IT WAS RATHER COMICAL AS my friend was the intermediary between me and her friend. I was talking to my friend on her cell phone while her friend was on my friend’s landline. The two of them had each just seen the same movie and had different reactions to it. With phones in hand my friend called me up and peppered me with questions and comments. I actually found it an interesting experience because I was seeing the movie again thru someone else’s eyes. Some of the questions made me rethink my interpretation of the story as I tried to piece together the scenes that originally led the three of us to different conclusions. The process was a positive one; I felt it expanded my mind to accept more possibilities for what was the meaning behind the story. We all stayed on our phones for approximately 20 minutes, going back and forth with our ideas and thoughts about the film. By the time we said our goodbyes none of us had changed our opinions; we in fact agreed that each of our points were valid. It would have been nice if we could have asked the writers what they were trying to achieve. AS YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED I enjoy seeing a movie that makes me think. However the bottom line for me is that I am at least being entertained; this is how my star rating system is set up. The story doesn’t have to always make sense nor do the production values have to be a work of art; all I care about is wanting the movie to take me away. I have walked out of some films where I had to mull over what I had just seen on screen. Why did the character do this particular thing or why did the writer add this plot twist can linger with me for some time. If I can reach a conclusion that appeases me then the picture was a total success; but if I walk out of the theater confused and still lost in the story, then as time goes on the lower my enjoyment level drops. You must agree it doesn’t feel good to have sat through a movie for a couple of hours and not feel some sense of satisfaction afterwards. Well I have to tell you I still do not know what I saw in this dramatic fantasy adventure. BIOLOGIST LENA, PLAYED BY Natalie Portman (Jackie, Black Swan), agrees to be part of a team to investigate an unexplained phenomenon in hopes of explaining what happened to her husband. With Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, LBJ) as Dr. Ventress, Gina Rodriguez (Deepwater Horizon, Jane the Virgin-TV) as Anya Thorensen, Oscar Issac (Star Wars franchise, The Promise) as Kane and Benedict Wong (The Martian, Doctor Strange) as Lomax; this film played out more like a mystery to me. I will say I was intrigued with it as the story kept my interest for the most part. The acting was excellent and I thought the production values were excellent. The visuals both in their unusualness and simplicity were a good counterpoint to the puzzling story. One of the issues I had with this picture was the characters; they were pretty much stereotypical and I did not see much depth to them. By the end of the movie I was confused to the point where I felt I witnessed something extraordinary, but I just could not explain what I had seen. My guess is there will be a lot of discussions in store for those who go see this film.
2 ½ stars
THE TWO COUSINS WERE spending the afternoon together. The basement of the house was their domain. Medium dark, wood paneled walls with thick industrial carpeting on the floor would hopefully contain the noise the two boys would make; at least that is what the other relatives were hoping. One cousin turned on his music player while the other one was looking over the stack of games that had been shoved into a bookcase. Agreeing on one board game, they spread the game pieces onto the floor. After fighting over the same game piece to represent each one’s team and getting the rest of the pieces in place on the game board, the visiting cousin asked if there was anything to eat. They walked upstairs into the kitchen; one boy went to the refrigerator, the other to the pantry. Out of all the different foods in the pantry the young boy chose a loaf of white bread. THROUGHOUT THE GAME WHILE one boy had long finished his food, the other cousin continued to work on the loaf of bread. He would take a slice of bread, fold it in half and eat only the inside white bread part first; this way, he would just have the square outline left made entirely of crust to savor last. As the game continued the loaf of bread kept decreasing in length. Slice after slice would eventually disappear into his mouth with him giving little thought to it, except for the comfort he felt while eating it. By the end of the game the entire loaf was gone. The other cousin laughed when he saw the empty bread bag. He kept saying, “An entire loaf of bread, you ate an entire loaf of bread.” The other boy sheepishly asked his cousin not to tell his mother about it. The boy agreed and told his cousin they would have to hide the bag. Back into the kitchen they went to look for something to hide the bread packaging. Inside the garbage can was a greasy paper bag from a fast food restaurant; it was the perfect place to shove the bag in. Ever since that day the one cousin would always bring up that loaf of bread when the two got together; as the two aged it seemed that was going to be the only thing the other cousin would remember about him. The same could easily be said for the president and his war in this biographical drama. WITH THE NATION IN shock from the assassination of John F. Kennedy, played by Jeffrey Donovan (Hitch, Burn Notice-TV); Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson, played by Woody Harrelson (Lost in London, War for the Planet of the Apes), found himself thrown into a divided White House. With Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, The Moment), as Lady Bird Johnson, and Michael Stahl-David (In Your Eyes, Cloverfield) as Robert F. Kennedy; this film starts with the time period just prior to the Kennedy election. Woody did his best as Lyndon to the point he overshadowed everyone else. Granted Lyndon was a colorful character but what I found missing in this story was the nitty gritty parts; everything seemed even keeled. I felt there could have been more intensity and tension because pretty much throughout the picture I was not totally convinced with the action in the scenes. The historical aspect was what attracted me and I am sure, like many other people, I only knew Lyndon as the war president. He actually did much more to be remembered by.
BLOOD IS THICKER than water they say but that is not always the case. For those of you not familiar with this saying, it means relationships within a family are the strongest and most important ones. I have seen examples that both prove and disprove this sentiment. Currently the news in my area has been following a story about a father and son. The dad needs a kidney transplant, having suffered with kidney disease for some years. It turns out the son was a perfect match and immediately agreed to donate one of his kidneys to his dad. They both went on an exercise and diet regiment to get themselves into better shape before the surgery. While this is a positive example, I recently read an article in the newspaper about a grandson shooting his grandmother to death and making it look like a burglary. He did it so he could collect the insurance money. THERE ARE FAMILIES who are close-knit, spending most of their free time with each other. They take vacations together, go to special events, pickup groceries for each other and watch each other’s children when the need arises. I know one family where none of the siblings has a non-related friend, as far as I can tell. I am talking no school or neighborhood friends; they are only friends with each other. To me it is somewhat odd; maybe because when I would meet potential dates, one of my red flags would pop up if they never mentioned anything about their friends. If they did not say something I would work the conversation to the topic of friendship to find out if they actually had any people in their life they could call a friend. Now do not get me wrong I have nothing against siblings being best friends. There are 2 sisters I know who are inseparable; they so enjoy each other’s company and do everything together, but nothing like what was in this movie. I was surprised watching what the main character was willing to do for his sibling in this dramatic, crime thriller. CONNIE NIKAS, played by Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Saga franchise, Remember Me), had to stay a step ahead of his pursuers if he wanted any chance of reuniting with his mentally challenged brother. This film festival winner will finally put to rest any lingering memories of Robert playing Edward in the Twilight series. He was outstanding in this movie. Along with Jennifer Jason Leigh (Road to Perdition, The Hateful Eight) as Corey Ellman, Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips, Eye in the Sky) as Dash the park security guard, newcomer Taliah Webster as Crystal and director Benny Safdie (Person to Person, Yeast) as Nick Nikas; the whole cast was excellent in this fast paced film. Robert was the main focus and the script literally put him through his paces. Some of the scenes were less plausible than others, but watching Robert’s desperation was riveting. There were at least several scenes that could have easily been plucked out of the news, but seeing them on a more personal level made them more intense in my opinion. In fact the whole feel of this picture did not come across as a Hollywood production. I have to say the story in this exciting film shines a whole different light on brotherly love. There were several scenes that had blood and violence in them.
3 ½ stars
There are times where it is easier to connect with a stranger than a person you know. I witness this multiple times as an instructor or when I am out of synch with my daily routine. Ah yes the daily routine; you know, where we get set into a pattern and begin repeating it every day. If there was a contest I absolutely would be a finalist since I find comfort and calmness in keeping a routine. When I am out of my daily rituals, like on vacation, I become more available to strike up a conversation with strangers. Taking it a step further I find it easy to have a conversation with a blind date. Recently I was out with a friend and we were talking about dating. They have a 2 date limit; in other words, if they do not feel something after 2 dates they end it. They said the hardest part of the process was being honest and telling the person they are not interested. I absolutely agree because though it is hard, I feel it is harder not to say anything and leave a person in limbo hoping things just drift apart. What I find even worse is when a person stops communicating, ignoring your texts and phone calls. I wonder if the ease in talking or not talking to a stranger is because a person can be whoever they want to be, since there is no history between them. Maybe they relish the opportunity to reinvent themselves and in turn become more open or available for new experiences. This Oscar nominated, animated movie showed more feelings than many humans I have met. AUTHOR Michael Stone, voiced by David Thewlis (The Theory of Everything, Seven Years in Tibet), was traveling out of state to be the guest speaker at a convention. His life was about to change thanks to convention attendee Lisa Hesselman, voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, Road to Perdition). This film festival winner brilliantly used stop motion animation that brought the puppets alive. With a script that was part comedy, part drama; I became fascinated with the story, losing sense that these puppets were not real people. It was a surreal experience for me. There were several astute observations about the human condition throughout the script thanks to co-writer and co-director Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation). It did take time for me to actually get into the story; I found the beginning of the movie slow. By the way this is absolutely not a film for young people since the puppets get into adult situations. Overall I was most impressed with the technical aspects of this picture; it must have taken an incredibly long time to get the puppets to move in such a seamless way. From the script there certainly was enough situations that would lend themselves to topics of conversation afterwards. I would have liked to have heard what other people were saying about the movie, but I was on my schedule and had to leave the theater.
3 1/4 stars
There was a time where it was considered a palace. With Moorish trappings and an abundance of wrought iron railings the building stood tall over all other ones within several blocks. I was lucky enough to get inside of it, though it had lost its moniker by then. This place was a movie palace; an old fashioned theater that had one single enormous screen, covered by a set of red velvet drapes. The rows of seats were bolted to a sloping floor that looked like a swelling wave, particularly if one stood either at the front or back of them. The theater was built decades before anyone thought of putting stadium seating into an auditorium. I remember the time I visited this place and was fascinated with the fine details of the theater lobby. There were candelabras on the walls with fake candles that looked like they were dripping white wax from their amber colored, flickering lightbulbs. To the right of the candy counter was a grand staircase that swirled up to a balcony that was perched just below the mosaic tiled ceiling. Before the movie started there as a low audible rumble throughout the theater. Slowly rising up from the stage in front of those velvet drapes, was a huge pipe organ being played by a man dressed in a tuxedo; it was wild. I imagined that in its heyday when a new movie was being shown in this theater it was an event…and today’s movie could have easily been on the schedule. BOUNTY hunter John Ruth, played by Kurt Russell (Tombstone, Death Proof), and his prisoner Daisy Domergue, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Machinist, Road to Perdition), were forced to hole up in a roadside establishment until a winter blizzard passed by. They were not the only ones who had the same idea. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2), this mystery thriller was an experience to be seen. Nearly 3 hours long, there were no movie preview trailers; the film started on time with an overture and there was a planned intermission. The crowd was handed a complimentary program; I was taken aback. The filming and soundtrack were incredible to see and hear as the story was set in Wyoming. With Samuel L. Jackson (Chi-Raq, The Avengers franchise) as Major Marquis Warren and Bruce Dern (Nebraska, Monster) as General Sandy Smithers among the cast, this film had a great script with wonderful dialog. Yes, there was what I refer to as the Tarantino blood and violence scenes but there was not as much as his previous films. The story took some time to get into because it started out slow with long drawn out shots. I felt some scenes could have been eliminated or at least shortened. As with his past films Quentin did a beautiful job of paying homage to past celebrated directors. Watching this film festival winning western was truly an experience. There were scenes with blood and violence.
3 1/4 stars