FROM THE VARIOUS HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS, I have participated in, this year will provide me with something new. Considering I have been a witness to holiday events that spanned the spectrum from elegant to outrageous, that is saying something. I was invited to a family’s holiday dinner where a fight broke out between 2 sisters at the dining room table. The one sister broke down in tears and ran out of the room; talk about a conversation killer. At another celebration, one of the family’s elders had all the little children sit around the Christmas tree; so, he could tell them the history behind several of the ornaments. That was a wonderful experience because there was a plain, lopsided star shaped, wooden ornament on the tree that had been handed down in the family for generations. I think it was someone like a great, great, great grandparent who had carved the ornament. Listening to the stories behind the tree ornaments was such a cool experience for me and they were not even my own family. As you can see just from these 2 examples, I have been to a variety of family holiday functions and dysfunctions to the point I had thought there was nothing left to surprise me. HEARING HOW THE PRESENTS WERE TO be distributed made me think a logistics company needed to be involved. One person was waiting for a group of packages to be delivered to their house. Once received, they then had to take them and drive to two family members’ houses to drop them off. At the 2ndstop, after their car trunk was empty, they were to receive a group of presents that they then had to bring back to their house. From there another family member was going to arrive to take half the packages and deliver them to relatives who lived down in the city. Several remaining packages were to be driven to relatives who lived close by. I did not have to be the driver for any of these excursions; I just had to carry the presents to load and unload from the cars that pulled into the garage. Once all the packages get delivered to the intended family members, we are going to do a video call where all of us can see each other opening our presents. I have visions of us looking like the opening credits of the TV show, The Brady Bunch; each of us in our own little tick tock box. This will be a new experience for me, and I am guessing for some of you. At least getting together this way has the potential to cut down on the type of antics that went on amongst the family members in this film festival nominee. WITHOUT HER DAUGHTER JOINING HER FOR the holiday Claudia Larson, played by Holly Hunter (The Big Sick, Broadcast News) would have to face her family alone. With low expectations, Claudia was hoping there would be little drama she would get pulled into. With Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man franchise, Due Date) as Tommy Larson, Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker, The Graduate) as Adele Larson, Charles Durning (Tootsie, Dog Day Afternoon) as Henry Larson and Dylan McDermott (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Olympus Has Fallen) as Leo Fish; this comedic romance drama had the makings of an old fashioned crazy comedy in the same vein as Bringing Up Baby or Arsenic and Old Lace. The acting was excellent from the entire cast as they played a cast of characters. Where this film falters is the unevenness between the scenes. There were some heartfelt dramatic ones that grabbed me, but then there were others that felt flat and predictable. I will say the writers did a decent job with trying to capture all sides of a family gathering. On a positive note, after seeing this film I am looking forward to having a video family gathering, that comes with a mute button. A safe and happy holiday season I wish to all of you.
2 ½ stars
THE EXPECTATION IS TO LIVE HAPPILY ever after, but sometimes it is not meant to be. With any of my past relationships, I knew that is what I had always hoped would happen. For me, it was part of my belief system that each of us was put here to find happiness; finding someone you could share your happiness with was an extra bonus. That doesn’t mean one cannot be happy without a significant other; on the contrary, I have always said no one can make you feel a certain way. Each of us control how we choose to feel. I have never been a “love at first sight” type of guy; however, there have been times where I felt an immediate connection. You know, where the conversation makes you forget the time and place, as the two of you volley and share thoughts, feelings and ideas back and forth. I remember a date where we sat in a coffeeshop for hours talking and laughing until we noticed the wait staff was starting to turn the chairs over onto the tables, on the way to closing the place up. I know I have said this before, but it bears repeating: A relationship is when 2 people are walking side by side down a long path that has hills and valleys; sometimes, one has to help pull the other along or push them up. However, no matter where they are walking, they are always side by side. NOW THAT YOU KNOW MY PHILOSOPHY, you can see why I feel if two people in a committed relationship do not grow together their relationship will never survive. They do not have to be growing at the same rate or same level; but if they are not growing then the relationship and love will go stale and wilt away. This is something I firmly believe. I knew a couple who had been married for several years. As time went on, I became aware one of the two was venturing into new activities; the other one was content with the way things were already going. At some point only one was taking trips with their friends, instead of both going together. I knew something had to be going on with them. Well it was not soon after they wound up breaking up and going their own way. It was certainly not a surprise to those of us who were noticing the changes taking place. I felt bad for the content one because they were shocked when their partner decided to breakup with them. It was like they were lost at sea, drifting aimlessly with no where to moor. To see what I am talking about you might want to see what happens to the main character in this film festival nominee. HAVING BEEN BLINDSIDED BY HER HUSBAND’S decision to end their marriage, a middle-aged woman would have to find a new life for herself. It would first start in the elevator of her apartment building. With Holly Hunter (The Big Sick, Thirteen) as Judith Moore, Danny DeVito (Batman Returns, The War of the Roses) as Pat Francato, Queen Latifah (Hairspray, Bringing Down the House) as Liz Bailey, Martin Donovan (Tenet, Inherent Vice) as Robert Nelson and Richard Schiff (Man of Steel, The West Wing-TV) as Phil Francato; this romantic comedy drama stood out for me with the performances of Danny and Holly. It felt as if they were completely into their characters. There was an even mix of humor and sadness throughout the script, which was a big help in my opinion, because otherwise the plot would have been more generic than it was already. Having known people in the same situation as Judith, I appreciated the journey she took us on as she dealt with her emotions and newly discovered growth.
2 ½ stars
MY SUPERPOWER IS THE ABILITY TO withstand high temperatures. While most people are wilting under an oppressive heat index, I am casually making my way around them without a drop of sweat. I feel everyone has a superpower; they may not necessarily know it though. Also, some may have a power that benefits no one and may even be a detriment to the planet. There was a guy I knew who always lied; in other words, he never told the truth. His tales were quite believable unless you had a history with him and even then, one could never keep up with his lies. This was his superpower. On the other hand, I know a woman who is an advocate for animals. Her whole life she has been involved with rescuing dogs. She is like a dog whisperer the way she connects with them. Every day she makes these dogs their meals; we are not talking about kibble out of a bag. She is mixing organic ingredients with vitamin supplements for each meal. I saw her make the morning meal once and I swear she looked like a pharmacist, the way she measured out powders and liquids to the protein source. Rescuing dogs was her superpower. IF YOU LOOK AT FAMOUS individuals, both alive and deceased, you will be able to figure out each one’s superpower. The obvious ones would be those people who are in the sports world; you know, like runners and figure skaters. Outside of sports it may not always be easy to decipher a person’s superpower. Without naming names, since I do not want to incur any type of lawsuits, there is someone who is the best when it comes to self-promoting. Another person is a great inventor, someone else is gifted in creating chaos and another has an amazing mind for business; therefore, I say everyone has a superpower. The ones who impress me the most are the people who do not let their superpower define them. They can blend in with society, going undetected for the gifts they can offer people. Maybe you have seen some individuals who have made a positive impact with their generosity, both material and financial. I think it is great they are motivated to do the things they do; however, have you ever noticed some are in every photo op? The thing is, being out in front of the cameras can be both a good and a bad thing; a lesson the family in this animated action, adventure film knew so well. LOOKING TO PAINT A POSITIVE image it was decided that Helen Parr/Elastigirl, voiced by Holly Hunt (The Big Sick, Won’t Back Down), would be the face of the Incredibles. This meant Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible, voiced by Craig T. Nelson (Book Club, The Family Stone), would be the one to stay home and take care of the kids. With Sarah Vowell (A.C.O.D., Six Degrees-TV) voicing Violet Parr, relative newcomer Huck Milner voicing Dashiell Parr/Dash and Samuel L. Jackson (Big Game, Kong: Skull Island) voicing Lucius Best/Frozone; I thought the adult cast members were all ideal actors for their characters. It has been such a long time since the first Incredibles movie came out that I have only a vague memory of it; however, it was not a problem for following this wonderful film. I enjoyed the mix of retro and futuristic vibes in the story. The fact we saw these superheroes as an average family made the story extra fun for me. It was the juxtaposition of daily life concerns with crime fighting feats that did it for me. The pacing was on point and I thought the humor was fitting for both children and adults. It took a long time to get this family back on the screen; I hope it doesn’t take over another decade to see them again.
3 ½ stars
WALKING into the room I thought I was prepared for what I would see. I guess I was not because they were stretched out on the sofa, propped up with pillows that made them look like crumbled facial tissue. They were pale and listless with faded eyes that could only open halfway. My germaphobic tendencies were in a tug of war with my desire to take care of them. I do not always win this war; there are times I have to be lead in under a fog of just released air sanitizer and rubber gloves. The underlying motivation that pushes me is my love for them. When I am deep in a relationship it can be so painful for me to see my loved one sick that I would rather be the one with the illness; you know that says a lot coming from someone who avoids door handles and elevator buttons. ILLNESS is part of life; there is no way to avoid a sickness though heaven knows I keep trying. When one begins a love relationship they usually are not thinking about the possibility of being a caregiver at some point. The beginning stages of romance involve intimate dinners, exciting or restful travels, being schooled in the likes and dislikes of the other; all wonderful and valid experiences that form a solid foundation in which the two can build their relationship on. To have a sickness at the beginning stages of a deep love can be a painful test of one’s commitment. I have known a few individuals who could not handle the responsibilities associated with being a supportive partner during their loved one’s sickness. It is an ugly situation no matter how you look at it. I will never forget being in the early stages of dating this person who kept commenting about the hair on my chest. It seemed a bit over the top to me so I asked how they would feel if I ever had to go through chemo and lost it. They had to stop and think about it. FROM what only appeared to be a hook-up turned into a growing romance between stand up comic Kumail and graduate student Emily, played by Kumail Nanjiani (Central Intelligence, Silicon Valley-TV) and Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks, What If). The relationship would not sit well with Kumail’s parents who were planning for his marriage. This film festival winning romantic comedy based on true events was utterly charming in a new fresh way from the typical rom-com. With Holly Hunter (Strange Weather, The Big White) as Beth, Ray Romano (Rob the Mob, The Last Word) as Terry and Zenobia Shroff (When Harry Tries to Marry, Percy) as Sharmeen; the actors made up a solid ensemble with Holly and Zoe being the stand outs for me. The script was intelligent and had an easy flow between comedy, intimacy, sadness and reality. I was fascinated by the added element of cultural differences provided by Kumail and his family. The way humor was drawn out from several of their scenes was done with kindness and affection. One example on the smartness of the script was the inclusion of the standup comedy sessions; it provided a nice balance to the illness element. The diagnosis for this movie is it will not make you sick, you will feel good instead and it will show you perseverance; just what the movie doctor ordered.
3 ½ stars
If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. But what happens if they do not come back? Let me tell you what happens; the vacated space in your heart will become listless for a time. Your memories go through a transformation that softens the hard edges, like water continuously running through a forming canyon. There may be times where a particular memory morphs with fantasy to create a totally new experience. You believe what you are recalling even though it never really happened. Remember that time where the two of you were supposed to celebrate your anniversary but they could not get away from work? Though at the time you were upset, you now look back at it with fondness because they made it up to you with a spectacular day. Never mind they were never really at work but out with friends and just did not want to tell you. Now you can say what you want, but unless you work really hard on confronting, dealing and expunging your anger over your breakup; your anger will always find a way to come out. And it may happen in the most inappropriate of ways. I know about these things because anger used to be a close friend of mine. One time my bathtub got stopped up and for some reason I bought this plastic pump contraption. I tried putting it together to make it work, but it only frustrated me and I exploded with anger, taking a hammer to it until it was in a million pieces. Just like the character in this dramatic film. LOCKSMITH A. J. Manglehorn, played by Al Pacino (Danny Collins, The Godfather franchise), lived a quiet life with his cat. Well, quiet only when he was not breaking his furniture. What made this film festival nominee attractive to me was seeing Al Pacino teamed up with Holly Hunter (The Piano, Raising Arizona) playing bank teller Dawn. The two of them were wonderful and I wished they had more screen time together. This was the issue I had with this film; the story needed to spend more time on them, instead of spending time with A. J.’s son Jacob, played by Chris Messina (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Argo). His scenes seemed to be filler for the story; though I knew they were trying to make a point about Manglehorn. It all came down to the script in my opinion. The directing was fine but without a strong script I was never fully invested in the story. To me it seemed like it was never really going anywhere until the very end. Who knows maybe down the road I will look back at this film and like it more than I really did.
2 1/4 stars
Rarely am I impressed with someone’s job. My motto has always been “someone has to graduate at the top of the class and someone at the bottom of the class.” But when it comes to teachers, I have to admit I am somewhat biased. Both my brothers were teachers; one was a career AP history and sociology high school teacher and the other was an EMH teacher; the letters stood for educable mentally handicapped. I think today the title would be a special needs teacher. From my school years I can absolutely vouch for the effect a teacher can make on a student. For every positive effect there is an equal amount of negative ones. When it came to this movie, I understood what single mother Jamie Fitzpatrick, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (Hysteria, Crazy Heart), hoped to accomplish. She wanted her daughter to get a decent education from the PIttsburgh school system. With poor conditions and uninterested tenured teachers at the failing, inner city school; Jamie waged a battle against the school system. To achieve change, her tenacity would be met by an unyielding school bureaucracy, fearful teacher’s union and skeptical parents; all determined to protect their own interests. For Jamie to make a solid case, she would first need to win over teacher Nona Alberts, played by Viola Davis (The Help, Doubt). This film was a mess; it received a failing grade from me. Though Viola gave it her best it was not enough, the script was ridiculous; filled with cliches, manipulation and catch phrases. I found Maggie one dimensional and felt her relationship made no sense with teacher Michael Perry, played by Oscar Isaac (Drive, Body of Lies). The story did not know what it wanted; going with an anti union message, then back tracking on it. What could have been a powerful movie was instead slow and uninteresting. Give this film a detention for being boring.
1 2/3 stars