SHE INVITED ME OVER TO BE her taste-tester. A home cooked meal was always a treat, so I eagerly accepted the invitation. We had been friends for years; so, I was comfortable with her cooking for me, having had many dinners over at her place before. I insisted on bringing dessert. When I arrived, as soon as she opened the front door, I smelt a warm, homey aroma wafting in the air. Walking inside, I saw she had a bowl of guacamole and chips set out on her coffee table. This was an extra treat for me. We sat and caught up on each one’s life while munching on the food. At some point she asked me what I thought of the corn chips; I said they were fine. She said they were a new brand and she loved their freshness and taste. Honestly, they may have been; but, nothing to the point where I noticed a big enough difference that made them stand out for me. We were close to finishing off the guacamole when a bell sounded off. She said that was the timer, letting her know the food was done in the oven. Asking me to give her a couple of minutes, she got up and went into the kitchen, telling me to take a seat at the dining room table. THE FOOD SHE BROUGHT OUT LOOKED amazing; I could not wait to dig in and start eating it. She poured herself a glass of wine, knowing I did not like the taste of alcohol; I stuck to water for the evening. We each helped ourselves to the food she had set out on the table. It was as good as it looked; I could not have been happier. During the meal she brought up the subject of how she found many of the products that went into the meal. She knew I was teaching myself how to cook, I listened to her describe each product that she used for the meal; in fact, she had excused herself a couple of times to go into the kitchen and bring out some of the ingredients, so I could see for myself. Something rang odd about the whole situation, but I could not put my finger on it at the time. It was not until she insisted, I taste one ingredient, even pouring a little bit onto my plate, that I asked her what was going on. She told me she joined a food club and was positive I would like it; all I had to do was sign up online and pay a monthly membership fee. The whole purpose of me coming over was for her to get me to sign up under her name, so she could get points. I was angry she was not upfront about it before inviting me over. My anger was similar to one of the main characters’ feelings in this dramatic film. IT WAS AN UNUSUAL REQUEST; BUT Isabel, played by Michelle Williams (The Greatest Showman, All the Money in the World), knew she would have to do it if the orphanage was to receive the one-million-dollar donation. She just wanted it to be a quick, short trip to New York; however, there was more to the request waiting for her once she arrived. This dramatic film also starred Julianne Moore (Gloria Bell, Still Alice) as Theresa, Billy Crudup (Big Fish, Jackie) as Oscar, Abby Quinn (Landline, Radium Girls) as Grace and Alex Esola (The Young Pope-TV, Dangerous Lessons-TV Movie) as Jonathan. The strongest asset this movie had was the acting skills from the main cast. Michelle made her character extra special due to her nuanced and thoughtful performance; I could not stop watching her on the screen. Julianne was excellent but the writers and possible director did not provide her with enough emotional punch. The story was predictable and at times unrealistic to me; however, the acting kept me interested in the story. I did however find the story confusing because it did not know whether to be a mystery drama or a tearjerker. This movie could have been a powerful piece if the script had been better, which I believe would have upped the actors’ chances to be considered for an acting award this season. Instead, I felt manipulated and disappointed that this story did not match the quality of the actors.
2 ¼ stars
INTENSITY HAS BEEN A PART OF ME as long as when I became aware of my shadow. Many people have described me as being intense; or I should say, those who know me well enough know the amount of intensity I can generate in myself. I have always had a strong single mindedness that is like a starving, aggressive dog who will not let go of a found bone. There was a time where I was acutely aware of people around me feeling the heat coming off me when I am intensely, laser focused on one thing. Now you would think there must not be many things that I find intense, but you would be incorrect to assume such a thing. Driving in a violent storm is something that I find to be an intense situation. With the wind jostling the car and rain pelting the windshield relentlessly; I find myself with my shoulders stiff by my ears and my grip turning into a vise around the steering wheel. I used to react in a similar way when I used to ride roller coasters. Now I avoid most of them because I already deal with enough stress and do not want to willingly put more tension on myself. MORE THAN LIKELY MANY OF YOU have experienced some form of tension in your life. The first thing that comes to mind is a doctor’s office or hospital. I knew a person who would get such a strong reaction every time they went to the dentist that they decided to stop going all together. I am sure this happens more now than it used to, but I quickly become uncomfortable anytime someone is heckling a performer. Sitting in the audience and suddenly some random individual talks back to the artist or yells at them and I immediately tense up. I remember sitting in a smallish type of venue, watching a comedian. At one of their jokes a drunken guy in the audience shouted out a derogatory remark to the performer; I immediately tensed up and started worrying about what would happen next. The reason being, I remembered at a rock concert where someone threw a beer bottle towards the band and they instantly stopped the show and left the stage. I held my breath to see what the comedian would do. He came back with such a classic retort that I still use it to this day; it shut the heckler up. From the experiences I listed I can add something new that made me tense and on the edge of my seat, this film festival winning movie based on a true story. KNOWN FOR ITS ELEGANCE AND ATTENTION to its guests the Taj Hotel was the focal point for a terrorist group’s message to get out to the world. This dramatic thriller starred Dev Patel (Lion, The Man Who Knew Infinity) as Arjun, Armie Hammer (On the Basis of Sex, Sorry to Bother You) as David, Nazanin Boniadi (Ben-Hur, Homeland-TV) as Zahra, Tilda Cobham-Hervey (One Eyed Girl, The Kettering Incident-TV) as Sally and Alex Pinder (Ocean Girl-TV, Angel Baby) as Butler Jamon. I cannot remember the last time I sat through a movie where I was swept up into a tense state by the action on the screen. The actors were well suited for this story and they delivered in my opinion. I am telling you now this was not an easy movie to sit through because there was violence, bloodshed and terrifying scenes. Honestly, I did not care if everything I was watching was true or not; the fact that the script kept me engaged and kept my eyes riveted to the screen made the experience memorable for me. I suggest you prepare yourself before you see this film and remember to take deep breaths.
I have seen examples that both agree and disagree with the proverb, “blood is thicker than water.” Using the common definition that family relationships are more important than other types of relationships, I know a family with adult children who focus solely on each other; they hardly have any social activities that involve friendships. Everything they do they do together whether it is going to the health club, the movies, shopping or even carpooling; they only carpool with each other siblings’ children. It is obvious to me that friendships/relationships with people outside of their family are not important to them. AS another example, I know a couple who each came from a dysfunctional family. For them their friends became their family, becoming careful with the time they spent with any of their blood family members. I see them as 2 individuals who became family to each other, creating a safe and protected environment. Where their focus has been on each other, I have seen couples where one person still has as their main priority a family member such as a mother or brother, instead of their partner. I have always been fascinated with the dynamics between family members by blood or love. Two brothers who look nothing alike, who people think are so different from each other, still have a bond that allows them to communicate without talking out loud. Or how about twins who live far away from each other yet when one feels sick the other can sense it; can anyone explain this phenomenon? I recall an article in the newspaper about an elderly gentleman who traveled overseas for vacation. While leisurely strolling through a town he stopped at a café to order a drink and rest. He happened to be facing the doorway while seated and when a customer walked in a few minutes later, the man was stunned; the customer who walked in looked identical to himself. It turned out they were twins separated at birth. Each one expressed the sense of unexplained loss they had been carrying all these years. There is such a strong bond that remains with some family members. SEPARATED from his brother 5 year old Saroo, played by newcomer Sunny Pawar, traveled further than the boundaries of India; he wound up in Australia when husband and wife John and Sue Brierley, played by David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings franchise, Van Helsing) and Nicole Kidman (Secret in their Eyes, Paddington) adopted the young boy. As he grew up he began to understand certain feelings he had inside. This film festival winning movie based on a true story was a wonderful picture watching experience. Along with Dev Patel (The Last Airbender, Slumdog Millionaire) as Saroo Brierley and Rooney Mara (Carol, Side Effects) as Lucy; the acting in this picture was outstanding. This was Dev’s best performance in my opinion. The story was simply incredible and more amazing because it really happened. I found the 1st half of the film with the young Saroo, beautifully acted by Sunny, more intense due to the young child’s plight; the direction of the scenes kept me totally engrossed in the events. Because of that intensity the 2nd half of the movie felt a bit less so, but it still came across with subtle power. This could easily be an Oscar contender that showed the type of bonds we form for a family.
3 ½ stars
She had seen the advertisement on a social networking site so she felt it must have been true. All she needed to do was pay for shipping charges and she would get a free trial container of wrinkle remover for her face. The lotion arrived on time but a week afterwards another container arrived, followed by yet a 3rd one the next week. Checking her charge card statement when it arrived, she saw she was charged $70.00 for each additional product. With emailing the only option to communicate with the company, she was told everything was correct about the special advertised deal and it was stated as such in the fine print in the advertisement. I only knew about this person’s plight because it was recently on the news after she contacted a television station’s consumer hotline. I can see where things like this can happen because I tried retrieving a coupon for a free meal once that was posted online; all that I got was a bunch of junk emails for weeks. From that experience I never trust any offers online unless I have signed up to a well-known company; I am now prejudiced towards that form of advertising. Due to this it occurs to me that there are other ways we are taught not to believe something we see or hear. I have not only seen but have been the victim of someone’s disbelief in my answer solely based on external factors; in other words my physical appearance. I guess the person could not trust my answer because I did not look like I knew what I was talking about. There was someone I knew who kept having the same thing happen to them all the time because they did not dress in a fashionable way or because their clothing looked too worn. You know what they say about judging a book by its cover, don’t you? DESPITE what his colleagues at Cambridge thought mathematician G.H. Hardy, played by Jeremy Irons (Beautiful Creatures, Margin Call), felt there was something special about S. Ramanujan, played by Dev Patel (Chappie, Slumdog Millionaire). It did not matter to Professor Hardy that the poor young man was from India. Based on a true story this biographical drama was ripe for an incredible telling of it. With part of the cast including Tobey Jones (Captain America franchise, Infamous) as Littlewood and Malcolm Sinclair (Casino Royale, V for Vendetta) as Professor Cartwright, I thought the acting was extremely good especially from Dev and Jeremy. The story is so amazing I only wished the script would have followed suit by being more precise and intense. I felt there were some characters that needed more screen time to let their story develop properly. Maybe the script was a bit too formulaic and the director did not utilize the actors fully, but my interest in the story was kept for the majority of the time. This movie offered proof that there was good reason to look beyond the surface.
2 2/3 stars
I felt I was interrupting a prayer service as I stepped into the train car. The majority of the passengers had their heads bowed. They were all looking at their cell phones, though there were some with earbuds dripping out of their ears who stared off into space as if they were witnessing a vision. For whatever reason as I sat amongst them I wondered what the future would be like; would there be mobile apps to take care of all our needs? I have already witnessed the deterioration in our ability to communicate, I just wonder as we grow old will we be tucked away in our own tiny spaces having little contact with the outside world? Though I like my alone time, I find comfort in being part of a community. I may not see some of my neighbors for weeks, but we are well aware of each other’s routines and activities. It may be their car is in a different spot or their dog is out in the backyard; there is an invisible bond that connects all of us. Just this past weekend I was chipping away the melting ice from my walkway and my neighbor came over with an ax. Granted until I recognized him due to the sunlight shining in my eyes, I had a moment of fear spring up. WITH only one room left to rent in his hotel Sonny Kapoor, played by Dev Patel (Chappie, The Newsroom-TV), had his eye on a second property. It would already be a challenge; but with the added stress from the approval process and his upcoming wedding, Sonny would need a lot of things to go right if he was going to realize his dreams. This sequel saw the original cast like Maggie Smith (Quartet, Harry Potter franchise) as Muriel Donnelly and Judi Dench (Philomena, Skyfall) as Evelyn Greenslade mingling with new cast members such as Richard Gere (Brooklyn’s Finest, Amelia) playing Guy Chambers. I enjoyed seeing the cast again but there were parts of the script that I found unattractive. What I mean is I felt some of the writing came across as cheap and easy, not giving the actors enough to fully develop their characters. Sure there was the same mix of comedy and drama, but I did not find this film as entertaining as the first one. It was as if the writers did not know whether to make the story more like a madcap ensemble comedy piece or go in a more serious vein. I really hoped this would have been a better film because I was fond of the idea to have a group of people coming together as a family of choice, a real sense of community.
2 1/4 stars
Maybe I should have listened better when I was being told I was good with numbers. I say this because I have been seeing more examples of things being reduced to a number. There is the weekly box office results that list the top 5 grossing movies for the weekend. Reaching this list contributes to whether a film can be considered a success. However, I have seen numerous pictures that were excellent and they never made the list. Think about all the different food items that have been introduced only to be pushed off the grocery shelf for something bigger or better, at least according to the manufacturers. One of the more troubling aspects to this numbers game is when human beings are reduced to a number, a commodity. It is safe to say all of us have either experienced or known someone who has gone through staff reductions at their place of employment. It is hard for me to think of something worse at the workplace than having one’s dignity taken away by becoming a statistic in a company’s formula on how to save money. Knowledge and experience used to mean something but I fear numbers have beaten them down. In turn, don’t you find people who base decisions on how the numbers benefit them as being less humane? I do and this movie based on a true story shows what happens when numbers are considered the most important thing. Jon Hamm (The Town, Mad Men-TV) played sports agent JB. When he lost out on his last chance to sign up a sports celebrity, JB came up with an idea to hold a contest to look for potential baseball pitchers. His idea would take him all the way to an unlikely place. The story in this dramatic sports film certainly had potential. Jon played a believable character and had the good fortune to have Lake Bell (In a World, Black Rock) play his tenant Brenda. She was such a likable and convincing character. Sadly I could not say the same for Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) as Rinku and Madhur Mittal (Slumdog Millionaire, One 2 Ka 4) as Ninesh. The script reduced them to cartoon characters; I never felt a sense of who or what they were in this biographical picture. This contributed to the whole film being too sanitized and generic; there was no emotional depth that would allow me to care about any of them. At the beginning of this review I said you could see an example when numbers are a factor; let me clarify, the example was the studio playing it safe by sticking to the numbers instead of letting the story come to life. Added photos and videos of the actual people were shown during the ending credits.
2 1/4 stars
It can be seen as early as infancy. Some may mistake it for stubbornness, but it really is not. I feel a person is born with it, this determination to succeed. I have seen some babies spend untold time on a single item or toy until they came to some sort of conclusion in figuring it out. For all my years working in fitness centers, I have seen adults with walkers or in wheelchairs struggling against their own bodies to lift a weight or walk the track. I am in awe of the determined drive they have in achieving their goal. There are stories that come out that talk about something that seems humanly impossible. One such true story is Slavomir Rawicz’s book “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom” which inspired this Academy Award nominated movie. The year was 1940 as the world was breaking out into war. A group of men sentenced to a Siberian prison camp made their escape in the dead of winter. From the frigid arctic cold to the unbearable heat of the Gobi desert to the heights of the Himalayas, they walked 4000 miles as they made their way to India. I know, this story sounds unimaginable; but it made for a riveting film that was beautifully directed by Peter Weir (The Truman Show, Dead Poet’s Society). Jim Sturgess (One Day, Cloud Atlas) played the wrongly accused Polish prisoner Janusz. His skills would help the small band of escapees on their perilous journey. The casting for this dramatic adventure was a major asset in bringing the story to life. Among the actors were Ed Harris (A Beautiful Mind, A History of Violence) as Mr. Smith, Colin Farrell (Phone Booth, Total Recall) as Valka, Mark Strong (Body of Lies, Kick-Ass) as Khabarov and Saoirse Ronan (The Host, Atonement) as Irena. The scenes were so thoughtfully set up that I easily accepted everything as being real. In fact, I felt a shiver as I watched the men struggling in the cold harsh conditions. Though the film was long I never felt bored; even in simple scenes that seemed unnecessary, I felt the director was accurately portraying the group’s physical and emotional struggles. This really was an amazing feat of human strength that was done justice by this film. Some scenes had Russian and Polish with English subtitles. A few scenes briefly showed blood.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
Whether due to my parents or in spite of them, I never gave mind to a person’s surface. A person’s skin color, hair or lack of it, tall or short; none of it was important to me. What is inside of a person interests me. If I am to make any distinction, I would have to say it is between human and animal; with that being a fine line sometimes. As a credit manager I have had many dealings with companies that have done outsourcing. Personally I do not care who or where I am calling; I just want to be told the truth. If you are hired to do a job, just do your job. Having grown up in a neighborhood where everyone was similar, I am fascinated with different cultures in the world. This lighthearted comedy did a fun spin with the differences between American and Indian cultures. When Todd Anderson’s, played by Josh Hamilton (J. Edgar, The Bourne Identity), Seattle company outsourced their customer call center to India, he was sent over to train the new employees. I chuckled when Todd was explaining to his crew what the term branding meant in America. With the obvious disconnect between western and eastern ways; employee Asha, played by Ayesha Dharker (Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of the Clones, The Terrorist), suggested Todd become familiar with Indian ways. This would lead him onto a path of enlightenment (the yogi in me could not resist) as Todd found more in India besides quick customer service. There was a gentle sweetness to this story, which had a charming way of displaying the country’s culture. Along with a couple of surprise twists, I had a good time viewing this film. As an added bonus I felt I gained a little more insight about the people I call while at work.
2 2/3 stars — DVD
A monumental love story with a rich historical pedigree, this extravagant movie covered a lot of ground–literally. As I was watching this film, my mind flashed with images of past conflicts that have taken place around the world. A common factor I found present was the clashing of two distinct religions. Each side tried imposing their culture on the opposing force. I do not understand the reasoning behind some religions sending out members in an attempt to convert individuals. Where does this mentality of “my religion is better than yours” come from? Set in the 16th century, the Mughal ruler Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar, played by Hrithik Roshan (Luck by Chance, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara) formed an alliance with an opposing kingdom by agreeing to marry that ruler’s daughter. This was a radical idea due to the fact Akbar was Muslim and the princess was HIndu. Besides family members having their doubts, ministers of each court were leery of such an arrangement. How could Akbar make this marriage work with the strong willed Princess Jodhaa Bai, played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (Bride & Prejudice, Endhiran)? The first 30 minutes of this saga was hard for me to get into; I could not figure out what was going on. But trust me, it will be worth your wait as the story came alive when the focus turned to Akbar. I discovered if I watched this movie with my western sensibilities, it came across as this over the top, melodramatic soap opera. With soaring music that would sweep into the scene, people breaking out into song and a cast of thousands filmed for maximum exposure; this was a big Bollywood production. Granted the fight scenes were a bit hokey, especially with the one to one combatants, where one could see punches missing their intended targets. In spite of the technical deficiencies; the movie bloomed with beautifully colored scenes and told a story about respectfulness, tolerance and one of the greatest loves in history. Brief scene with blood. Hindi/Urdu with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD
How many of us as little kids fantasized about whom we would share our life with when we grew up? I am sure there were a multitude looking for their Prince Charming, Princess Jasmine, Superman or even their Wonder Woman. I have a cousin who used to insist she was adopted and that she would return to her royal birthright when she found her prince. There are some people who believe they can rise in status by marrying the right individual. But what if you belonged to a culture where there was a strong divide between the classes? This film’s story was an updated version of Thomas Hardy’s novel, Tess and the d’Urbervilles, set in India. Trishna, played by Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Immortals) came from a poor rural family. As the movie started I was surprised with the opening scenes showing a group of guys partying, wondering where the writers were taking this tale. One of the friends named Jay, played by Riz Ahmed (Four Lions, The Road to Guantanamo), happened to notice Trishna. From this chance meeting began a slow transition into the beginnings of a love relationship. Jay, the son of a wealthy Indian businessman, was the perfect gentleman at first; however, as the movie progressed the budding romance between the two took on a sinister flavor. Freida was lovely in this role as her rural upbringing clashed with Jay’s upper class sensibilities. I was lost though on Jay’s character development, never fully understood his motives. The story broke apart halfway through for me and I lost my interest in the unfolding events. It was a good idea bringing the story into a modern setting, in an exotic locale; but it needed more drama and explanation to make it a good movie. There were a couple of scenes that showed blood.
2 1/2 stars