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
HIS SMILE STOOD OUT prominently underneath his ruddy, bulbous cheeks. Usually quick with a hello unless he was preoccupied, he was a social person who spent a lot of time out of the house. When our paths would cross he would provide a greeting but added nothing further unless I offered a comment or question. Not that there was bad blood between us, I was just a school friend of his little brother. There was a long period of time where I never saw him around the house, when I was over there to see my friend. I just figured he was keeping busy. It must have been a couple of years, I honestly cannot remember, until I saw the brother again. He looked the same except thinner and the redness he always had in his cheeks had spread further across his face like a stain. There was something different about him but I could not figure out the difference. It seemed as if his smile had faded into his face and his once bright green eyes were shielded with lowered, awning sized eyelids now. NO ONE TALKED ABOUT it but the war had changed him. He was one of the first veterans I met from a current conflict. My friend told me his brother never talked about his time in the army. If you had never met the brother before you would not question his behavior; he did not do anything that seemed out of the norm. Prior to becoming friends with the veteran’s brother, my only exposure to changed behavior was from abuse and bullying survivors. I did notice a change with some business employees and executives; but their altered behavior was usually short term or less dramatic. From my experiences I have seen what happens when a person keeps their feelings/emotions bottled up inside of them. They really never stay permanently locked away; they can come out in a variety of ways. For me my outlet was food and though the consuming of food can lead to harmful results, I am grateful I got through compared to what I experienced with others. By watching this film festival winning movie you will see what I am talking about. RETURNING FROM IRAQ, a group of veterans try to fit back into the life they had left behind. Just as the war had tested them, so did this process of returning home. Inspired by a true story this biographical drama starred Miles Teller (War Dogs, Only the Brave) as Adam Schumann, Haley Bennett (The Equalizer, The Girl on the Train) as Saskia Schumann, Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider, Red Dog) as Alea, Amy Schumer (Trainwreck, Snatched) as Amanda Doster and Joe Cole (Green Room, Secret in Their Eyes) as Billy Waller; this was an actor driven story. I thought the cast did an amazing job; keeping in mind with my limited experience around veterans, I felt I was watching an honest portrayal. There were several intense scenes as the story cut back and forth from current times to past military operations. The letdown for me was the screen adaptation of the book this film was based on. Scenes that obviously could be filled with deep emotions were kept to a lesser level. In other words, I felt the characters could have been given more intensity considering the situation. With my attention captivated by this film I felt I got a better understanding about the life waiting home for some veterans.
A good way to feel the heartbeat of a city is to take a ride on its commuter train. It is an easy way to not only see the city but to watch how its citizens mingle throughout the city’s arteries. When I used to take public transportation to work I would find myself getting lost into the brief visual vignettes all around me. There were the train’s adult babies who would quickly be lulled to sleep by the swaying of the train car as it rolled down the tracks. Among the passengers there was the group that always had a hardcover or paperback book to read, while another group used their electronic devices. The thing I liked to do was look out the windows. From my train car I could watch a parade taking place that had citizens carrying a long paper dragon down a street in a neighborhood with a large population of Asian Americans. In another part of the city I could see people sitting outside at a café having an afternoon coffee with shopping bags lying at their feet like trusted pets. After a few times on the same route I would know which train stops some of the passengers would get off at; business attired people would step out in the downtown area of the city and passengers with book bags or textbooks in their laps would get off at one of two stops that was close to a city college. For a different type of experience taking the train at night brings in a more intimate experience; at least it does for me. Apartment buildings would reveal a grid of lit windows where each one told a different story. With one blink of the eye I could see someone cooking up a storm of a meal or two people studiously peering down at a table full of jigsaw pieces. Each day would be a different scene and you would never know what you could witness. CATCHING the same train everyday Rachel, played by Emily Blunt (Into the Woods, Sicario), would come up with an internal story for the people she would see. But what if a person was not following her script? This mystery thriller based on the bestselling book also included Haley Bennett (The Magnificent Seven, The Equalizer) as Megan and Justin Theroux (American Psycho, Wanderlust) as Tom. Since I did not read the book I was confused for the 1st half of the movie, though Emily was excellent as Rachel. The issue for me was the script. I did not care for the scenes jumping back and forth in time along with several scenes that did not come across as authentic. All this did for me was to slow the pace down of telling the story. It was not until the last half of the picture where things picked up and it started to actually be a mystery thriller for me. An interesting side note; when I mentioned this to one of my classes 5 out of 6 people who read the book said they did not like it and felt the same about the book as I did about the film. Too bad the train ride I took did not reveal much excitement for me.
2 ¼ stars
From the era where the video game Pong appeared to current times, video games have technically advanced by light years. I like most kids my age was swept up into this new form of entertainment, acquiring and trading game cartridges that my friends and I would play on our television screens. My favorite types of games were either based in science fiction or brain teasers. I was always excited to get a new space type of game where I would have to defend earth from hostile alien beings. With these types of games I did not have a problem shooting a ray gun or a cannon blaster. However, if a game used realistic guns in a real type of setting I was not a fan of the game. I did not care to pretend I was shooting humans in a war or criminal setting. As a little boy I loved playing with toy soldiers in battles; but as an adult I had no desire to put myself in a realistic fighting scenario. Now here is an interesting thought: do you think there is any correlation between violent video games and an increase in actual violence among us? It is not something I have actually thought about much until I saw this action movie. I have to tell you I always thought the more violence a person is exposed to the more numb they become to it. Even at the health clubs I chose not to teach any type of combat classes due to my beliefs. I wonder if this is why I felt I was not best suited to watch this adventure science fiction film. WAKING from unconsciousness with no memories, to a strange woman telling him she knows him, Henry had to quickly decide if he should believe her when she was kidnapped. This film festival winner had a unique idea by filming the entire picture through Henry’s eyes. This meant there was a lot of shaky and quick jerky looking scenes. By a lot I mean every scene. With a cast that included Sharito Copley (District 9, Chappie) as Jimmy, Danila Kozlovsky (Vampire Academy, The Spy) as Akan and Tim Roth (The Incredible Hulk, Reservoir Dogs) as Henry’s father; I cannot honestly say I enjoyed the acting because there really was no story. The little story there was made no sense to me. This entire film simply was a video game on a big screen, but none of the viewers could play it. I give the movie studio credit for trying such a novel approach to filming; however, sitting in my seat watching shooting and violence the entire time was extremely boring. Hopefully I am not stereotyping but the small predominantly male crowd sitting in the theater appeared to be gamers. If this is the future of both video games and movies I do not think I will be able to handle it. I would rather stick with those old games like Pong or Tetris.
1 1/2 stars