THERE IS NOTHING TO BE said when a friend has made up their mind unless they asked for your opinion. Realistically though how many of your friends would listen and act on your advice anyway? You may see the perils your friend could face by their decision and try as you might they feel the decision they are making is the right one. So be it. All you really can do is be there to support them if things do not go as they had envisioned. A friend of mine told me about their plan to consolidate all of their bills into one loan, using one of those check advances that accompany their monthly charge card statement. I did not think it was a good idea because I witnessed how they handled their finances and had seen them do this very same thing before. Because they asked me what I thought about their plan I had to tell them and bring up the fact the last time they took a cash advance they kept using their charge cards, incurring debt with finance charges. They claimed that it would not be the case this time but I knew better. MY DILEMMA TAKES PLACE when a friend asks me how they look. I do not have a problem telling them they have food stuck between their teeth or their hair got windblown; however, if they want my opinion about what they are wearing how can I critique their outfit if they are the one who purchased it for themselves in the first place. If I think the clothing looks good on them I will let them know my feelings. But if the item of clothing does nothing for them or worse is unflattering, I do not want to just come out with saying it is ugly or unflattering. I prefer to say, “It doesn’t matter what I think, it is what you think.” You see what it comes down to is if an individual can get some type of pleasure from wearing a particular item of clothing, it should not matter what other people think about it. I have no reason to burst their bubble or make them uncomfortable with their fashion decision. This is why I had a tough go in writing today’s film review. I was sad to see one of my favorite actors in this picture, based on true events. SARAH WINCHESTER, PLAYED BY Helen Mirren (The Queen, Eye in the Sky), upon the death of her husband was left with controlling interest in her late husband’s arms company. The board of directors felt they found a way to eliminate her and stop the spending on the continuous remodeling of her residence. It was up to Dr. Eric Price, played by Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, Everest), to make a determination. This biographical, fantasy horror film also starred Sarah Snook (The Dressmaker, Steve Jobs) as Sarah’s niece, Eamon Farren (Red Dog, Chained) as Ben Block and Finn Scicluna-O’Prey (The Secret River-TV, Rosehaven-TV) as Henry. I was distraught watching Helen in this poorly done film. Though I enjoyed her performance, the script was so generic and there was no reason for it. The story was fascinating; it was something I wish the writers would have delved into more. Instead we got this horror film with the only trick to scare the audience being the use of the jump scare, something suddenly appearing in the frame. The music did not help either since it telegraphed the upcoming action. Oh and I did not want to forget Jason’s character mumbling through the movie and always jumping back in fear. I cannot comprehend Helen being a part of this mess and wonder why no one told her to rethink her choice of films, unless she was repaying someone a favor.
1 ½ stars
DEATH does not owe anyone an answer; it takes what it wants and all we can do is experience grief, relief or believe it or not, happiness. I say happiness because of a funeral I once attended where I knew the deceased but not all of the other people in attendance. Sitting in the chapel I was shocked with some of the comments people were so free to share with those around them. One person said they were there to make sure that bastard was buried deep in the ground; another guest wanted to come to see if there was actually someone who was mourning the death. I could only silently sit in my seat because I was too stunned to say anything. As a side note the funeral service was done quickly with only a couple of eulogies. FROM a previous review I mentioned the hardest deaths involve those where the person was taken early. When a person reaches an old age one can hear comments such as, “he lived a long life” or “she did what she wanted to do,” at the funeral. Sadness could be wrapped up in the sense of loss but rarely have I heard anyone question why the individual perished. If there was a long growing illness I could understand the sense of relief one would feel at the time of death. From my experiences I have learned when a person dies unexpectedly; it is harder for those who are left behind. When the individual has suffered for a long time, finishing their journey here, those remaining do feel a sense of relief. I do not recollect anyone questioning why the person died. Personally I think asking questions that you cannot get answers for only delays the healing process. I know a couple of people who still want to know why a friend of theirs committed suicide. This makes for a hard road to travel, the asking of questions. You can see for yourself in this dramatic movie. DEVASTATED by the death of his young daughter Howard, played by Will Smith (Suicide Squad, Concussion) began writing letters to Death, Youth and Love. It was not long before they started answering him. This film festival winner had an excellent cast that included Edward Norton (The Grand Budapest Hotel, American History) as Whit, Kate Winslet (The Dressmaker, Finding Neverland) as Claire, Michael Pena (End of Watch, The Martian) as Simon, Naomie Harris (Moonlight, Skyfall) as Madeleine and Helen Mirren (Trumbo, Woman in Gold) as Brigitte. For a story line I did not mind the concept and felt the actors were more than capable to do a fine job. Out of the cast the 2 that stood out for me were Naomie and Michael; they were believable and conveyed true emotions. Outside of them I did not feel a connection to anyone else. Whether the rest of the actors knew the script was poorly written or not, they did not provide any substance to their characters. As for the script I found it to be in manipulative in a sappy way. I felt the film was created just to get viewers weepy and use that as their connection to the story. Sitting through this picture was like experiencing a slow death.
1 ¾ stars
THE picture was of a young woman wearing a hat. Her head was turned enough to only provide a profile of her face. We were told to look intently at this picture; the teacher asking us if anyone saw something else. I kept looking at it then suddenly the image of an elderly woman appeared, removing any trace of the young woman. It was amazing to me and this became my introduction into the world of optical illusions. Whenever I was in the school library I sought out books that would reveal more optical illusions to me. There was the zebra with 2 heads, the elephant with extra legs and what would became one of my favorites, the two people sitting at a table who morphed into a human skull. At one point in time I had a poster of an abstract illusion hanging in my room. EVEN into adulthood I always enjoyed a good optical illusion or things that appeared to be impossible but were real. A new skyscraper was built in the city and on one side of it there was a built-in aquarium with dolphins. Honestly, it looked that real; even though it was just a painting. In fact there was an art exhibit where the same concept was used at various spots in the city such as a fake staircase in the front of a building and a swimming pool that spanned several hundred feet across a city sidewalk. It is fun to have one’s beliefs tested in this way. The same could be said for a person who does magic tricks or even performs a stunt that has never been attempted before. I enjoy these types of events. However, there are some times I have to just sit there and say to myself, “What were they thinking, why would someone do something like that?” This crime drama would be one of those times. TERMINALLY ill assassin Rose, played by Helen Mirren (Eye in the Sky, The Debt), decided to do one more job with her stepson Mikey, played by Cuba Gooding Jr. (As Good as it Gets, Men of Honor). When she came face to face with the intended target Helen did something she had never done before. This action film had a heavy hitting cast of actors that included Vanessa Ferlito (Julie & Julia, Death Proof) as Vicki, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt (Snowden, The Night Before) as Dr. Don and Stephen Dorff (Public Enemies, Felon) as Clayton Mayfield. We are talking Oscar and Golden Globe winners and nominees, though I realize this film is over 10 years old. I liked the idea for the story but the script was dreadful. There was no oomph to the characters and action; it felt like everyone was just going through their paces. Helen has stellar acting ability and Cuba in the right role can do a great job but I literally sat there with my mouth open watching them together in some scenes on this DVD. This was one of the oddest pairings I have ever seen; what were the studio people thinking about to cast these 2 together in these roles?! I still cannot believe what I witnessed in this movie.
1 ½ stars – DVD
I have known for a long time I could never live in a condominium. I would be the resident everyone would talk about after any of the condo board meetings. You see, I know if I voted differently than the majority I would be upset if I lost. Not for things that have to do with maintaining the buildings, but for items that do not interest me. Having a friend who was a board member for his condominium association, the stories he told me about the heated discussions, back stabbing and yelling only confirmed my decision never to live in such a dwelling. When too many people have a say in the decision process I have found it always to be filled with unhappy participants. If you do not believe me just get a group of say 6 to 8 people together and ask them where they want to go to eat out dinner. In my experiences I have never had a group all say the same place or cuisine. Now there is the “care factor” of your group; some individuals have a definite response and will only eat at certain places. Then there are others who go for the socializing aspect; the food is secondary for them. I have been part of both sides, being the dominant one on where we should all eat besides being on the not caring where we wind up side. The point is if no one can agree or make a decision then someone has to step up and lead the group to, under the circumstances, the best decision possible. It can be a hard decision but someone has to do it, just like in this military drama. COLONEL Katherine Powell, played by Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold, Trumbo), suddenly had an opportunity open up that she had been waiting on for 6 years. If she was the only one who needed to make a decision she was ready. This film festival nominee was a tense thriller. Besides Helen the cast also had Aaron Paul (Triple 9, Need for Speed) as Steve Watts and Alan Rickman (Harry Potter franchise, Nobel Son) as Lt. General Frank Benson. The story fascinated me because of its relevancy and the logistics that were involved in creating the action. Without a question, Helen was terrific as usual and though I enjoyed seeing Alan, part of his performance reminded me of his Harry Potter character. Another reason why this film worked was due to the questions it presented in the decision process. If there is any truth to this story I am totally amazed with how many people are needed to be involved in the decision process. The type of action on display in this war picture is something I have seen before; however, my perceptions of it being similar to playing a video game are no longer true. All this time I thought getting people together to go out to dinner was a challenge; little did I know it pales in comparison to the decisions that had to be made in this movie.
It did not matter that she was fond of him or even possibly in love with him, people were already passing judgement. She had met him in college during a social function on campus. They started out as friends, but it quickly moved into a romantic relationship. Several of her friends finally showed their true colors when she started dating this man. The reason being the man aka boyfriend was of a different race. Now some of her friends did not react at all, it did not matter to them; as long as she was happy that is all that mattered. But some of her so called “good” friends thought it was wrong. Personally, I was shocked by their reactions since I felt it was no one’s business who she dated and ultimately, why it should even matter to anyone else. The sad part of it was from that moment on she was labeled, though she did not know it. Even passing acquaintances made up their mind about her and her boyfriend without ever meeting him. It reminded me of another friend of mine who was dating someone of a different faith. Their parents were wildly upset about it and barely hid their feelings on the subject. As you may be wondering, this only pushed my friend harder to make the relationship work. However, after a year of dating the two decided they would be better off just being friends. These two events really opened my mind up to the fact there are many people in this world who make snap decisions about individuals without ever meeting or knowing them. HOLLYWOOD’S top screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, played by Bryan Cranston (Argo, Breaking Bad-TV), lost his status due to his political views. The only weapon available to him to fight back was his words. Based on a true event this biographical drama was a fascinating story to me. It was startling to see Hollywood back in the 1940s and 50s during this period of Dalton’s life. With Diane Lane (Man of Steel, The Perfect Storm) as Cleo Trumbo, Louis C.K. (Blue Jasmine, Louie-TV) as Arlen Hird and Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold, The Queen) as Hedda Hopper; I felt like I was getting a Hollywood history lesson. The acting was exceptionally good, particularly by Bryan. The story is an important one I believe and I just wished the script had done a better job of it. There were times where I felt scenes lost their magic and turned dull in a cartoonish type of way. It was possible the directing did not help out because the story moved in a blockish way, coming across more like skits. However, a treat for me was seeing portrayals of old-time actors and directors like Edward G. Robinson and Otto Preminger being played out in this story. I think the subject matter in this film is just as relevant today as it was back then. One can only hope people watch this movie before making up their minds.
As I came through the front door I immediately noticed the dead cigarette butt dangling on the edge of the cedar chest. No one smoked in the house. At one time the cigarette was lit because there now was a deep ashen scar exposing the unfinished wood beneath the polished surface. My eyes were drawn from the cigarette butt to the hall closet with its mirrored door gaping open. Inside the clothes were disheveled and piled up on the floor; there were several wire and wooden hangers dangling naked from the clothes rod. These two things did not connect together in my brain right away; however, as I walked into the bedroom it all made sense. A burglar had broken into the house and stole some clothing, jewelry and a small television. I was in shock as all of this sunk in and I realized how fortunate I was that the cigarette did not start a fire, destroying not only the apartment but the others in the building. As I moved from room to room an awful feeling came over me; I felt so violated and vulnerable. There was such a sense of dread, feeling unsafe in my own home; it weighed heavily as I imagined this stranger walking through the house not realizing the sentimental significance to items, let alone the things I needed like clothing. At least I had no idea who it was; can you imagine if I was home when the burglar broke in and took what they wanted for themselves? MARIA Altmann, played by Helen Mirren (The Queen, The Debt), had only her memories when she fled Nazi occupied Austria. Making a life for herself in the United States, it was not until her sister’s death that Maria thought about the things that were taken away from her and her family so many years ago. One of the objects dear to her was a portrait of her aunt, painted by Gustav Klimt. Though it was hanging in an Austrian museum, she felt it belonged with her. Based on a true story, I enjoyed the way this drama portrayed the present and past together. The key in making it all work fell upon Helen and Tatiana Maslany (The Vow, Eastern Promises) who played the young Maria. I thought Max Irons (The Host, Red Riding Hood) who played Fritz, young Maria’s husband, was a strong asset too. Ryan Reynolds (The Voices, Green Lantern) as lawyer Randol Schoenberg was better than I have previously seen him but not on the same level as Helen. The script may have been predictable but I did not mind because I was fascinated with the “story behind the story” aspect to this drama. Granted my theft cannot compare to Maria’s but I felt a solid connection to this movie.
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
There is an easy camaraderie created when a group of people have a singular purpose. Whether one is an employee, volunteer or teammate; when personalities blend together a relationship is formed of shared experiences. When I have done volunteer work I notice there tends to be a quick connection made between all the volunteers. The same happens when new fitness instructors come on board at the health clubs, where I teach. An added benefit to these types of connections is the ability to have fun. Yes, even at one’s place of employment there can be times of fun when everyone is supportive of their fellow employees. Well okay, let us say at least bearable. This sense of fun is what I appreciated most about this action comedy. It was obvious the actors were enjoying both their roles and each other in this sequel. Joining Bruce Willis (Looper, Moonrise Kingdom) as Frank, John Malkovich (Burn After Reading, Dangerous Liaisons) as Marvin, Helen Mirren (The Debt, Hitchcock) as Victoria and Mary-Louise Parker (R.I.P.D., Weeds-TV) as Sarah were Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago, The Terminal) as Russian agent Katja and Anthony Hopkins (Thor, Hitchcock) as mad scientist Bailey. The story was far-fetched about Frank and the team trying to retrieve a megaton explosive device that was smuggled into Moscow during the cold war. Being a fan of Helen, I got a kick out of her role being more physical this time. The script was uneven where some lines were humorous while others fell flat. Bruce has been doing the same type of character for so long, he tended to be a bit cartoonish for me. In the case of John; since I have seen him perform live on stage and know what he is capable of doing, I thought he was excellent in his role. Anthony was exceptionally good with his character. This was not the type of movie where one needed to think much; there was nothing deep about it. Honestly, I think the success of the first movie gave these actors the opportunity to hang out again and share some good times, while filming took place all over the world.
2 1/4 stars
An evil presence lived in my bedroom closet. I would only hear it at night when I was a little boy. It would make a creaking sound as if a giant’s foot was stepping out of the closet to eat me. One of my defenses was to hide under my blanket and be very still. The other was to make pretend spiders out of black construction paper and place them on the floor, in front of the closet door. They used to do a good job; so good, that I accidentally scared one of my brothers, when I left one of the spiders on the floor. As I grew up it dawned on me that what I was really afraid of was the unknown. It would have been a big help if this animated comedy had been around back then. A film that showed monsters going to school to learn how to scare humans was a wonderful idea. For those of us who saw Monsters, Inc this was the opportunity to visit with a younger Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan, voiced by Billy Crystal (Parental Guidance, Analyze This) and John Goodman (Argo, Flight). If you are not familiar with their story, it will not be a major factor in watching this film. A few sly references would be missed. However, the charm and originality of the previous movie was also missing. The story took a little part from the movies Carrie and The Hunger Games, minus the frightening parts. I believe young children will still enjoy this movie; though, I did notice the kids were noisier here than at other animated family films I have seen. Billy and John were perfect voicing their characters again, as was Steve Buscemi (Rampart, Broadwalk Empire-TV) as Randy. The addition of Helen Mirren (Red, Hitchcock) as Dean Hardscrabble was my favorite character. Though there was a little less magic and a little less fun in it for me, I still enjoyed finding out how monsters learned to be scary. Stay through the end of the credits.
2 3/4 stars
My cousin’s real parents were a king and queen. She was switched at birth for protection. At least that was what my father told me and my cousins when we were small. Growing up in my family always involved the telling and listening of stories. Some were based on true facts, others were a total fantasy. The story of my father being hidden in the woods for safety as a baby was true; but that story about my cousin was not. She really was not a princess–though she would have enjoyed being treated like one. Our family stories truly provided the latest generation a history of their heritage. My love of stories is what attracted me to this animated movie. Based on The Guardians of Ga’Hoole book series by Kathryn Lasky, the movie was about brother owls Soren and Kludd, voiced by Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe, Cloud Atlas) and Ryan Kwanten (True Blood-TV, Don’t Fade). Kidnapped and forced into slavery by a group of owls who called themselves the Pure Ones, Soren’s only hope was to escape and find the owls of Ga’Hoole. From his father’s stories, Soren believed these guardian owls existed and could free all the enslaved owls. What made this film stand out for me immediately was the directing of the visually artistic scenes. Director Zack Snyder (Watchmen, 300) created a stunning movie that was different then the usual CGI animated movies. Besides the owls’ regal appearances and the use of slow motion in the action scenes; I enjoyed the choice of actors used to voice the owls, such as Helen Mirren (Hitchcock, Red) as Nyra and Joel Edgerton (The Odd Life of Timothy Green, The Thing) as Metalbeak. The story was weak due to its predictability, yet I still found the movie exciting. This film may not be suitable for younger children due to the fighting and killing that was shown. The threads of told past stories have woven a rich family history for me and now Soren will be part of his family’s stories.
3 stars — DVD