SHE WAS SHOWING ME HER LATEST purchase. It was still in the box; but from the picture, it was a device that was used on the face. With a clear plastic cone sticking up like a Victrola, my friend was telling me she planned on using it to open the pores of her face. Evidently the machine plugs into an electrical outlet, water is added to a reservoir and steam comes out the plastic cone. I thought, why couldn’t she just boil a pot of water on the stove and drape a towel over her head, while leaning over the steaming boiling water? There was no need for her to spend money on this device since she was on the brink of bankruptcy, according to her. But there was this pattern already of her buying into the latest trendy thing she saw or read about it. One time she wound up with a foot massager that she used a total of three times, before it was pushed back into a closet and she was onto her next new purchase. Out of the things I have seen at her place, I felt she was addicted to one of those home shopping stations or those late-night infomercials that are on TV. BELIEVE ME, I HAVE TRIED TALKING to her about her shopping addiction. At least that is what I called it because she was always buying stuff and more so when she was upset about something. We had been friends for years and I loved her dearly; which is why I was sad to see her go into financial ruin due to her spending habits. Her place looked like a graveyard for discarded products; everything from a popcorn air popper to a pneumatic drain snake. No matter what I suggested or directly said to her, she had an excuse on why she needed whatever she had just bought. She was a close friend who I loved unconditionally. Though it was apparent she was making things worse for herself, I stood by her side and supported her. I think inside of me I was always hoping she would heed my advice one day, but she was an adult and had the ability to make a choice still. It was a hard place for me to be in, but all I could do was love and be there for her until she chose to make a change. Many of the X-Men in this science fiction, adventure film would understand completely. AFTER SURVIVING AN ACCIDENT IN SPACE, a change came over Jean Grey, played by Sophie Turner (Josie, Game of Thrones-TV). It was a change that made several of her fellow X-Men uneasy, but they still wanted to be there for her. With James McAvoy (Atomic Blonde, Victor Frankenstein) as Professor Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs, The Snowman) as Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence (Red Sparrow, Joy) as Raven/Mystique and Nicholas Hoult (Tolkien, Warm Bodies) as Beast; this action movie started out with excitement. It had been a long time since the last X-Men picture; so, I was looking forward to this one, especially to see Sophie in a different role from her Game of Thrones character. Unfortunately. the script was a big letdown for me. There was no “wow” factor to any of the scenes. Along with that, I thought the direction was poor because all the characters seemed to be on the same emotional level. I felt there could have been multiple opportunities to inject some fun or sadness or excitement; but I never really experienced any of these feelings. Sophie’s acting was too close to her Game of Thrones’ character in my opinion. The director could have pushed her farther. I have been a fan of the X-Men for a long time and I want to be there supporting them, but this latest installment was trying to push me away.
THE SUN HAD NOT RISEN YET as I headed out onto the barren streets of the town. Leaving so early, the stillness around me had not been disturbed by any residents. I headed north towards the volcano, though I was not able to see it through the darkness. The road up, I was told, would be challenging due to its narrowness and thick underbrush. My rental car had relatively new tires since the mileage on the odometer was low; I figured the tread was sufficient enough to handle the twisting road. It would have been nice to be able to see the landscape around me, but I was only privy to what my car’s headlamps showed me. From what I could tell there were tall trees lining the roads at times, only being interrupted intermittently by mounds of earth that honestly looked like excrement. I had no idea if this was a natural or man-made phenomenon. Everything I heard about this volcano had to do with being on top; I did not find many references made regarding the trip to it. So far, the ride was uneventful; little did I know that would change soon. AS I CONTINUED ON MY WAY, I started to leave the town behind me. The spaces between buildings got further apart as nature was taking back her land. I did not know what to expect but there was no signage as I came up to the base of the volcano. I continued on my way as the road started to take me on a convoluted path made up of twists and sharp turns. Due to the slower pace I had to drive, I was concerned I would not make it to the top before sunrise. This was the whole point of my early car trip, to see the sun rise and watch what its rays of light would reveal inside the dormant volcano. As I ventured up I periodically glanced up at the sky to see if there was any trace of sunlight seeping into the darkness; gratefully the sky did not turn while I was on my journey. I finally reached my destination, parked and waited for the big unveiling. The first ray of light appeared then slowly began to spread out into the blackness; I had been looking forward to this for a long time. One thing I did not expect was a bank of rainclouds that were ready to pounce once the sun’s rays revealed them. The clouds rolled over everything around me, blocking me of the chance to see inside the volcano. After all the planning I put into this trip, I would not get the satisfaction of seeing it to its intended conclusion. I had the same feeling sitting through the last installment of this dramatic, science fiction trilogy. SUPER STRENGTH NEEDS TO BE MET by super strength, something a superhero could do. However, there are no such things as superheroes as far as we know, right? This mystery movie starred James McAvoy (Atomic Blonde, Victor Frankenstein) as Barry and others, Bruce Willis (Death Wish, Looper) as David Dunn, Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight, Avengers franchise) as Elijah Price, Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave, Ocean’s Eight) as Dr. Ellie Staple and Spencer Treat Clark (Mystic River, Animal Kingdom-TV) as Joseph Dunn. Based on seeing James reprise his role as the Beast, I had positive hopes this film would be good. There were aspects I enjoyed; they revolved around the story between James, Bruce and Elijah. Sarah’s story line started out odd to me and by the ending I found the entire timeline for her ridiculous. I did not like the ending and thought the writing of the script lacked originality. If it was not for the four main actors mentioned before I would have lost interest in this picture early on. It would not have taken a superhero effort to produce a fitting conclusion to this trilogy instead of the silliness that took over it.
NOT ONLY HAD I NEVER seen one, I never even heard about them. Walking into their house for the first time, I was introduced to a pleasant couple who were friends with my friend. They were hosting a get together and my friend brought me along. After the introductions they led us into their living room. It took me a moment to take it all in but across most of the flat surfaces in the room, such as shelves and tables, there were these ceramic gnomes everywhere. It was so utterly odd to me and there were so many of them; all different kinds from wizen elderly males to young teenagers to busy looking females. Evidently the expression on my face telegraphed my surprise for the hosts took the liberty of telling me the history of several of their gnomes. I found out the artist who created them always placed some type of object on the piece as a surprise. Oh and I almost forgot, each gnome had a name and a history about their life. SEVERAL YEARS LATER I WAS killing time in a resale shop. As I made my way through the aisles I came to a section that held house wares. There was an entire shelving unit filled with the same type of gnomes I remembered from that dinner party back then. All of them were lined up into rows as if they were all sitting in a theater to watch a movie. I never knew how much were the original prices for these gnomes, but I could not resist checking what they were being priced at in this resale store. A majority of the larger ones were priced at $5.00 and the smaller ones at $3.00. I had to assume this was a major bargain. What is that saying, one person’s junk is another person’s treasure? Based on the traces of dust covering some of the gnomes I assumed they had been sitting there a long time; I guess there is not a need for people to have gnomes in their house or garden currently. It is funny because I wound up feeling the same regarding this animated, adventure comedy sequel. AFTER SETTLING INTO THEIR NEW home Gnomeo and Juliet, voiced by James McAvoy (Split, The Last King of Scotland) and Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train, Into the Woods), expected with a little work to have the perfect garden. However when their fellow gnomes went missing the only one who could hopefully solve the mystery was the top detective Sherlock Gnomes, voiced by Johnny Depp (Black Mass, The Long Ranger) and his companion Dr. Watson, voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, 2012). The idea for this story was cute in this film. With decent animation and a soundtrack provided by Elton John’s songs I thought this would have been a fun film. Just as I was stunned seeing all those gnomes in that couple’s house, I was dumbfounded by how poorly written was the script. This picture was boring to me; there was nothing funny or cute about it. Maybe a narrow group of children would like this film; but where I expected a theater with children to be noisy, in my viewing there were barely any sounds coming from the audience. I had to fight to stay attentive to what was going on in the story. For the most part I felt myself wanting to doze off, but forced myself to stay awake. It was a late viewing for me, but that was not the reason. Like the fate of Beanie Babies and pet rocks, this movie will probably make it to the discount bin in quick time.
1 ¾ stars
“ACT LIKE A LADY,” what does that exactly mean? I always found it an odd comment because I had never seen or heard about a primer that explained how girls and boys were supposed to act. Sure I remember when I was a child boys played with toy soldiers, guns and baseball bats; while girls played with stuffed animals, tea sets and dolls. There was a young girl who enjoyed playing with trucks, the bigger the better. I can still remember the odd looks some adults would give her as if she was doing something wrong. I used to babysit some of my female relatives and play house with them; it never occurred to me to tell them boys don’t play house or host a dinner party. If that is what they wanted to play or if they wanted to play cards I did not care. However, I was aware that out among my friends I could be teased for it. FAST forward to current times and there now seems like there is a push by people, companies and such to praise women, to show how progressive they have become. Now do not get me wrong, I am all for putting a spotlight on anyone who deserves it; however, some of these campaigns ring false to me. A company has formed a women’s group to promote female employees; yet they still do not get the same pay scale as their male counterparts. A film comes out with a strong female lead but studio executives still treat some of their female staff in an inappropriate way. It bugs me when people assign a label to their friends or co-workers. For example statements like, “my black friend” or “my gay co-worker;” do we really need to classify an individual? Isn’t a friend just your friend or does one choose their friends to fit a specific category? For those who want to try and classify the main character in this action thriller you will have a hard time figuring out what to say. SENT to Berlin to retrieve a secret list MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton, played by Charlize Theron (Dark Places, Mad Max: Fury Road), was a target even before she landed. Based on the graphic novel series “The Coldest City” the cast also included James McAvoy (X-Men franchise, Split) as David Percival, Eddie Marsan (Sherlock franchise, Ray Donovan-TV) as Spyglass, John Goodman (Love the Coopers, Kong: Skull Island) as Emmett Kurzfeld and Toby Jones (Captain America franchise, Tale of Tales) as Eric Gray. Hands down this was Charlize’s film all the way. She simply was a beast in this picture. The fight scenes looked graphically real and Charlize must have gone through intense hand to hand combat training because it showed. I had read afterwards she did over 90% of all the stunts. The soundtrack was an important part to the script, but here is the downside to it. The script was confusing and not as strong as it could have been. I did not mind the jumping back in forth in time but would have preferred less of it. Regardless I felt this was at times an intense, mysterious, all out thriller that did not need to be defined as a male or female film; it was an equal opportunity battle. There were scenes with blood and strong violence.
THE only remaining open seat was next to me. I was sitting by the window gazing at the changing landscape as I was traveling downtown on the train. At the next train stop I did not pay attention to the person who sat down next to me. Before getting to the next stop the man commented on a building that came into view from out our window. I replied in agreement about the modern looking building and from that a conversation ensured between us. It appeared this man had some knowledge about architecture as he explained details about a couple of buildings that we noticed during our travels. I was surprised to hear his comments since I grew up in the city and had never heard about the things he was saying about these structures. AS we made our way down into the city he made a couple of comments that did not ring true to me. I cannot exactly explain why but some of the things he stated came out with a slight edge to them; do you know what I mean? A twinge of irritation or anger is the only way I could describe it. I did not react to these comments except for nodding my head since I did not want to appear confrontational. It did not matter however since something obviously set him off; his talking increased in volume. It wasn’t soon after that his comments were not making sense to me. Something about one of the buildings he had just commented on was setting him off on a tirade of expletives. Being stuck by the window with him in the next seat, I was getting extremely uncomfortable. If I excused myself to go stand in the aisle with several of the other passengers he may become offended and who knows what he would do. So instead I told him my stop was next. When we reached it I walked out and ran down the train platform to one of the other train cars before the car doors closed, so I could continue on my way. It was such an odd encounter, but at least I was able to leave which was not the case for the students in this horror thriller. CAPTURED and held against their will Casey, Claire and Marcia; played by Anya Taylor-Joy (Morgan, The Witch), Haley Lu Richardson (The Edge of Seventeen, The Last Survivors) and Jessica Sula (Honeytrap, Skins-TV); needed a plan to find a way out. However there appeared to be more than one kidnapper. This film festival nominated movie written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (Lady in the Water, The Sixth Sense) was a big surprise to me because I enjoyed it so much; this was not the case for his past several pictures. What sealed the deal regarding this movie was the wonderful performance of James McAvoy (X-Men franchise, Wanted) as Kevin and Betty Buckley (Carrie, The Happening) as Dr. Karen Fletcher. The script was straight forward, but the pacing kept up the creepy intensity of the story. Though there were a couple of scenes that had showed blood, for the most part this was a psychological thriller which I enjoyed immensely. Be prepared for several different points of view in this film.
When you are in the middle of it, you feel larger than your silhouette. Love has a way of blending into all of your actions, giving them a little extra boost of energy. It may be the bounce in your step, the burst of flavors in your mouth from your first bite into your meal at a cozy care, to the feeling of calmness coming over you every time you think of that special person. Sadly, just as love can fill one up to extreme proportions its absence can be devastating. The loss of love can siphon so many things out of a person; things you thought were impenetrable. Simple acts like bathing or walking now feel laborious. Though there is no visual wound, you feel there is something missing in your life. I have experienced both sides of this equation; you know, those high highs and low lows of love and lost. I am not alone in this situation; I see the signs of it all around. There is the person who took their beloved dead pet to have it stuffed and preserved; so it would always appear sleeping in their now cold bed that sat next to the bedroom nightstand. I read an article in the newspaper about a company that will take the ashes of your loved one and turn them into a stone you can wear like jewelry. I have even seen people wearing bracelets and pendants that contain small amounts of ashes in a secret compartment; I understand those individuals that want a reminder of their loved one. Love and lost love certainly produce strong reactions in us. RESCUED from a miserable life Igor, played by Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter franchise, Kill Your Darlings), had the utmost respect for Victor Frankenstein, played by James McAvoy (X-Men franchise, Wanted). The two men’s shared interests would drive them to create an everlasting life. This dramatic horror film took the original Frankenstein story and turned it around to be told from Igor’s perspective. Okay, I could deal with the change since I do not mind looking at things from a different point of view. The script favored Daniel who made a believable character. However that is all the script did because I found the story to be more of a caricature of the original. There was no heart (no pun intended) to this story; most scenes were dull or silly to me. At least the sets and special effects added some value to this picture. I liked the whole idea as I said, but I just felt it could have been told better if they kept the focus more on the matters of the heart. The writers could have slimmed down the script and created a compelling story that might have possibly been a companion piece to Mary Shelley’s story. The loss of my time was all I experienced instead. There were a few scenes with blood in them.
1 3/4 stars
Some of the strongest individuals I have ever met did not have a large amount of physical strength. There were some events that could not be fixed with just the person’s brawn. Teaching in a health club I am constantly exposed to people who test themselves with a variety of weights and cardiovascular machines. Slow and steady they work to increase the amount of weight or duration of their aerobic activity. Essentially everything is under their control which to me makes it easier to build up one’s strength. What demands a tougher strength are affairs of the heart that involve some type of tragic event. Sad occasions weigh the heart down, slowing down its beats, causing the body to buckle under the weight of gravity. I remember a time where my eyes were constantly replenishing water tanks that kept spilling tears over my face, keeping it red and raw. My brain could barely retain any of the images my eyes captured; it felt like my head was turning into an abandoned cold storage locker. Every thought had the life sucked out of it as my heart continued its slide towards a sludge of darkness. At the time I thought my heart would never strike a cheerful chord, but I underestimated it. The heart truly is the strongest muscle in the body. STAGNATION and heaviness was where Conor Ludlow and Eleanor Rigby, played by James McAvoy (X-Men franchise, The Last King of Scotland) and Jessica Chastain (Mama, Lawless), found themselves in their relationship. Remembering what they once had, they could not tell if their hearts would be strong enough to get them through and bring them back to what they once had. This film festival winning drama had a couple of extraordinary actors, Jessica and James, who were able to bare real raw emotions. They really stood out in the cast which also included Viola Davis (Beautiful Creatures, The Help) as Professor Friedman and William Hurt (Into the Wild, A History of Violence) as Julian Rigby. A bit of a surprise was seeing Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins, Her) as Stuart; he has been making smart film choices since leaving Saturday Night Live. With such a strong cast I am sad to say the script and the direction killed any hope of making this movie a powerful piece. This film was a combination of 2 previous movies, from Eleanor’s and Conor’s perspectives called Her and Him. I had to wonder if what was left on the cutting room floor would have helped this film from being a drag. It took a while for me to get into this picture. When I thought about it, it was strange to feel heavy during the movie but it was not coming from my heart.
2 1/2 stars
The words had just passed my lips when I realized these were not the correct ones to utter at the moment. I inhaled with the same force I use with a straw in a chocolate peanut butter milkshake, but it was to no avail; the words were out in the open for everyone to hear. If only I had the opportunity to do it all over; but then again, there are so many times I wish for that chance. Almost every checkout line I choose winds up with a customer ahead of me who has some type of issue that will require a price check or swapping out a product. Recently I was running late for work. I had just missed the green light at an intersection that has an unusually long wait period between signals. It was a split second decision and I veered off into a restaurant’s parking lot to avoid the wait. As I was about to exit on the opposite side a police car was sitting there waiting for me to leave the lot. If only I could have turned time back, I would have saved myself from a moving violation ticket. I would have a better understanding of time travel if it personally affected me. In movies I get lost by the explanations or logistics of it. However, in this action adventure film I had no problem. Due to a particular event in history, both humans and mutants (individuals with special abilities) were being targeted for elimination. A plan was developed to send Logan/Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman (Prisoners, Australia), back in time in an attempt to alter the outcome of the specific incident, change the course of history and hopefully save mutants in the future. What drove this fantasy film to excellence was the well thought out script and amazing special effects. I especially liked the way humor was injected into scenes without taking away from the building tension. The other main force that made this movie special was the cast. I thought Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, The Hunger Games franchise) as Raven/Mystique, Michael Fassbender (The Counselor, Shame) as Erik Lehnsherr and James McAvoy (Trance, The Last Station) as Charles Xavier were outstanding. One of my few and minor complaints was not seeing enough of Patrick Stewart (Safe House, Star Trek franchise) as Professor X and Ian McKellen (The Hobbit franchise, Emile) as Magneto. Though there were a couple of things where I did not understand the logic, it really did not matter; this fantasy film delivered a high dose of exciting entertainment and suspense. In fact, I would not need the ability to turn back time because I would willingly go see this movie again. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
3 1/2 stars
The corridor led to a dead end; I had to retrace my steps. Amid the muffled sounds were large popping sounds followed by squeals of laughter. I would see the image of another human for a second before it disappeared back into a kaleidoscope of twinkling lights. As I turned a corner a blast of cool air hit me in the face, momentarily forcing me to close my eyes. When they opened a silhouette of a person came at me from the side. A beam of light pierced the darkness revealing the person was a clown. I laughed as the colorful costumed character pointed to the glowing exit sign down the hallway. If they are not too crowded I get a kick out of going through amusement park fun houses. Usually covered in a fog of darkness, I enjoy how the houses are set up to manipulate the visitors with creative elements of surprise. It was the same way in this thrilling mystery of a movie. Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) created a taut sense of urgency with the more than capable actors. James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class, Wanted) played art auctioneer Simon. He became embroiled in a tussle with a gang of criminals led by Franck, played by Vincent Cassel (Black Swan, Irreversible), while trying to protect a valuable painting. Due to a blow to the head, Simon needed the assistance of hypnotherapist Elizabeth, played by Rosario Dawson (Seven Pounds, Sin City); in trying to retrieve the parts of his memory he had lost. This drama had just as many twists and turns as a fun house maze. I had to work at paying attention to see if there were any clues being revealed in the simmering story. The acting was intense and tight; with the actors totally submerged into their characters. I have no complaints with Danny’s directing; but I did not get totally immersed into this story like I have done with his other films. The issue for me became apparent as the movie moved closer to the ending. There were a few too many surprises that left me confused. Like a carnival fun house, this is the type of movie I need to see again…just not right away. There were a couple of scenes with blood.
His novels were not the only place where drama took place. In this movie, Leo Tolstoy’s personal life was filled with substantial drama. Played magnificently by Christopher Plummer (Beginners, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), the majority of this fiery drama occurred between Tolstoy and his wife of 43 years, the Countess Sofya, played with electrifying fire by Helen Mirren (Arthur, The Tempest). Determined to prevent her husband from changing his will, relinquishing his copyrights and property to the Russian people, Sofya enlisted a confederate in recently appointed assistant to her husband, Valentin played by James McAvoy (Wanted, Atonement). The acting was superb in this movie, as the dialog had a fine accompaniment in the musical score. Completing the movie’s feel were the beautiful set pieces, with the attention to detail; I felt as if I had been transported back to Tolstoy’s estate, to witness the final years of this great writer’s life.
3 1/3 stars — DVD