LOOKING at him there was nothing that distinguished him differently from anyone else. The only thing one could say about him was his height; he was one of the tallest boys in the neighborhood. He was a friend of mine who lived across the street from me. What did make him stand out from everyone else in the neighborhood was his name. No one had a name even remotely close to his or anyone else in his family. Their last name as well as some of his siblings’ first names had so many syllables. As far as I knew no one really cared that they had unusual names compared to the rest of us in school. I remember at some point being told by him that his family was Armenian. It sounded so exotic and far away compared to the rest of the families on the block. This bit of information was treated more like a footnote; all it meant to our circle of friends was his family had traveled halfway across the world from a place none of us had ever heard about before. THROUGHOUT my schooling; I am talking elementary, high school and college; I cannot recall ever hearing or having a discussion about the historical events that were depicted in this dramatic movie. I do remember the events that led up to World War I started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. With World War II a prominent part of its history was the systematic extermination of people based on their faith, heritage, sexual orientation, among other distinctions. Regarding the First World War, I cannot recall part of its story involving a particular group of people targeted for elimination. Sitting through this film a part of me was shocked by the action taking place in several scenes. Not because it was especially graphic, gratefully it was not, but due to the historical significance that somehow was missing from my education. The story in this picture was something larger than what I had imagined. MEDICAL student Mikael Boghosian, played by Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), always wanted to be a doctor. The Ottoman Empire had other plans for the Armenian man. This film festival winning movie also starred Charlotte Le Bon (The Walk, The Hundred-Foot Journey) as Ana Khesarian, Christian Bale (The Fighter, The Big Short) as Chris Myers, Shohreh Aghdashloo (Rosewater, The Story of Soraya M.) as Marta Boghosian and Marwan Kenzari (Ben-Hur, Loft) as Emre Ogan. Oscar who I think is a gifted actor did not disappoint in this movie; however, Christian Bale was miscast. His role not only did not offer him much to work with, but was more involved with the 2nd story line that I found did not belong in this film. The culprit for this film not reaching full potential was the script. I get the idea studios believe a story needs a love interest, but the whole love triangle scenario in this story was a distraction. There were so many opportunities to mine dramatic intensity that instead was passed over to focus back on the relationship between the three main stars. It was sad because based on what I saw this picture really could have been memorable. After the film was over I had to stay seated and think about how extraordinary it was for my friend and his family to have been living across the street from me.
2 1/3 stars
SEEING a person willingly jump out of an airplane could elicit one of two responses: the individual is courageous or crazy. Though there is no way I would ever go skydiving, I would not judge someone who wants to experience such an activity. As I go through my daily life I am constantly witnessing acts of courage. There is the individual who admits to being out of shape, who comes to a fitness class, because they want to make a change in their life. The blind person who is navigating down a crowded, noisy city street or the parent who gets sick on roller coasters, sitting next to their child who is thrilled to be on the ride with their parent; to me all of these individuals are courageous and strong. There are so many other examples of courage that I could write about but it would take up all of my time today. FOR the past several months I have viewed news reports with an eye to the future. The news segments can range from peaceful protesters to refuges to the environment; I look at each one of these and am usually amazed at the amount of courage an individual has in the face of life or death, let alone the person who is willing to make a stand against injustice. Thinking back to some of the famous scientists who left their homeland for a better life or to just stay alive, there is something to be said for that individual’s braveness. Imagine if the scientist was not strong enough or courageous enough to leave a place where they were being persecuted; how different would the world have turned out? Whether a person actively engages in a cause or donates time or money to it, for them they are acting in a courageous way. One cannot necessarily compare different acts of courage; however, some do take on more risk and this movie based on a true story shows you how much risk one person was willing to take to make a difference. AFTER German forces took control of Warsaw they set up a camp in the middle of Antonia and Jan Zabinski’s, played by Jessica Chastain (Miss Sloane, The Martian) and Johan Heldenbergh (The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Misfortunates), zoo and got rid of most of the animals. The couple formed an idea that could save lives but they needed the zoo to remain open. This biographic drama was powered with Jessica’s acting. She was the dominant force in this film, though other actors such as Daniel Bruhl (Rush, Woman in Gold) as Lutz Heck and Shira Haas (Princess, A Tale of Love and Darkness) as Urszula still drew my attention to them. The story was amazing, frightening, tragic and a few other adjectives. I will say the script did not come up to what I felt could have been a more powerful story. There were a few scenes that I am willing to bet were created simply for dramatic effect. This produced an odd seesawing effect between intensity and sweetness; for entertainment value it was okay but the story deserved more intensity in my opinion. Regardless, to see Jessica acting in this courageous story was time well spent.
2 ¾ stars
BETWEEN the street corner and an alley a structure was built that changed my life. I remember walking by the construction site on the way to the library. Construction workers wearing hard hats were moving around the site constantly; in a way it looked like an abstract ballet piece the way each of them seamlessly worked together. The outside of the building was made with white tiles; I thought for sure it would have turned to gray within a week from all the exhaust coming out of the cars driving down the busy thoroughfare. Right in the middle of the growing walls a slab of curved metal was jutting out like an awful hangnail. I could not imagine what these workers were thinking of to stab their beautiful white tiled sides with this hollow, arching monstrosity. OVER the course of a season the building took form and all that remained were a few last details. One day appearing in front was a fenced off area that had round metal tables with big opened umbrellas sticking up from the center. Around the tables were bolted down curved benches. A sign was hung from the building announcing a grand opening. My friends and I were there on opening day and it was crazy with people lined up everywhere. I remember ordering a hamburger, french fries and a soft drink. We each were handed our meal in a paper bag and walked outside to the side of the building where the white tiles were built out to form a ledge to sit on. Prior to that moment I had never had a pickle or mustard on a hamburger, only ketchup; the mix of flavors exploded in my mouth. But what sent me into a caloric craze of complete cherished comfort were the french fries and chocolate milkshake. My affair with those slender strands of potato heaven has lasted all these years. I do not know if they would have had the same effect if I had known the story about the man who brought the restaurant with the golden arches to the world. SALESMAN Ray Kroc, played by Michael Keaton (Spotlight, White Noise), could not understand the sales order he received from a restaurant in California. Deciding to take a drive out to see the place, Ray was stunned when he came up to this little “food stand” run by brothers Mac and Dick McDonald, played by John Carroll Lynch (Shutter Island, American Horror Story-TV) and Nick Offerman (21 Jump Street franchise, Parks and Recreation-TV). The brothers may not have realized what they had going but Ray sure did. This film festival winning biographical drama succeeded because of Michael’s performance; he played it beautifully to the point where I was reacting negatively to some of Ray’s actions. Having my memories of the fast food restaurants heightened my interest in this historical story. I am not sure how much of the script was truthful, but I enjoyed most of the progression in the story. There were scenes that only implied certain actions that I would have enjoyed better if there was more back story; however, this did not distract me from the story. With most of the earth’s population having knowledge about this company, I cannot imagine someone getting bored with this movie, though you may get a bit hungry.
DURING my daily commute to work I pass 3 makeshift memorials that were set up by the side of the road. What they have in common are floral arrangements, ribbons and sadness. My guess is each person from the memorials perished from an auto accident. How tragic it must be for the family; based on past news articles, I can only imagine the circumstances of the accident. I remember one involved a boy riding his bicycle who was struck by a car that swerved out of the way of a tarp that fell off of a truck in front of them, momentarily blinding the driver. Can you imagine if this took place in front of the boy’s house and the family sees the memorial every day? I do not know how I would handle it, seeing a reminder outside my door every day, even without a memorial. RECENTLY I was driving through my old neighborhood with a friend who was curious to see my old stomping grounds. Driving through several blocks, I shared memories and tidbits while pointing out various places. As I drove by one particular building I started to tear up from the flood of awful memories associated with the place. My friend saw the change in me and asked what was going on inside of me. Taking a breath I started to tell them about some of the horrible things that were done to me when I was much younger. It felt like I was reliving them as I spoke them out loud. Though I believe each of us learns something from every experience, thinking about that time after all these years still made me feel sad and angry. I do not think I am alone in saying recalling tough, challenging events in the past is a hard thing to do; this is why it was not easy for me to watch this dramatic historical thriller. FROM an act of terror during the Boston marathon the citizens of Boston united in a powerful way. This film festival winning movie written and directed by Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor) starred Mark Wahlberg (Deepwater Horizon, Daddy’s Home) as Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders, Michelle Monaghan (Sleepless, Source Code) as Carol Saunders, John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane, Love the Coopers) as Commissioner Ed Davis and Kevin Bacon (Black Mass, Elephant White) as Special Agent Richard DesLauriers. I felt Peter presented a thoughtful, reflective story that did not sink into dramatic hyperbole. Because the script was sensitively written I thought the actors did fine in their roles and in regards to Mark he was in his element. Since I was quite familiar with this story, knowing people who were affected by it, I thought I would not have been as engaged in the movie. It turned out I was very much into the film as there were multiple scenes that showed the things taking place away from the public; it was fascinating to watch. I will say it was not easy to sit and watch this movie due to seeing the violence and injuries again. The images I remembered all came up as the story unfolded on the big screen. Let me just say if you have the stomach to revisit this event then it is worth watching this well done film.
THERE was a soft knock at my door. If I had music playing instead of studying for a test I would not have heard it. Upon opening the door I saw a woman standing with a canvas bag filled with pamphlets sitting by her feet. I asked her if I could help her though I was cautious since I was living in off campus housing; we never had strangers in the building. She asked me if I wanted to be saved today. I simply stared at her because I had never been asked such a question. Asking her what I was being saved from she leaned down to take one of the pamphlets out of her book and started to tell me about her religion. Because I was studying for a test I did not let her go on long before asking her how did she determine such a thing for me, that possibly my religion was taking care of me. She paused while maintaining her slight smile before telling me I should consider her faith because it was the only way for me. THIS was my first time having someone trying to convert me from my faith. At the time I was offended, namely because she was not acknowledging my faith. I finally had to ask her what right she had to make assumptions about my faith and spirituality from our short conversation. Having grown up in a diverse neighborhood, my friends and I were always going to each other’s religious holiday celebrations. Houses in my neighborhood would have either Christmas trees displayed in their windows or menorahs, while others displayed nothing. Maybe I grew up in a bubble but there were never any issues about one’s religion being wrong compared to someone else. I think that non-judgmental environment I grew up in made watching this dramatic film festival winning movie more shocking for me. TRAVELING from Portugal to Japan to find their lost mentor 17th century Jesuit priests Rodrigues and Garrpe, played by Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, 99 Homes) and Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Midnight Special) were not safe once they landed on foreign soil. Written and directed by Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed), I understand it took Martin years to get this story filmed. With Liam Neeson (Taken franchise, Run All Night) as Ferreira and Tadanobu Asano (Thor franchise, Ichi the Killer) as the interpreter, the story covered deeper subject matter than the usual heavily marketed movie studios’ films. This story was quite thought provoking where I am still processing the scenes I witnessed. I say witness because there were scenes that were tough to watch with their violence, while others presented interesting discussion. The acting was excellent and some scenes were close to brilliant. One issue I had with the film was the length of it; I found the running time of 2 hours and 41 minutes too long. At one point I felt I was going from one torture scene to another. If I heard correctly the movie was originally over an hour longer; I cannot imagine sitting that long for this story. Putting that aside this film did present a forum to discuss human nature and religious issues. I do not know if this movie would cause one to convert but it could possibly change your views on the power of films.
3 ½ stars
I do not know what triggers the response that usually goes to one extreme or the other. From my experiences I have noticed a child tends to grow up emulating a parent or working to be the exact opposite. There is this individual I know who has had articles written about them in business publications. Their main motivation has always been getting rich. Any conversation you have with them will eventually involve money. So I found it particularly interesting when I met their child after many years and discovered they were essentially a mini clone of their parent. Within a matter of minutes our conversation turned towards finance. NOW at the opposite end a child could grow up seeing how their parent has been treated by various people and decide they do not want to be anything like their Mom or Dad. Seeing a parent being abused by their spouse can trigger a strong internal reaction in the child. Another example could be working at the same place your parent is employed and observing how the employees treat your mother or father. If you feel your parent is being stepped all over by their fellow employees, you might force yourself to grow up in such a way where no one would be allowed to walk all over you. This may mean you put on a tough exterior or you prefer not to socialize as much as your parent. I find all these types of scenarios such a complicated situation; because there are times the child will grow up thinking they really are the persona they created from their reactions, when actually they may be nothing like the façade they built around themselves. One of my surprises in life was finding out I had a larger capacity for kindness then I thought I did. As I watched this film festival winning drama I was curious about the real motivations behind the young son’s actions. FINDING a wristwatch at the crash site Michiel, played by Martijn Lakemeier (Lover or Loser, It’s All so Quiet), did not realize at first the importance in finding its owner. Set in Nazi occupied Holland during the 1940s, this movie was beautifully filmed. I have seen a variety of war and historical films but the script to this story had a fresh perspective to me. Part of the picture played like a thriller while keeping its dramatic sense. With Yorick van Wageningen (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The New World) as Oom Ben, Jamie Campbell Bower (The Twilight Saga franchise, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) as Jack and Melody Klaver (Dusk, Diep) as Erica; the acting was fine to me. In my opinion I would have enjoyed seeing more scenes regarding the dynamics of the family unit. Part of me felt the subtle way the feelings came out could have used a stronger presence; though I thought the character development of Michiel was fascinating. This DVD offered a different avenue away from a typical World War II story and gave a clear example of how a person grows up based on what they see. Dutch and German languages were spoken with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD
I remember a time when facts were important and meant something. In my chemistry class when we would conduct an experiment, each of the students had to create a particular reaction then have a fellow student repeat the same steps to see if they get the same results. My experiment was to create a blue clear liquid in my test tube. Mixing chemicals in a precise order and amounts when the final chemical was added the liquid in my test tube turned a beautiful Caribbean blue color. Next my lab partner had to reproduce my steps to see if he would get the same results. It turned out he did not; the liquid in his test tube turned into a cloudy, swamp brown color with a nasty odor. So to substantiate my results a 3rd student was brought in to repeat my experiment. They were successful as they created the same blue colored liquid. Pouring over our notes we discovered my lab partner mistook one measurement which completely altered the chemical reaction to create the color blue. This is how we learned about facts and fact checking. From my school years I learned studies and facts would yield accurate results. It seems as if facts do not carry the same weight of importance as they once did. This is my own opinion but I feel if facts lose their importance then conversations, accusations, claims and other such things turn into one big game of that kid’s game, “Telephone.” It is a game where one person whispers a statement into the ear of the person sitting next to them; who in turn, whispers the statement to the next and so on and so on, until the last person sitting in the circle repeats what they were told to the very first person who issued the statement. More than likely the statement was altered as it got passed from one person to the next. I learned from this dramatic film based on a true story that there were people back then who also did not believe in facts. HISTORIAN Deborah Lipstadt, played by Rachel Weisz (The Light Between Oceans, The Lobster), had to fly to London to prove in court that the Holocaust did indeed happen after she was sued for libel. In London’s judicial system the burden of proof is placed on the accused. This biographical film had outstanding acting provided not only by Rachel but also Tom Wilkinson (Snowden, Belle) as Richard Rampton, Timothy Spall (Harry Potter franchise, Enchanted) as David Irving and Andrew Scott (Spectre, Saving Private Ryan) as Anthony Julius. Based on Deborah’s book, History on Trial: My Day in Court, I found this film to be a taut courtroom drama. It was due to this cast that my interest stayed with the story because there were several scenes that lagged compared to others. I believe this was due to the script for the most part, though the directing had a hand in causing this slowness. Ultimately this did not weigh me down because I was very much into the story which interestingly one could draw parallels between it and the environment we currently live in.
I always felt I had a decent education; maybe not the top schools, but certainly a well rounded learning experience. Oh, except for a couple of teachers in my early schooling that should not have been allowed to teach. After my college years I still kept up my desire for learning. Using a variety of mediums such as radio, print and internet; I like to be and stay an informed individual. So here I sat watching this film and discovered I had no knowledge about it whatsoever. As the audience was filing out after the movie ended I made a comment to no one in particular, mentioning how the movie was intense. A couple of people in front of me turned and acknowledged the same thing, asking me if I knew this movie was based on a true story. I told them I did not and I was actually surprised I had never heard about it before, considering its significance in history. Standing in the lobby we discussed the movie and our lack of knowledge. It was interesting for us to compare our educational backgrounds, which included Big Ten universities and small city colleges; none of us knew about a specific early scene in this movie. I posed a question about the history classes we had taken; due to the time constraints placed on curriculum courses do teachers provide students only highlights from historical events or do they focus on the subjects they prefer to talk about? I do not have an answer for this; I just know I have to reconfigure my present knowledge to incorporate the story from this historic thriller. PARACHUTED back into their own country of Czechoslovakia Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, played by Cillian Murphy (Inception, In the Heart of the Sea) and Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey, The Fall-TV), had only one mission. They had to find a way to assassinate Adolf Hitler’s 3rd in command, SS General Reinhard Heydrich. Based on a true story this film also starred Charlotte Le Bon (The Hundred-Foot Journey, The Walk) as Marie, Toby Jones (Captain America franchise, Tale of Tales) as Uncle Hajsky and Brian Caspe (The Martian, The Illusionist) as Antonin. The story had a slow pace to start, but there was a continual buildup that intensified later in the film. I had wished the script would have stuck with the main story because I found the love aspect story line to be a distraction and not believable. It is understandable the writers wanted to humanize the characters but under the circumstances it took away the characters’ purpose in my opinion. The actual story I have to assume was more powerful than what this movie was able to achieve; however, I was still totally engaged by this biographical film. Though they were not graphic there still were violent, disturbing scenes. The editing did not help; I found choppy parts throughout the film. This may not have been the best interpretation of the actual chain of events (I just did not know how much of this movie was true, but I plan on finding out), but its importance in history and the movie in whole was a riveting experience for me. Violent scenes with blood.
Photo bombing is a recent phenomenon that has seeped into our consciousness. There is a late night talk show that even has a reoccurring comedy segment that involves it. I have noticed most news show whether they are devoted to serious journalism or entertainment spend more time displaying these types of photographs. Granted I enjoy them myself when they look spontaneous and unplanned. The photo op’s I do not understand are the ones that involve celebrities that have nothing in common. I understand the historical significance of political leaders’ meeting each other, but when it is say a world leader and some reality star standing next to each; what is the point? Having been a photographer I have mentioned previously how much I enjoy looking at photograpphs. With me writing film reviews now, I especially get a kick when a movie based on a true story shows photos of the actual people at the end of the story. I feel photographs are the portals that transport us back to our feelings, memories or history of a specific time. In my wildest dreams I would never have imagined how much the art of photography has changed like it has now. Almost every single person with a cell phone takes pictures these days. The proof is on my Facebook account; I have seen more photos of food than a grocery store warehouse. Wasn’t there a periodical that was known for its amazing photos? I am sure they would have shown something from the most unusual pairing in this film: the President of the United States and the King of Rock & Roll. SHOWING up at the gates of the White House one day was Elvis Presley, played by Michael Shannon (Midnight Special, Boardwalk Empire-TV). He had to see the President because he had something important to tell him. This film festival nominee was a surprise to me; I never heard anything about these 2 individuals meeting, let alone using their names in the same sentence. It is such a bizarre combination to me for some reason. However, it turned out to be ok because this historical comedy was so much fun to watch due to Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey (House of Cards-TV, The Usual Suspects) as President Nixon. The 2 actors were terrific in their roles. Though MIchael did not look like Elvis, his mannerisms and outfits were eye-catching. With Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four, Beastly) as Jerry and Colin Hanks (Orange County, The House Bunny) as Krogh making up part of the cast; I thought the acting was good overall. Because some scenes did not offer much detail I could not decide if parts of the story were true or not; they seemed too far-fetched to have happened. Additionally that lack of detail made a few parts of this film run slower for me. The story however remained fascinating because of the dichotomy of the two main characters. If there was no proof, such as a photo of the event taking place, I would never have believed this event.
The person asked me what movies I had seen the past weekend. I started going down the list of films and when I came to this movie they stopped me and asked, “How was it?” I made a few quick comments, not wanting to give too much away about the film. They looked at me and told me they believed it happened. I asked them what happened and they said the Holocaust. Their comment tripped up my brain momentarily; what did they mean they believed it happened, like there was any doubt? I did not respond to the comment because, to tell you the truth, I did not want to hear the answer. Were they a non-believer at some point or did their family and friends convince them the Holocaust never happened; I just did not want to get into a discussion about it with this person. However our brief conversation stayed with me for the day. I felt their comment could have come from a disrespectful, ignorant or hateful type of place. For someone to say the Holocaust never occurred would be a slap in the face to all of those who had suffered and died. I sat throughout the day wondering if this person ever met someone who had a relative or friend perish in the concentration camps or who had their forearm tattoed with a number, showing those now they survived the camps. If this person had seen the movie I could then assume their comment was meant for what they had seen because it was so intimate and personal. SAUL Auslander, played by relative newcomer Geza Rohrig, was forced to be part of a group of men who had to remove the dead bodies from the concentration camp’s gas chamber. When a boy was discovered still breathing among the dead, Saul morally could not ignore the boy’s breaths though it could get him killed. This Oscar nominated historic drama was utterly powerful on the movie screen. The director, by filming behind Saul’s head, turned this story into an intimate experience for the viewers. I felt as if I was part of Saul’s group, sharing all the horrors and terrors the men were experiencing at the time. This film festival winner may not be easy for some viewers who have not been exposed previously to Holocaust stories. I, myself, felt the director had taken this into consideration because most of the challenging scenes were set in the background just out of focus. This tactic allowed the viewer to remain with Saul and see exactly what was happening but maybe not at full force. One other thing I want to mention about the way this story was filmed. With such close shots there was a frenetic pace at times that added intensity to the scenes. It does not matter whether Saul was based on an actual individual because this film was just as real as the actual Holocaust. Hungarian and German was spoken with English subtitles.
3 1/2 stars