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
Executives of sanitation and water plants could not explain the sudden drop in water usage. There were many people walking around with a musty smell and slightly unpolished look. Hotel employees were perplexed in the sudden cancellation of room reservations. Well, maybe things were not that bad; however, you cannot tell me there were not a lot of people who thought twice about taking a shower, after they saw the movie Psycho. I remember the first time I saw this movie and how my heart raced. When a film is considered a classic, I enjoy hearing the back story on how forces came together to create such a great movie. This was one of the reasons I wanted to see this film, along with Anthony Hopkins’ (Thor, Proof) performance as famed director Alfred Hitchcock. When the story focused on the birth of Psycho it was fascinating. Even with all the success Hitchcock had with the movie studio, they balked at his plans, refusing to finance the project. I got a kick out of all the tidbits surrounding the filming process. It was fun to see Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, The Avengers) and James D’Arcy (W.E., Cloud Atlas) playing Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins. In some scenes Anthony Hopkins was believable as Hitchcock; but at times, it seemed as if he slipped out of character and the makeup was odd. For me, the star of this movie was Helen Mirren (The Last Station, The Debt) as Alfred’s wife Alma Reville. I had no idea, if the story here is true, that she was as influential as she was portrayed. The problem I had was when the story veered off the making of Psycho and delved into the relationship Alma and Alfred had, it did not make for a cohesive story line. I appreciated the things I learned from this interesting movie; I just wished it had been more.
2 3/4 stars
His novels were not the only place where drama took place. In this movie, Leo Tolstoy’s personal life was filled with substantial drama. Played magnificently by Christopher Plummer (Beginners, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), the majority of this fiery drama occurred between Tolstoy and his wife of 43 years, the Countess Sofya, played with electrifying fire by Helen Mirren (Arthur, The Tempest). Determined to prevent her husband from changing his will, relinquishing his copyrights and property to the Russian people, Sofya enlisted a confederate in recently appointed assistant to her husband, Valentin played by James McAvoy (Wanted, Atonement). The acting was superb in this movie, as the dialog had a fine accompaniment in the musical score. Completing the movie’s feel were the beautiful set pieces, with the attention to detail; I felt as if I had been transported back to Tolstoy’s estate, to witness the final years of this great writer’s life.
3 1/3 stars — DVD