IT WAS ONLY ONE FLASH OF light that caught my attention, but it opened up my eyes to a whole world of beauty. I was walking towards the garage when a millisecond of bright light appeared between 2 ornamental bushes. I was sure I had seen it despite its brief appearance in what appeared to be midair. The plants were a recent addition to my backyard, both seemed to be taking nicely to their parcel of land. I walked over to the bushes to see if there was something I had not noticed before. As I made my way across the lawn a slight breeze of air stirred up and that speck of bright light appeared once again. I walked up and like an apparition there was a large spider web that spanned the space between the 2 plants. It faded in and out depending on the breeze being able to push it into full sunlight. It was exquisite, looking like a fine piece of lace. Not wanting to disturb anything, I carefully stepped closer to get a better look. I had to squat down so the web would be at eye level; cocking my head slightly to view the web in front of a darker background, I saw tiny drops of moisture clinging to several strands of the web. It truly looked like a piece of art or an architect’s dream. UNNOTICED BY ME AT FIRST BECAUSE it was off to the side, closer to one of the bushes, perched a massive hairy looking spider. I stayed still as if I was playing a waiting game with it. There are friends of mine who would have freaked out upon seeing the spider; gratefully, they do not upset me. I look at spiders as the gatekeepers to my house, capturing loads of bugs to prevent them from entering my home. The spider did not move from its spot; only allowing the breezes to swing it slightly in the air, but it never once wavered from its spot. For some reason, I felt the garden had taken on a special allure. Here among the assorted plants and shrubbery there was a feat from one of Nature’s creatures, a latticework of silky luminous strands dotted with diamond chips of raindrops. If the sunlight had not hit the web at the exact time I was walking by, I might not have ever noticed I had a piece of art in my backyard. Part of me wanted to get a spray bottle of water to make more drops appear on the web; however, I decided not to and instead enjoyed the beauty that was in front of me. Part of this experience prepared me for the beauty that was found in this Oscar nominated, film festival winning biography. TIRED OF HIS SURROUNDINGS AND THE PEOPLE around him Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, played by Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse, Aquaman), took the advice of a friend and moved out of Paris to be closer to nature. It was the best move of his life. With Rupert Friend (The Young Victoria, Homeland-TV) as Theo, Oscar Isaac (Star Wars franchise, A Most Violent Year) as Paul Gauguin, Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt, Doctor Strange) as Priest and Mathieu Amairic (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Doctor Paul Gachet; this dramatic picture contained a stellar performance by Willem. I felt I was privy to the inner workings of van Gogh’s mind. Combined with the beautiful film shots and steady directing, this film’s story unfurled like a long, colorful pennant on a windy day. The whole cast perfectly fit their roles. If there was anything to question it would be the few scenes that dragged a bit; however, the dynamic acting coming out of Willem kept me invested in the story. I almost felt as if I was a visitor at an art gallery.
3 ¼ stars
I WISH I COULD REMEMBER HOW OLD I was when I was able to stay home alone without a babysitter. The funny thing is, I absolutely remember the day when it happened. It was a clear but windy Saturday night. My food treats for the evening were a freshly popped bowl of popcorn, a box of chocolate chip cookies and a cup of chocolate pudding that was covered in plastic wrap in the refrigerator. I was so excited to have the run of the house all to myself. No fighting over who would get to watch their TV show on the large television in the living room and no waiting to use the bathroom; I was all set for the evening. The first television show I planned on watching was a comedy. All settled on the couch with my bowl of popcorn and a bolster to recline on, I began watching my TV show. It was only 10 or 15 minutes into the program when I heard a sound coming from the back door. I was afraid to walk into the kitchen to see what it was; so, instead I creeped along the living room wall until I was able to sneak a peak out the window that was closest to the back porch. I did not see anyone there; but I was scared enough to run into the kitchen and wedge one of the kitchen chairs under the doorknob of the back door. I also took out a butcher knife from the kitchen drawer and kept it by my side the rest of the night. THOUGH THAT WAS MY INITIAL INTRODUCTION into becoming a responsible “older” boy, I began to relish my new status within the family. There was a sense of freedom, if you will. I do not mean to infer I was a prisoner or something like that; it was having the option of choice that gave me this feeling of freedom. A small child is told what to do or not do. For example, I remember when I was not allowed to touch the knifes that everyone else was using at the dining room table; my food was cut up for me because I was too young to do if for myself. At some point as I got older, I was able to use a knife to cut my own food. Stuff like this may sound trivial but being able to take actions and make decisions for oneself is a powerful force. This is something I do not take lightly because I know there are places in the world where people do not have the ability to make their own choices. Imagine what life would be like for you if you did not have the freedom of choice. If you wish to see examples, this exquisite, dramatic film festival winner will show you. AFTER HER SISTER’S DEATH HELOISE’s, PLAYED BY Adele Haenel (The Unknown Girl, Love at First Fight), mother pulled her out of the convent to take her sister’s place hopefully in an arranged marriage. With Noemie Merlant (Paper Flags, Heaven Will Wait) as Marianne, Luana Bajrami (School’s Out, Happy Birthday) as Sophie, Valeria Golind (Hot Shots franchise, Escape From L.A.) as La Comtesse and Armande Boulanger (Conviction, Silence du leopard) as L’eleve atelier; this romantic movie was filmed in such a beautiful way that I felt I had been transported back to the 18thcentury on the Island of Brittany. The acting was mesmerizing as Noemie and Adele used their acting skills to tell the story. I especially enjoyed the way the script slowly heated up, giving enough time for each scene to fully set in. The dialog was spoken in French and Italian with English subtitles; I had no difficulty following the story while reading the subtitles. This was a fascinating movie watching experience that depicted a time when women particularly had less freedom to choose. At least, I hope they had less back then, than they do now.
3 ½ stars
IT WAS NOT THE RIDES THAT interested me at carnivals and local amusement parts; it was the games of chance. When I was younger, I would save up my allowance for these games. I was convinced I could win prizes and boy did I love looking at all the prizes. There was a game where I would have to throw rubber rings at a table full of empty bottles and try to get the ring to land on the bottle’s neck. Each toss I would see my ring bounce from one bottle to the next while I secretly wished for it to land on a bottle instead of dropping down between them. The prizes, big fluffy stuffed animals, were on a shelf that went around the top of the entire booth. There was another game that was or like a game called Skeeball, where one had to roll a ball down a lane that curved up at the end to propel the ball hopefully into one of the holes on the backboard. Each hole was labelled with a number; the higher the number the bigger the prize. With every roll of the ball I would make adjustments, hoping I would get the ball into the center hole to receive the biggest prize. OUT OF ALL THE GAMES AT A carnival, one of my favorites was the slot car racing one. It was because I had my very own race car model. There was a model store in the neighborhood where me and a cousin would race our cars on the elaborate race track that was set up in the middle of the store. Unfortunately, I could not use my race car at the carnival games (imagine that); however, it did not matter because I loved racing cars. I cannot tell you how much money I spent at those games and rarely did I ever win a race. Seeing the winner of the race receive a cool prize from off the shelf would only make me more determined to play the race again. My cousin was the same way because we felt with all of our experience there was no reason why we could not crush the competition. Thinking back on it I would hate to think how much money I spent on those games; little did I know they were designed to thwart the participant from winning. However, once I saw what I could win I did not think about how much I was spending to get that prize. The same was true for the head of the Ford Motor company in this biographical, dramatic action film. AFTER HEARING THE DISPARAGING COMMENTS THE chairman of Ferrari made about his company Henry Ford II, played by Tracy Letts (Lady Bird, The Post), was determined to build a car that would beat Ferrari’s car at France’s Le Mans race. It did not matter how much it would cost him. With Matt Damon (The Martian, The Departed) as Carroll Shelby, Christian Bale (Vice, The Big Shot) as Ken Miles, Jon Bernthal (The Accountant, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Lee Iacocca and Caitriona Balfe (Escape Plan, Outlander-TV) as Mollie Miles; this was an exciting film to watch. I am not fond of watching car races, but I would see this picture again. The acting was outstanding, matching the well-done script that captured the 1960s perfectly. I found the racing scenes thrilling and felt at times I was sitting in the race cars. For being such a long movie, I rarely noticed the time going by because the script and action kept me engaged with the story. Whether the story was accurate in this movie, it did not matter because I found it to be a logical progression of events and feelings. Compared to the money I used to spend at those carnival games, buying a ticket to see this film made me feel like a winner.
EVERY TIME I SAW THEM I would always wonder why they wanted to be with each other. From what I saw, they were not nice to each other. Actually, I think it had more to do about respect; they did not have respect for each other. Whenever we were together in a social setting, they would inevitably get into an argument with each other. And they were nasty about it. It is one thing to argue in a rational and respectful way over an issue; but, they would call each other names and do something that is one of my pet peeves: bringing up something from the past that was never discussed at that time. You may have encountered this yourself when somebody would say, “Remember when you did such and such,” and you have no idea what they are talking about because they never brought it to your attention back then. I cannot tell you how much this annoys me. If I do something that unintentionally offends, upsets or bothers someone; I want them to tell me right then and let us talk about it. To bring it up months later, where I get blindsided, is something I find to be manipulative. IT IS POSSIBLE THESE TWO INDIVIDUALS love each other; they just don’t like each other. Or, another possibility is they are both co-dependent with one another. I was in a relationship with someone who was manipulative and passive aggressive; two traits that are not fun to deal with, I am here to tell you. Until you catch on to them, you might find yourself doing things you normally would not have considered prior to them. Gratefully, I eventually caught on and ended the relationship; it simply was not a healthy union. However, I have seen other people in similar situations who remain in non-healthy relationships. I am not one to judge, but I do wonder what pleasure they get from their partner that keeps them locked in such a union. There was a couple I knew years ago who on the surface were toxic. They would yell, argue and manipulate each other on a constant basis; however, there were times where they were affectionate with each other. It was so weird to me. How could you have this explosive battle with someone and in the next minute be flirtatious and cutesy? I still remember hearing one of them threaten that they were going to leave the marriage all the time. Maybe this is one of the downsides to love; it can cause havoc in one’s life. It certainly influenced the couple in this dramatic, musical romance. THERE WAS SUCH A STRONG PASSIONATE connection between Zulu and Wiktor, played by Joanna Kulig (The Innocents, The Crime-TV) and Tomasz Kot (Gods, Bikini Blue) and that was exactly the problem with their relationship. This film festival winning, and Oscar nominated movie from Poland was beautifully filmed. Shot in black and white, I felt doing it this way was more effective in presenting a precise no-frills story. Even the script did not have any excessive dialog, which ultimately kept the story going forward. Taking place during the 1950s in communist Poland, the settings and costumes were perfect for the settings. With Borys Szyc (The Mole, Symmetry) as Kaczmarek, Agata Kulesza (Ida, These Daughters of Mine) as Irena and Cedric Kahn (Up for Love, Miss and the Doctor) as Michel; I felt everyone was connected to the story, putting on a wonderful show of acting. Now there were times where I felt the story dragged; particularly when the scene presented a similar situation I felt I had seen previously. However, it was not enough to make me feel like I was having a love/hate relationship with this film. Polish and French were spoken with English subtitles.
THOUGH I had made my way to the front I was nervous by the amount of people that were filling up the train station platform. I had not reached the start of the yellow warning strip at the edge of the platform, but one big surge or push could have detrimental results for someone. Something must have happened somewhere along the route to delay the train; the information board only listed a flashing “delay” notice for this particular train line. Everyone was being squeezed together. You could only hope the person behind you was not carrying any large packages that would dig into your back. On the plus side we were not waiting on one of the above ground stations out in the freezing cold. We were standing in a subway station underneath the downtown area. AFTER what seemed an unbearable amount of time the information board listed the arrival time for the train. I knew it was going to be a challenge to get on the train, let alone get a seat. If the train was skipping stations to make up the delay the chance would be better the passenger cars were not packed. However if it was making its usual stops, by the time it reached my station, the cars could be overflowing with people. As the train finally pulled into the station I saw the cars were over half filled with passengers. I had a good chance based on where I was standing; but only if the doors of the car stopped close in front of me. Luck was with me, one of the train car’s doors stopped directly in front of me. The two people ahead of me quickly moved inside; I followed them and we manuveured to the middle of the car as best we could. The reason was the tightest fit always occurred by the doors and one would have to constantly adjust their place as people tried to exit or shove their way inside. One could not help feeling bad for the passengers who got left behind as they watched their train pull away from the station. I felt much worse for the soldiers in this dramatic action film based on true events. MILITARY forces from Belgium, France and the British Empire were surrounded by the Nazis. The only way out was by sea, where they could easily be picked off by the enemy’s firepower. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight franchise, Interstellar) this historic war picture starred newcomer Fionn Whitehead as Tommy, Damien Bonnard (A Perfect Plan, Staying Vertical) as a French soldier, Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies, The Other Boleyn Girl) as Mr. Dawson and Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn, Rabbit-Proof Fence) as the commander. This movie was not only beautifully filmed; it was enhanced with the incredible musical score that played a part in building up the tense scenes. The story was incredible and I felt Christopher kept it simple because honestly the event could speak for itself. With the placement of the cameras Christopher was able to maintain a deep emotional connection to the viewing audience. I saw this movie in an enhanced theater where the seats vibrated based on the sound intensity; it added more to my experience and level of enjoyment as I felt I was part of the scenes. This was such a well done picture and though my chances of dying on that train platform were slim, I could relate somewhat to the soldiers’ plight in this courageous story.
3 ½ stars
I listened and looked but still did not quite understand how the relationship worked. In its infancy there was a given intimacy as a comfortable space was created to allow for growth. The amount of attention given was at a high level so that everything that would help keep things fresh had an opportunity to do so. For years I was a bystander as I listened to friends talk about their gardens. The relationship they had with their gardens provided them with a pleasure that made little sense to me. Sitting in a friend’s backyard watching them prune and weed patches of open land that were thriving with vibrant colors only perplexed me. Yet after all these years something has happened inside of me. I have been visualizing seeing mounds of ornamental grasses with feathered tops out my back windows, watching how breezes would tickle the tops and cause the grass to sway. Besides the tall grasses there was a row of plants in different stages of colorful growth going down the width of my house. So I decided to dig in and bought 10 plants that I planted in the same way as in my visualizations. And wouldn’t you know it, everything I saw my friends do to their plants I am now doing to mine. Little uninvited sprouts of green invaders keep trying to circle my plants but I find myself stopping by each plant everyday to violently remove these interlopers. I have a new appreciation for what it takes to create a beautiful garden. King Louis XIV, played by Alan Rickman (Harry Potter franchise, Nobel Son), wanted and expected the gardens around his palace in Versailles to be something that no one had every seen anywhere in the world. The responsibility befell Andre Le Norte, played by Matthias Schoenaerts (Far From the Madding Crowd, Rust and Bone), who was taking a big risk in hiring landscape artist Sabine De Barra, played by Kate Winslet (Finding Neverland, Labor Day). This romantic drama had as you can imagine a beautiful look to it. I thought the story’s premise was wonderful and loved the idea that some of the things portrayed in this film could have a basis of truth in them. All the actors were so believable and really commanded the viewer’s attention. I had to hand it to Alan, not only was the role a perfect fit for him but he was also the director and one of the writers for this period piece. Maybe he took on a bit much because the script lacked a deeper level of drama, along with keeping the characters two-dimensional. On the plus side I liked the feminist angle the writers were trying to convey. This picture about the gardens of Versailles needed a little more pruning.
2 1/2 stars
There are few things in the world that can provide both an intimacy and a passion to a person the way food can. With a subdued power, food can catapult us to a blissful state as our taste buds herald the trip. The quickness in the way food affects us is astounding. I can personally attest to the fact that food has a calming affect on me. Not one to eat at high end fancy places; I am attracted to restaurants that provide easy comfort. Sitting down with someone to share a meal is so personal for me. The experience can provide a fond memory, joyfulness, a sense of kinship; any and all of these can be shared between the diners. I think that is one of the reasons why I thoroughly enjoy having people over to my place for dinner. The energy that forms in the house when people are present is usually one of peacefulness. The dining room table is a wonderful place to ignite and foster ideas when individuals are seated around it. FOOD can be the common denominator between people from all over the world; however, it was not the case in this caloric drama. Helen Mirren (The Queen, Hitchcock) played Madame Mallory, the owner to one of the finest restaurants in the south of France. When a family from India decided to open up a restaurant directly across the street from her establishment, Madame Mallory took it upon herself to be the savior of French cuisine by eliminating, in her opinion, the poor competition. Even if I was not a fan of Helen Mirren, I would still say she was just perfect in this role. She oozed with the haughty, better than thou attitude one would expect in such a fine restaurant; she was worth the price of admission to see this beautiful film. While the exterior scenes were gorgeous to watch, the interior scenes filled with food made me hungry. I read somewhere the director Lasse Hallstrom (Dear John, Chocolat) used real food for all the scenes and it certainly looked good to me. Along with Helen the important characters in the cast were Manish Dayal (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, White Frog) as Hassan, Om Puri (Gandhi, Colour it Yellow) as Papa Kadam and Charlotte Le Bon (Mood Indigo, La Marche) as Marguerite. Though I enjoyed watching this movie, the story did not offer anything new for me; it was very predictable. There were a few amusing parts, but a couple I found bordered on being offensive due to their stereotyping. If it was not for the cast I do not think this film would have been as enjoyable to watch, even though it was certainly fun seeing all the food preparations.
2 1/2 stars
The word separation is an interesting word because it has two polar opposite emotions associated with it. A person would be relieved and happy to be separated from someone who was toxic to them. I can understand the feeling that would come over someone after being in an abusive relationship; in this case separating oneself would be a healthy thing. After being harnessed to a yoke, dragging fear and despair with them everywhere, the feelings of leaving has to be monumental. When there are people you love such as family, friends, or soul mates; a separation from them can feel as if your breath never quite fills your lungs, taxing your heart’s beat. Being apart from them can be sad and painful, where you worry each memory filled tear running down your face will feel like loved ones slipping away from you. It seems to me the act of separation can have a powerful affect on an individual. In this film festival winning movie being separated from his 2 children was more than 40 year old Xavier Rousseau, played by Romain Duris (Heartbreaker, The Beat That My Heart Skipped), could bear. When Wendy, played by Kelly Reilly (Flight, Sherlock Holmes franchise), the mother of his 2 kids decided to leave France and move to New York City, Xavier decided to follow and settle down near them in the foreign land. He would soon discover it was not an easy thing to do. This dramatic comedy had a lot going for it. I did not know this film was the third in a series, the two previous being L’Auberge Espagnole and Russian Dolls. After viewing this romantic movie I wished I had seen the previous ones because I felt I was missing out on something. The cast had an easy flow going between each other and were all believable. Part of the cast also included Audrey Tautou (Coco Before Chanel, The Da Vinci Code) as Martine and Cecile De France (Hereafter, High Tension) as Isabelle. The story essentially had no major potholes in it, things were pretty much kept at an even keel and that would be my major complaint. I did not find much contrast between any of the scenes; there was a chuckle here, a touching moment there. As I said before maybe my reaction would have been different if I had more history with the characters, watching them in their previous films. Granted I had very little negative things to say about the movie; I just felt a little left out. There was English, French, Spanish and Chinese languages spoken with English subtitles when needed.
2 2/3 stars
There are a multitude of actions and reactions that can be attributed to love. The warmth that rises up to the surface of your skin when your significant other engulfs your hand with their hand is due to love. Saddened as you look at the remnants of your love’s face outlined on their pillow while they are away on a business trip, slows your heart rate for the duration of their time away. I remember spending weeks driving around the city and suburbs, taking photographs of places we had been to that were associated with happy moments, to create a memory photo album for their birthday. Yep, due to the love I had for them. Love can overrule the mind’s practical side and make us do some things that can be embarrassing, odd or even scary. For me, I cringe when I think about the time I went to meet them at the airport, dressed up as a shirtless cowboy. Please excuse me for a moment as I clear the taste of bile from my mouth. Most of us associate being in love with joyful thoughts, but in this dramatic thriller love revealed a darker side. Elizabeth Olsen (Oldboy, Liberal Arts) played Therese Raquin who was sent to stay with her aunt Madame Raquin, played by Jessica Lange (The Vow, Big Fish). She was to become a companion and caretaker for her sickly cousin Camille, played by Tom Felton (Harry Potter franchise, The Apparition). As time passed Therese was taken by surprise the day her aunt decided that she would be marrying her cousin and the three of them would live happily ever after. That was until one day Camille brought home his old friend Laurent, played by Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis, Drive). The sets in this period piece were excellent, depicting France in the 1860s. Already fond of Elizabeth Olsen, I thought her and Jessica’s performances were outstanding. Actually I enjoyed the entire cast; the acting level was of a high caliber. The problems with this film have to do with the script and the directing. There were slow dry scenes where I felt the story sagging. It was sad because the potential for a highly dramatic, powerful film was there but it never reached it. The only love I felt for this film was for Jessica Lange and Elizabeth Olsen.
2 1/2 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.