ONE CAN NOT HELP BUT FEEL special as they walk into the building. The heavy glass doors with the gold trim are the first clue that one is about to enter a place that cannot be considered ordinary. The vestibule has a sturdy tiled floor; the low ceiling is held up by walls covered in deeply colored damask fabric. The material is framed in portions with an intricately carved plaster, painted in gold to match the trim of the doors. Entering the main lobby is not so dissimilar from walking into a grand hall of a European palace. Marble floors replacing the tile in front, there are huge crystal chandeliers that are longer in height than width. They look like oblong, translucent candy wrapped with intricately patterned, colored wrappers with the ends twisted shut. There are matching grand staircases both front and back with red velvet covered steps and oversized, limestone balustrades. One can only imagine they are used by royalty. Spaced equally between the two staircases are doors that all lead into an amphitheater. Undulating rows of seats perched on a sloping floor descend to a stage where a red colored curtain blocks everyone from seeing anything behind it. Only when the lights dim does the curtain rise to reveal the actors who were waiting behind it. THERE IS A FEELING OF INCLUSION when one goes to see live theater. You could be sitting in the middle of a packed auditorium of strangers but feel as if the actors are bringing you into their story. I am a huge fan of seeing staged shows; there is something about seeing actors in the flesh compared to the big screen. Actors on stage have no chance for a retake; whatever happens they must be prepared to “go on with the show.” Seeing their emotions on display adds authenticity to the performance that I find connects me in a different way from actors in movies. Neither one is better than the other; it is simply a different form of communication. As you know I can get lost into a movie where I feel I am part of the movie; this is part of what I need to give a film a 4-star rating. At a play or musical the actors have more time to form relationships that carry them through the entire production. It connects them on a deeper level than acting in movies where they can do take after take of one scene. When I saw today’s film I felt I was at the theater watching a live performance. WITH A BABY ON THE WAY Tish Rivers’, (played by relative newcomer KiKi Layne), joy was short-lived when the baby’s father Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt, played by Stephan James (Race, Across the Line), was arrested for a crime he did not do. This Golden Globe and film festival winning romantic, crime drama also starred Regina King (Ray, Enemy of the State) as Sharon Rivers, Colman Domingo (Selma, Lincoln) as Joseph Rivers and Michael Beach (Aquaman, Soul Food) as Frank Hunt. Based on James Baldwin’s novel, this film slowly unfolded to reveal a real-life portrayal of two families in Harlem. The acting was outstanding from every actor; I especially enjoyed the chemistry that KiKi and Stephan poured into their roles for each other. With a beautiful soundtrack and thoughtful cinematography, this was another achievement for writer and director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, Medicine for Melancholy). Scenes seemed to be grouped into a series of acts, where I felt I was watching entire and complete feelings between the characters. I honestly believed everything I was seeing was totally real. There is nothing more I need to say, except this picture was a perfect conduit between film and theater.
I am not sure if the word is “refreshed” or “encouraged” when it comes to how I feel when I see an act of kindness. There are many incidents where I see or experience rudeness, meanness or hatefulness; so when I see someone doing an act of kindness it really stands out for me. Even with horrific news that gets reported these days, sometimes an act of kindness comes out in the middle of it. Recently I heard about a person who was dealing with a life threatening disease. Before they went into the hospital for surgery they were comforting their significant other, telling them everything would be okay. I was touched by such a selfless act. Of course if the person had always been kind, it would not be a surprise. However, it would be a bigger surprise if the person who did the act of kindness was not considered a nice person. There was an employee I used to work with who was so miserable that you would get a sour taste in your mouth if you were just near them. They never engaged in a friendly conversation; heck, they barely made eye contact with you if you had to talk business with them. Imagine the shock all the employees felt when there was an article in the local papers about this particular employee’s generous contributions made to a shelter. None of us could believe it. I guess one could say never judge a book by its cover; but I have to tell you, when situations like this come up it does give me hope. MORTICIAN John Miller, played by Christian Bale (The Dark Knight franchise, The Fighter), arrived in the city of Nanking, China just as Japanese forces staged an invasion. His main task now would be to stay alive. This historical drama was a Golden Globe nominee and film festival winner. I was familiar with the story, having seen it in documentaries; books and news articles. The invasion was brutal; in turn, there were several tough scenes in this film. Christian did a very good job of acting, as did Ni Ni (Back in Time, Up in the Wind) as Yu Mo and relative newcomer Xinyi Zhang as Shu. Maybe it was challenging to tell this story in a way that would keep the viewer’s interest, but I found it disjointed. It would go from torturous scenes to poignant ones. I was disappointed because the cinematography at times was stunning; though I must say I felt some of the scenes used too much blood if you know what I mean. On any level I think this would have been a challenging story to transform onto film; however, it was obvious there was much thought put into this one. Despite its shortcomings I was surprised by the turn of events in this war film that had its own sense of hope. There were multiple scenes where Mandarin and Japanese were spoken with English subtitles.
2 1/3 stars — DVD
The change is so minuscule you would not even be aware of its importance. Years later you may look back and remember it, realizing it was a warning for the oncoming seismic shift about to take place. For some the process is slow and drawn out; the occasional forgetfulness does not seem to be a big deal. Who has not forgotten where they put their house keys or forgotten a word now and then? But later on it becomes more frequent; think of it as a change from autumn to winter. Picture a majestic wide tree with a multitude of branches that curl and twist outward, filled with a thick abundance of leaves. Slowly the rich dark green of the leaves starts to fade, becoming less vibrant. The leaves that had been stretching wide like the palms of many hands were all beginning to close into gnarled fists. Memory drips out of the mind, falling away on a current of air like shriveled leaves; until the tree is laid bare. You may think the person is trapped inside their body but that is not the case; they are no longer there. You only have a living picture of who they were and even that begins to shut down due to the lack of electrical pulses from the expired brain. This is what can happen when someone has Alzheimer’s disease. JULIANNE Moore (Non-Stop, What Maisie Knew) played linguistics Professor Alice Howland. As an author and expert in her field, how was it possible that she was beginning to forget her words? This film festival winning drama’s success was all due to Julianne Moore. She was remarkable in this role, playing a middle-aged woman with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. There was one scene in particular where she was looking at her younger self and it amazed me how different she made the two images look on screen. I can understand now why she won the Golden Globe award. Some of the other actors in this film were Alec Baldwin (Beetlejuice, 30 Rock-TV) as John Howland, Kate Bosworth (Superman Returns, Blue Crush) as Anna Howland-Jones and Kristen Stewart (Twilight franchise, On the Road) as Lydia Howland. Everyone did a good job of acting; however I really did not get Kristen. It seems like she is doing the same thing in every movie; I have not seen her display any emotional variety with any of the characters she has played. Due to Julianne’s dominant performance, this drama has an effect on the viewer. Not to be funny here, but it seems as if I am paying more attention now when I forget something.
3 1/3 stars