to the same event. Imagine from the time of that single event, two people wind up taking different paths in life based on their experience of the situation. So you might understand how being able to see something through another person’s eyes could be beneficial. I absolutely appreciate getting feedback from people; for one reason, to compare their feelings to mine and secondly, I believe the more reactions an individual can be exposed to, the better it allows for a course of action if it is warranted. Let me give you an example of something that happened to me and let us see how you would experience it. WE had been dating for nearly six months, reaching a level of comfort with each other similar to a couple in a long term relationship. Due to certain actions, events and I believe miscommunication our relationship disintegrated without much drama. It was decided we would no longer be a couple. As we worked through our separation, it had only been a couple of weeks when I received an email confirming the things we agreed upon. Within the body of that email they happened to mention they had just returned from having a magical evening with someone they had just met. I sat there reading about how one should grab those magic moments because you never know where they will lead. I was rather shocked by this as you can imagine. There was no need for them to tell me about their date—after we had just broken up 2 weeks prior. How would you feel if you were in this situation? Was it a vindictive move, did they want me to be jealous or were they not even aware they were being hurtful? If I took it as being mean spirited, my memories of them would be forever altered. You just never know how things will turn out without all the facts. UPON receiving a death notification about a woman he once knew Tony Webster, played by Jim Broadbent (Cloud Atlas, The Iron Lady), experiences unsettling memories from his past. This film festival winning drama also starred Charlotte Rampling (The Duchess, 45 Years) as Veronica Ford, Harriet Walker (Sense and Sensibility, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as Margaret Webster and Michelle Dockery (Hanna, Downton Abbey-TV) as Susie Webster. Based on the award winning novel, I thought the entire movie should have been all about Jim’s and Charlotte’s characters. They were excellent to the point I did not pay much attention to anyone else. The story was interesting and I did not mind the moving back and forth between two time periods; however, the pace of this movie was slow enough to make me tired. It was a shame since I liked the concept of the story, the acting and the direction of the story. I simply did not find the telling of this story cohesive. On an upbeat note I did enjoy seeing how memories have an effect on people.
2 1/4 stars
WHENEVER I see it being done I always stop to watch. Not only is it an art but a beautiful and skillful manipulation of a basic element. The only times I get to see a potter in action has been at art fairs or galleries. To witness the moist hands dance across the spinning mound of clay centered on their potter’s wheel is fascinating to me. The clay looks at times like it is growing into a living plant reaching maturity; at other times, it may look like an architectural geometric structure. If you ever get the chance to watch the process I highly recommend it. There is another reason why I am attracted to this process and it has to do with control. On a certain level I can easily relate to the potter because they are in total charge of the entire creation. They do not have to depend on anyone; it is simply them and their clay. Whatever way their creation comes out, it is solely do to them. On the one hand you could say that may not always be the best way because if the object is a disaster then the potter is completely at fault. I would willingly accept that fate instead of depending on someone to help complete the vision I foresaw for the mound of clay. BEING in control has always been a part of my mental makeup, since as long as I can remember. Without turning this into a therapy session let me say that after experiencing multiple disappointments I became trained on how not to depend or need anything from anyone. Maybe I had high standards or low self-esteem, but it has always been hard for me to ask someone for help. To let go of being in control for me represents a fear somehow that I am weak or not good enough. Like I said I do not want to delve into my psyche but I do have to say I discovered I have something in common with Batman and it is not the cool gadgets. GOTHAM city could be on the brink of disaster if the Joker, voiced by Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover franchise, The Campaign), goes through with his dastardly plan. If Batman, voiced by Will Arnett (When in Rome, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise), wants to save his beloved city he may have to do something he has never done before—ask for help. This animated action adventure film was just as creative as the original Lego movie. With Michael Cera (Youth in Revolt, Arrested Development-TV) voicing Robin, Rosario Dawson (Top Five, Sin City franchise) voicing Barbara Gordon and Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash, Harry Potter franchise) voicing Alfred Pennyworth; all the characters were fun to watch and especially hear since the dialog had a fun edge to it. This film festival winner would appeal to kids and adults in my opinion. The references made for the adult viewers will not register with kids but it won’t take away from the movie watching experience. I also enjoyed the way the writers brought in a life lesson moment; it was touching and did not feel out of place. So now that I discovered I have something in common with Batman, I wonder if I should start working on my outfit.
3 ¼ stars
RARELY did I ever pass by the gleaming glass ball, filled with chewy delights. Since I always made sure I had change in my pocket before I would go, it was a given I would stop in front of the gumball machine. There were six colors used for the gumballs: blue, red, yellow, green, orange and purple. Here is the thing though; out of the colors I only wanted a red or blue colored gumball. Since I could not choose which gumball would get deposited into the metal cup hanging below the metal slide that came out of the machine’s lower jaw, I would keep depositing coins into the machine until I got one of the 2 colors. Sometimes I would have depleted all the coins in my pocket and still not get the “right” gumball. In my young mind I assumed each colored gumball tasted different based on its color. I had no desire for the green or yellow ones and the others just did not appeal to me. It wasn’t until a friend of mine bought me a gumball because I had no change and told me to at least try the purple colored one that came out of the machine. It was then that I discovered all the gumballs tasted the same; I was making a judgment solely on the outside color. GRATEFULLY a lesson like that was a good start in becoming aware that there is more behind the surface of people and things. An example I have used before is, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Recently a friend was telling me about the injustice taking place in their department. They were in the middle of hiring new people and one of the employees on the hiring committee mentioned they should hire a particular person because of the candidate’s skin color. I immediately assumed everyone on the committee would be shocked like I was by such an offensive statement. Instead imagine how stunned I was when my friend told me that was not the case; only a couple of the people on the committee offered a disparaging look in response to the ridiculous statement, nothing was said by anyone. This reminded me that just because I may not see discrimination does not mean it does not happen. I think that is why this Oscar nominated documentary is an important film. BASED on an unfinished manuscript by author James Baldwin (Where the Heart Is), the words in this movie are just as current now as when they were first spoken. Directed by Raoul Peck (Sometimes in April, Lumumba), this film festival winning movie was narrated by Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight, The Legend of Tarzan). I enjoyed the way the director pieced together archival clips of James speaking and debating at different venues. His manuscript was going to be a narrative piece about the assassinations of his three friends Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers; though the piece was written years ago the discussions in this movie were just as relevant today. A well done film like this one is worth a look and would be a good reminder that society still has a long way to go to with focusing on the things that lie below the surfaces of people.
3 1/3 stars