WHEN I WAS A SMALL BOY, I was obsessed with pencil sharpeners. Though my obsession lasted a couple of years, I acquired a large collection of them within that time frame. I had several pencil sharpeners that were in the shape of airplanes and rocket ships; another group of them was made up of different animals. I would rotate bringing different sharpeners to school with me; as you might expect, I never had a dull pencil at my desk. There was a game I used to play with myself when sharpening a pencil. I would try to turn the pencil continuously to see if I could get one long shaving off of it. Yes, I was an intense child at times. One of my favorite pencil sharpeners was a flying saucer, the top half white and the bottom gray. The pencil hole was right in the center on the top, which allowed the pencil shavings to spin around the interior circumference of the round saucer. There was always a good chance I could get a long shaving with this pencil sharpener. At home, I would keep this sharpener in a desk drawer and whenever I needed it, I would take it out and hold it high in the air, pretending it was flying. AS I GREW UP MY OBSESSION faded away and the pencil sharpeners were relegated to an old shoebox that resided up on a shelf in a closet. Through the years, I had other things that became my new obsession. In one of my recent reviews I talked about my thing for wristwatches; so, you see I have been visited by obsessions through my whole life. Whenever I have had conversations and talked about an obsession, I always say I prefer shaking hands with the obsession instead of trying to wrestle it. The thing I am grateful for (if there is something to be grateful about) is my obsessions never involved other people. They were always things that only had an affect on me, whether it was pencil sharpeners, wristwatches or dance music CDs. I had a friend who became obsessed with someone she met online. This altered her daily life to the point it put a strain on her friendships. She would cancel dates with friends so she could drive to finally meet this individual at a central location, only to receive a last minute text that he was called into work or some other excuse like that. Yet she would do the same thing over and over to the point some of her friends refused to make plans with her. I could see their point, but I tried to stay neutral; her obsession was preventing her from coming to terms with the reality of her situation. I could say the same thing about the main character in this dramatic movie. WRITER AND CRITIC MORTON VINT, PLAYED by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The 12th Man, The Tudors-TV), wanted to know everything he could about the famous poet Jeffrey Aspern, played by Jon Kortajarena (The Cliff, A Single Man). He would even pretend to be someone else if it meant getting more information about his favorite poet. With Vanessa Redgrave (Letters to Juliet, Howards End) as Juliana Bordereau, Joely Richardson (Event Horizon, Maggie) as Miss Tina and Lois Robbins (Girls Nite Out, One Life to Live-TV) as Mrs. Prest; the only reason to see this film would be to watch Vanessa and Joely working together. They were wonderful to watch as they powered their way through the weak script. I thought Jonathan’s character was not believable; he came across so odd to me that I found him uninteresting. The scenery and sets were pleasing but due to the direction and script I felt many opportunities were lost to add drama and back-story. It was sad to see Vanessa and Joely being wasted in this misfired picture. I only wished the writers would have been obsessed with telling a good story as much as Morton was obsessed with the poet Jeffrey Aspern.
1 ½ stars
THE LINE BETWEEN LIKE and love is a permeable one. In my past relationships I can come close to telling you when I went from liking to loving the person, but I cannot give you an exact moment when it happened. Though each relationship was unique, there were a series of events/moments in each one which were the catalysts that made me fall in love with them. Where in one relationship we were exact opposites, to one where we could finish each other’s sentences; they each combined with me in such a way where love sprung out of my heart. Recently talking with friends the question was posed to one, “Do you love him?” The reply was meaningful to me because they talked about always feeling different in past relationships, not referring to it being a bad or good thing. With their present relationship they felt for the first time that they found someone who thinks and acts in a similar way to themself. I FOUND THEIR ANSWER powerful, the idea of feeling like you are the only one until someone comes along who appears to belong to your particular “species.” Love truly has a way of sorting out the various attributes (some would say faults) of a person and ranking them in some sort of hierarchy in importance. A friend of mine’s past significant other loved eating in bed. I am talking where there would be crumbs in the sheets, according to what I heard. Truthfully I do not know if I could handle that situation; if I put myself in their place I might not have continued long enough to have fallen in love with the individual because of their eating in bed. It is similar to some people who refuse to date someone who smokes cigarettes. Love has such a way of smoothing out the wrinkled doubts and buffing away the rusty fearfulness; it has its own special type of fluidity in my opinion. I really see it as falling in love with the person’s being, which I refer to as their makeup; their actions and thoughts as opposed to their appearance. You might at one time looked at a couple and wondered what the two saw in each other; but you know what, you are not in love with one of them, so you are not seeing who they see. LIVING A RELAXED EXISTENCE at his parents’ villa in northern Italy Elio, played by Timothee Chalamet (Lady Bird, Love the Coopers), becomes intrigued with his father’s guest Oliver, played by Armie Hammer (The Long Ranger, The Social Network). There is something about Oliver that intrigues him in a way he has never felt before. This film festival winning dramatic romance also starred Michael Stuhlbarg (The Shape of Water, A Serious Man) as Mr. Perlman, Amira Casar (Night of a 1000 Hours, Saint Laurent) as Annella and Esther Garrel (House of Tolerance, Jealousy) as Marzia. The scenes in this movie were so lush and beautiful; I felt I was on a trip through Italy. I thought the framing of the scenes was thoughtful and precise because it laid the groundwork for the smoldering tension that was rising up in the story. Timothee was amazing in his role; his way of conveying emotions was almost palatable in the theater. As for Armie I felt this was a smart move on his part to focus on his acting ability, instead of just being a part of some big budget picture. Now I will say the script was not without fault; there were times where I felt the story dragged. However, I did appreciate the subtleness to the story. Love is one of the most powerful emotions and it was obvious this film was created with love, because they took the time to show what happens when one goes from liking to loving a person.
3 ¼ stars
THE GUESTS I was hosting were curious to see the city’s diverse neighborhoods. I put the afternoon aside to take them on a driving tour. After explaining how the city streets were based on a grid system, making it difficult to get lost as long as one could see a street address, we drove off to our 1st neighborhood. It so happens this was the area where I grew up. Driving around I explained the significance of several buildings, pointed out artifacts of interest and shared some of my personal history along the way. When I explained how I could walk to the main shopping district from my house without using any of the streets, they urged me to show them. I pointed out the several buildings’ gangways and alleys I traversed to make my way to the grocery store. There was no need to explain to them that this was one of my safe routes when I was a kid. AFTER SPENDING THE day showing them several neighborhoods I had some down time, letting my mind drift back to the spots that meant something to me. It is funny how as one grows older things that were important become less so. Memories that were crystal clear and vibrant now look dull as if every recall of them had buffed the layers away. There was the neighborhood’s casual restaurant where my friends and I would sit for a couple of hours to solve what we thought were such urgent matters. All of them seemed so insignificant now through aged eyes. One of the neighborhoods I drove my guests through had a two storied nightclub where I had dreams of being hired as a dancer. If I straighten up now too fast from tying my shoelaces I get lightheaded; how did time go by so fast? Having seen my old public library brought back a flood of emotions for it was one of my safe havens. It was there that I could nestle into one of the alcoves with a stack of books in front of me as cover. How I used to dream about what my life would become only to see it now from much further down the road, as I strolled along my path of scattered memories. SPENDING YEARS PARTYING with the upper echelon of society journalist Jeb Gambardella, played by Toni Servillo (The Girl by the Lake, The Consequences of Love), pretty much knew or knew about everyone. But at this stage of his life did he really want to know them? This Oscar and film festival winning drama also starred Carlo Verdone (Me, Them and Lara; Fun is Beautiful) as Romano, Sabrina Ferilli (Forever Young, 3 Women) as Ramona and Carlo Bucci Rosso (The New Monsters Today, Il Divo) as Lello Cava. Set in Italy, it was beautiful watching this movie. Not just the outdoor scenes but even the indoor ones each offered something for the viewer. As I began this DVD I did not connect immediately to the story; however, there was something about the way the film was shot that drew me in. I found it especially interesting that I perceived all the actors to be friends, which was due to how well they all blended together in the story. There was some confusion on my part whether the story was being told in chronological order or not, but it did not distract me too much. I will say I thought the film ran too long; the script could have used some editing. In a way this was an interesting study of the aging process. Italian was spoken with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD
SEEING the digital clock was less stressful than watching the second hand of a clock dial counting down the seconds. Traffic was unbearable with construction slowdowns and drivers distracted by a car pulled over to the shoulder due to a flat tire. Finally I made it to the airport parking lot only to find out it was full. How was that possible!?!? I was directed to an unmanned remote lot that was automated; where I had to insert my charge card to get in. My irritation was rising since I was already anticipating being stuck at the security lines inside the airport. Finding a parking space at the outskirts of the lot I had to wait for the free shuttle to pick me up and take me to the airport terminal. Time was ticking down and I refused to look at my watch. What would be the point, there was nothing I could do about it. MY years of commuting on public transportation gave me an advantage over the other passengers on the train; I was able to maneuver to the exit door that I remembered would stop right next to the UP escalator. The train came to a halt and the doors slid open. I ran out and quickly made my way to the departure gate area. The lines were not as long as I had expected but I did get stuck behind a family that kept setting off the metal detector, delaying my turn. I knew the airlines shut the doors of the plane before the departure time so I would have to run through the terminal to get to my gate. It was not easy with a heavy backpack and a carry-on bag that had a broken wheel. The sweat on my forehead was trickling down as I reached my gate only to become disappointed; my flight had been cancelled. The way I felt back then was similar to the way I felt watching this sequel. SUFFERING amnesia from a head wound Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks (Sully, Bridge of Spies), would have to depend on Dr. Sienna Brooks, played by Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything, Like Crazy), to fill in some of the missing blanks while being chased by a killer. This action adventure film was set in some beautiful locations such as Florence and Venice, Italy. With Ben Foster (Lone Survivor, Hell of High Water) as Bertrand Zobrist and Omar Sy (The Intouchables, Jurassic World) as Christoph Bouchard; I thought the supporting actors were stronger on screen than Tom or Felicity. The reason being there was no chemistry between these two, besides the script offered very little to help them. I have to tell you this crime movie was one long series of chase scenes that had no sense of excitement or drama. The story which was a bit confusing did not offer anything substantial for character development. It was not until the last portion of the film where I felt things were improving. My favorite parts in this movie were the Italian and Turkish settings. With all the time, money and effort put into this film I wonder if the movie studio is experiencing disappointment now.
1 ¾ stars
THERE was a time where the boundaries between reality and fantasy had more distance between each other. Most of my life I wanted to stay in the realm of fantasy but understood it would only be a short visit for some respite. Things have changed now where the barrier has taken on a porous consistency between true and false, fantasy and reality. The biggest culprit I feel that started all of this is reality television shows. Sure when the few first ones aired they were a novelty; but come on now, how authentic are they really? We live in a world where people are getting famous for doing absolutely nothing. No seriously, some of these reality celebrities have huge followings and what I find upsetting is the effect they have on young people. GIRLS and boys watch these self-centered, snobby; better than you attitude individuals who are gaining wealth, notoriety or fame and these kids want to be just like them. What kind of values will the next generation have when they grow up? I do not want this “soapbox speech” dishing all reality shows because there are a few I find enjoyable. The difference for me is these shows in my opinion involve talent, hard work or help make a better life for individuals who could use the help. Outside of that I have no desire to see couples being split up to get farmed out to a different family or to watch people looking for true love on an island where they are paired up on dates sans clothing. Stuff like this is so bizarre to me; I just do not get it. Let me show you an example of what I am talking about in this dramatic comedy. FISH stand owner Luciano, played by Aniello Arena (Fiore), believed his life would change for the better; he just needed to get on the reality show, “Big Brother.” This film festival winning movie had a cast of actors, such as Loredana Simioli (Perez, Gorbaciof) as Maria, Raffaele Ferrante (Ventitre) as Enzo and Nando Paone (Welcome to the South, Bulldozer) as Michele; who seemed like real people to me. I found the story had a strong undercurrent of dark satire that wore a coat of humor and sadness. Being a fan of Italy I thought the sets and the outdoor scenes were wonderful; there was something about the building where Luciano lived that I found to be an extension of him and his family. There were parts of the script that muddled the story. On one hand there were scenes shown where I thought this was too far-fetched; but after the movie was over I gave more thought to it and came to the conclusion anything was possible. Let me add one need not have seen the television show Big Brother to understand what was taking place in this movie. Also, the subtitles did not interfere with me being able to watch and enjoy this wild picture. I do not know what kind of statement is being made when I can watch a picture like this and think sure, this could have happened in the real world. Italian was spoken with English subtitles.
3 ¼ stars — DVD
If the animal kingdom has several species like tiger sharks and hamsters that eat or discard their young, then does it not make sense there would be some humans who do the same thing? Maybe I should clarify what I mean since I am not saying there are parents who literally eat their children; I am referring more to the discarding or the total emotional and mental consumption aspect of the parent/child relationship. From stories I have heard to ones I have seen reported on the news I still react with a sense of shock to some of the stories. For example when the news reporter is interviewing the parents of a child accused of a killing spree or bombing a place I have to wonder if the parents really had no idea their child was capable of such an act. The parents tearfully express their sadness, telling the reporter their son or daughter was always a good child. I am curious about this; is it possible or are the parents so removed from their child’s life they have no clue what their children are capable of doing? I do not have an answer. Perhaps I mentioned this in an earlier review about my friend who was on a jury involved in a case about a mother who hung her 2 year old son off the fire escape of their apartment building. What would possess a parent to do such a thing? But then I think about the classes I attended in school where we had a discussion about the culture where parents would drown their new born babies if they were born female. Now I have such a hard time wrapping stuff like this around my brain because I feel children do not ask to come into this world; however, if a person is going to bring a child into this world then they need to do what is in the best interests for that child. I would be curious to hear what you think about what happened in this dramatic film. FIFTEEN years had passed before Gianni, played by Kim Rossi Stuart (Angel of Evil, Those Happy Years), decided to see his handicapped son Paolo, played by newcomer Andrea Rossi, for the first time. Gianni did not know what to expect. This film festival winning movie was fortunate to have Charlotte Rampling (45 Years, The Duchess) play the character Nicole because she was wonderful in the role. Along with Pierfrancesco Favino (World War Z, Angels & Demons) as Alberto the script tended to push the sentimental aspects of the story but to tell you the truth it did not bother me. I was grabbed early on into this picture, impressed by the acting and the story. If this had been done by a Hollywood studio I think this film would have been over done; instead, the direction and script provided a straight forward and honest portrayal of the events. There was a line that Charlotte’s character says that will prove my point. Do not be surprised if this foreign film gives you a new appreciation of what it means to be a parent. Italian and German were spoken with English subtitles.
3 ¼ stars — DVD
The landscape of one’s life may be properly maintained, with a meticulous eye to detail to make everything look ideal. Each component made to fit together so no one would see a gap or break across the land. It pretty much has everyone fooled. The reason I say this is because if someone from your past, who parted not being in synch with your feelings, suddenly showed up in your life the blurred lines around you both could cause a ripple effect that tills the soil around your present life. I have seen this for myself and to be honest have experienced it too. There was a couple I knew where I was originally friends with one of them before they were in the relationship; so I knew much of their history. The two of them lived together and anyone who met them thought they made the perfect couple. However when a person my friend had lived with previously came back into their life, the foundation for the present relationship started to crumble. Maybe there had not been much communication or the expression of feelings before but it was obvious there still was a connection with their former lover. I remember being at a small dinner party where the past and present relationships were together and it was obvious there was a murky tension between all of them. It was a tough situation and in fact I may experience something similar in the near future because I have heard talk about someone from my past is planning a visit to come here and meet up with friends. And this trip would include the new person in their life. I know I do not want to experience any of the drama that I saw playing out in this dramatic movie. ENJOYING a peaceful, quiet time off the coast of Italy rock star Marianne Lane and her boyfriend Paul De Smedt, played by Tilda Swinton (Trainwreck, Only Lovers Left Alive) and Matthias Schoenaerts (The Drop, Rust and Bone), suddenly had their trip disrupted by the appearance of record producer Harry Hawkes and his daughter Penelope Lannier, played by Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter franchise, Spectre) and Dakota Johnson (How to be Single, Fifty Shades of Grey). Their visit would stir up things that were better left alone. This film festival winner had some beautiful outdoor film shots; besides the acting it was a highlight for me. As for the cast I thought they all were wonderful and because of them I was able to still stay somewhat interested in what was otherwise a dysfunctional story. I thought the script was a mess; the story morphed from a drama to a mystery and changed the entire tone. A shame because I could not stay engaged with the characters despite the good acting. If the script had stuck with one story line I think it would have made for a better movie experience. The idea behind this story was something I could follow; I just wished it had been cleaner in its execution. Several scenes were spoken in Italian with English subtitles.
2 1/4 stars
I was an admirer of this charitable organization; they were doing good work in the community. There were friends who used its services and spoke highly about their visits. Despite my hectic schedule I found time to volunteer from time to time, always finding a friendly and helpful staff. Leading the organization was a powerful individual who could easily command a room. They were a dynamic public speaker, so passionate about the organization’s work. Their speeches would stir and motivate the employees and volunteers to such a high level, one could not help but want to be a part of the “team.” I, like the others, put my trust in this leader; believing everything we were doing was in the best interests of the end user. When news spread about the misappropriation of funds, I had a reaction similar to when someone I care about breaks my trust. It felt like a punch in the stomach that echoed with feeling sadly duped and foolish. Things like this can shake one’s confidence in their ability to detect an unscrupulous person. ENAMORED by his looks and strong presence Ida Dalser, played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno (Don’t Tell, Facing Windows) felt she could act on her strong attraction to this man named Benito Mussollini, played by Filippo Timi (The American, The Double Hour). It appeared he felt the same way about her as the two started a relationship that would reach historical proportions. First of all I do not know if I am in the minority or not, but I had never heard the name Ida Dalser mentioned in any of my past history classes. As you may have guessed I had no idea what this movie was about when I starting watching the DVD. This film festival winning biographical drama was a complete shock to me. Both Giovanna and Filippo were so intense in their characters, I was immediately drawn to them; their acting was incredible. Add in the historical significance of the story and I was glued to the television screen. I thought the directing, the sets and even the costumes all worked at making this a strong, emotionally wrought movie. For the most part the subtitles were easy to read, though I did notice I was getting concerned I would miss something in the scene while reading. I do not believe so since everything I saw made sense to me. After viewing this picture I had to look up further information on Ida. However, I cannot guarantee the authenticity of this picture’s story. If some of the scenes were untrue it did not matter because the story was unbelievable. There was Italian and German languages used with English subtitles.
3 1/2 stars — DVD
Keep the luxury cars, the big mansions, the designer clothes and the fancy restaurants; true luxury for me is taking a vacation. Being able to leave the daily responsibilities of living behind me, a vacation is a time where I can let the rigors of my days’ requirements melt off of me like spring’s first thaw. When away on vacation I always seek out meals from local establishments. It is funny, I am a picky eater who rarely orders something off a menu without asking for something to be changed; however, I thoroughly get a thrill when I can recommend a restaurant by taking a friend to it to see if they will enjoy the place as much as I did. Away from home, traveling with a friend, sitting and enjoying the local cuisine; the bonds between us become infused with a new joyous future memory. Talk about being relaxed and being able to let our minds wander together in our present surroundings; visiting new or old places in our minds, thoughts, ideas and just re-enforcing the bonds that made us friends in the first place. This to me is pure luxury and this dramatic comedy only reaffirms my beliefs about vacationing and eating. ITALY was the setting for this sequel about two friends Steve and Rob, played by Steve Coogan (Philomena, Tropic of Thunder) and Rob Brydon (The Trip, MirrorMask), who headed out across the countryside to seek out and review new restaurants. Traveling to places such as Tuscany, Rome and Capri; the two buddies were able to sit back and relax, while offering their thoughts and comments about life and food. I suspect a good portion of the dialog was ad libbed as the two men would spontaneously break out into celebrity impersonations, jokes, comments; all the while being able to keep the bantering between them flowing evenly. I had a hard time getting into this film at first because I was waiting for something to happen. Since I had not seen the first film “The Trip,” I have to guess for those who did, they would get into this movie quicker. On the flip side from what I have read about this picture afterwards, it is pretty much the same as the previous one except for the locale. It was hard for me to think of Steve and Rob as actors, since they were pretty much being themselves. The cast included Rosie Fellner (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Nine Lives) as Lucy and Claire Keelan (Hush, The Trip) as Emma. What made this comedic drama more palatable for me was the gorgeous scenes of Italy and the pictures of the amazing meals.
2 2/3 stars
If it has not happened yet, count on your heart coming out victorious at least once in a wrestling match with your brain. Many of us have experienced that one relationship where we know it is not the best for our mental health (sometimes physical health), but our heart has already bought the ticket for the ride. I can remember being in a relationship where the good times overshadowed the uncomfortable moments. It felt like I was sitting outside and watching the most spectacular fireworks display, yet I was shivering from the cool night breezes. The explosions of color aka my heart, kept me seated even though the wind aka my brain, was telling me to go inside. It happens to all of us, but maybe not as dramatically as it did with the La Contessa Livia Serpieri. Played by Alida Valli (Eyes Without a Face, The Third Man), the Contessa Serpieri lived in Venice Italy during the mid 1800’s when the area was under Austrian occupation. Trying to help her resistance fighter cousin; she set up an introduction to meet Austrian Lieutenant Franz Mahler, played by Farley Granger (Rope, Strangers on a Train). The meeting would set in motion forces that would jeopardize family, friends and even the very existence of Venice. This historical drama was a lush, musical movie to watch. Filmed in 1954 there was a different sensibility back then, where the actors exuded a more physical display of emotions. It almost appeared as if they were overacting. Keeping that in mind, it made sense since the sets were so voluptuous and abundant. In addition, filling the musical soundtrack with pieces by Giuseppe Verdi and Anton Bruckner; I felt I was in the middle of a grand opera, set in the beautiful city of Venice. For some this movie may seem way over the top; but to me, it was obvious this film was made from the heart. Italian and German with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD