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Flash Movie Review: Hillbilly Elegy

I WAS GREETED AT THE DOOR by 2 overly excited dogs. They were sisters who my friends adopted when they were puppies. Being familiar with me, they were happy to see me because they knew I was the one who gave them body massages; well, at least that is what I hoped they thought. Whenever I would tell the two of them it was time for a doggie massage, the chocolate colored dog would lie down on her side, in preparation for her massage; the vanilla colored dog remained standing with this quizzical look on her face as she continued to watch me. I would have to gently hold her as I brought her down onto her side and even then, she would try to get back up. It was only when I started rubbing her side that she would calm down and relax, allowing me to continue my ministrations. The other dog did nothing but wait there for me to massage her. It was quite comical. This was not the only difference between the sisters. It was easy to fake out the vanilla colored sister. I could pretend to throw one of their toys across the room and the vanilla sister would run down the length of the room looking for the toy. The other dog was too smart and would stay in place with this look of anticipation on her face, as if telling me to throw the toy already. Two dogs from the same litter, yet so different.      I REALLY WAS NOT SURPRISED BY one dog being smarter than the other. The same type of thing has happened in human families, I have noticed. I knew two brothers who had 4 years difference between their ages. The younger brother was the smarter one who got good grades and achievement awards. The older brother’s school grades were a mishmash of passing and failing grades. He also got in trouble a lot. Now you would think 2 boys being raised in the same house under the same conditions would be more similar, but it was not the case. I have always been curious about this disparity between family members. There is this family I know where the parents only had a high school education. Their focus was staying employed; they did not read anything or try to learn something new. Their only son received zero encouragement from them since his aspirations for higher education were a foreign concept. I do not know whether it was despite or because of his parents, but early on he displayed high intelligence which was quickly noted by his teachers. Where his parents could barely write a clear sentence, he became the editor of his elementary school’s newspaper, besides being a winner in state driven English contests. This type of dynamic is something I find so fascinating, which is why I was intrigued with this dramatic film.      WHILE ATTEMPTING TO GET AN INTERVIEW lined up, Yale law student J.D. Vance, played by Gabriel Basso (Super 8, The Kings of Summer), found himself being pulled into his Appalachian family’s drama back home in Ohio. With Amy Adams (Arrival, Big Eyes) as Bev, Glenn Close (The Wife, Alfred Nobbs) as Mamaw, Haley Bennett (Music and Lyrics, The Girl on the Train) as Lindsay and Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Immortals) as Usha; this movie based on a true story was all about the acting. I thought the cast was outstanding and felt Glenn could get nominated for her role. The story is surprising I grant you; however, I thought the script was not as strong as it needed to be to support the story. There was an element of predictability and at times I felt there was too much melodrama inserted into the scenes; I would have preferred learning more about each character on a deeper level. Despite these misgivings, my interest did not waiver as I observed the dynamics in this generational family story.                                                   

2 ½ stars

Flash Movie Review: Desert Dancer

Except for that one teacher in elementary school, I cannot recall someone telling me I could not join or participate in an activity. Now granted I got the message loud and clear during those times where I was picked last to be on a team, so there were certain sports games I shied away from. I remember my summer camp days provided me a variety of activities to explore. There was an archery class where my first arrow hit the metal baseboard below the target, sending sparks up into the air just like in a cartoon. I had a woodworking class where I made a coat rack out of geometric shapes that I painted in primary colors; it hung on my bedroom wall for several years. Based on my past experiences in school PE classes, I would be the last person to be picked to become an aerobics instructor, yet no one stopped me and I became certified to teach classes. When I decided I wanted to learn yoga, no one told me I was not flexible enough so I could not go. I do not have it in my brain to discourage someone from attempting to fulfill one of their passions. If anyone tells me they wish they could do such and such, I usually ask what is stopping them. When the movie Footloose came out I thought it was a fantasy film because I could not believe there would be a law that banned dancing; I later discovered in some circles it really was not allowed.    BORN during the wrong time all Afshin Ghaffarian, played by Reece Ritchie (Hercules, The Lovely Bones), wanted to be was a dancer. Unfortunately dancing was banned in his country; but Afshin was determined to somehow express himself via dance. Based on a true story this drama had all the markings to be a tense exciting experience. The story was set during turbulent times in Iran. There was a ban on dancing, the rebellious dancer wannabe, a love interest, conflicts, punishments; everything was here to create a dynamite story. Sadly this movie was incredibly dull. With Freida Pinto (Trishna, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as Elaheh, Tom Cullen (Weekend, Downton Abbey-TV) as Ardavan and Nazanin Boniadi (The Next Three Days, Homeland-TV) as Parisa Ghaffarian; I thought the cast could easily handle the scenes and they probably would have if the script had been good. The parts that should have been scary with intensity lacked power, while the intimate portions were simply bland. This biographical film contained two things I enjoy seeing: people dancing and exotic settings. The desert scenery was beautiful as was the dancing, but none of it moved me enough to become fully involved in this true story.

 

1 3/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: Miral

For some people the loud sirens entice them like the same named creatures from Greek mythology. Drivers slow down in anticipation of witnessing a car crash. I honestly do not know what attracts them; is it the contorted metal of the vehicles, the sight of injured bodies sobbing in pain or maybe the splattering of blood at the scene reminds them of the crime show they follow on television. Whether it is on the road or a city sidewalk, I find it upsetting to see individuals gawking and milling about at an accident. And to those bystanders straining to snap pictures, they disgust me. Not often enough but I have witnessed a ray of shining light in the middle of an accident and it is that individual who is not thinking about themselves. They run up to see if there is anything they can do to help; wow, what a concept. I remember when I was assigned to drive the visiting owner of a health and fitness company from her hotel to our fitness convention. On our way we came upon a car accident that had just happened. As I pulled over to the side of the road, she jumped out and ran to a man who was sitting in the middle of the road, leaning on his van with the crumpled front end. It was obvious to us he was in shock. I called 911 while she gently wrapped her jacket around him. Once we continued on our way she asked me not to mention the accident to anyone. I remember thinking at the time she was a wonderful example of selflessness.    HIND Husseini, played by Hiam Abbass (The Visitor, Munich), quickly realized there was no place to protect the poor orphaned children who were victims of the Middle Eastern conflict. She did not care about their background; she only wanted to protect and teach them so they could continue to have a life. Unfortunately when divisions form sides become drawn. Directed by Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly), this film festival winning drama had an interesting story to tell. Based on the book by Rula Jebreal, the acting had a true emotional ring to it. Besides Hiam the cast included Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Trishna) as Miral, Willem Dafoe (Out of the Furnace, John Wick) as Eddie and Vanessa Redgrave (Howards End, Deep Impact) as Bertha Spafford. Sadly the script tried to do too much with the story lines. I felt the characters never had a chance to develop; remaining in predictable situations. Granted this did not stop me from watching this DVD; however, for a timely story that could easily be in the news today, I wished there had been more substance.

 

2 1/3 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Along the same lines in my belief that there are no accidents, my thoughts on one’s destiny are evolving. For example, when you go to a different grocery store than the usual one and meet someone that becomes the love of your life; is it simply by accident? A friend of mine vacationing in Florida called me from a restaurant. A man at the next table was leaning back in his chair laughing. He kept tilting back until he toppled over onto the floor; he had died from a massive heart attack. Asking her for a description of the man; it  turned out the man was my uncle. This was how my mother and sisters found out about their baby brother. Coincidences or occurrences have always fascinated me. The magic in this Oscar winning movie came from a series of events that lead the characters on a path to their destiny. Dev Patel (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Last Airbender) played a poor orphan from Mumbai named Jamal Malik. The fact he was a contestant on a game show was amazing enough; however, when it appeared he might actually win, the producers had him arrested for cheating. They could not believe a poor uneducated boy could know the correct answers to the game’s questions. It was during Jamal’s interrogation that we learn how occurrences in his life led him up to this point in time. Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 127 Hours) did a brilliant job keeping the story interesting by using flashbacks. It was easy to follow the unfolding connections between the characters, though the scene with the boy’s eyes made me look away. Freida Pinto (Immortals, Trishna) was wonderful playing Latika, the little girl who Jamal never forgot. Besides feeding my belief of there being no accidents in life, I understood the message about not judging a book by its cover. A beautiful film that I was meant to see with a universal story that was no accident. Some scenes were spoken in Hindi with English subtitles.

 

3 2/3 stars — DVD 

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