ALL THAT WAS NEEDED WAS A bed sheet and 2 chairs. With these items one could create a fort and that is exactly what we would do. Whenever I would get together with a cousin of mine and we wanted to pretend to be in the military, we would start our fort with the 2 chairs separated but facing each other. Draping the sheet over them we now would have a secret tunnel we had to crawl through underneath the chair seat, right between its legs. Once safely under the cover of the sheet we would go over our just thought out battle plans. There were times where we needed a bigger fort so I would take out the extra folding chairs from the hall closet while he went in search for more sheets and blankets. From our strategically placed covered chairs, we created an intricate compound of tunnels and meeting rooms. If there were enough items we would even incorporate the living room’s coffee tables to expand our structure. We could play for hours besides requesting our meals be delivered to our pretend mess hall in the middle of our fort. FROM THAT EARLY TIME, I fell in love with a variety of real and make-believe games. One of my oldest memories is being taught to play the card game, War. Add in Crazy 8’s, Gin Rummy and Concentration; I was always asking friends and family if they wanted to play with me. Store bought games also became important to me. You might not believe it but I still have some of them to this day and they remain in good condition. There is nothing like sitting down with a friend and taking out the game pieces of a board game in anticipation of a rousing good time. Interestingly I am not competitive against anyone, only myself. So, I never cared if I won or not; I simply enjoyed playing the game. The only time where I do not have fun playing is when there is a group of people and one of them is super competitive; I mean yelling and making rude comments to the other players or even the ones on their own team. I avoid this type of situation, preferring to sit it out and just observe. As for those games that list the ideal age range one should be to play it, do not believe it. There should never me an age restriction on being able to have fun; just watch the childhood friends in this comedy inspired by a true story. FOR THE PAST DECADES CHILDHOOD friends put one month aside a year to continue their game of Tag. Neither wedding or funeral were off limits in getting tagged “you’re it.” With Ed Helms (Chappaquiddick, Vacation) as Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy, Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, The Carmichael Show-TV) as Reggie, Jon Hamm (Beirut, Baby Driver) as Bob Callahan, Jake Johnson (Let’s Be Cops, New Girl-TV) as Randy “Chilli” Cilliano and Jeremy Renner (Wind River, The Bourne Legacy) as Jerry Pierce; the story for this film was wild. The fact these friends have been doing this same game of Tag for all these years is a bit mind blowing. I thought the cast did as best as they could with the script, but I need to tell you I became bored by the repetitive schemes to tag Jeremy’s character. A couple of scenes were fun and okay, but some of the stunts were too goofy for me. Honestly, I think I would have rather seen a documentary about these childhood friends, so I could have gotten a better feel for what type of individuals they were to each other. What can I say when I tell you I thought one of the best parts of this film was the way they did the ending credits. Maybe you will have a better time with this film; I did not get it.
IT WAS THE PHOTOGRAPH along with its headline in the newspaper that caught my eye. The old black and white photo was of a man sitting next to a stuffed animal. I recognized the animal as a cartoon character and began reading what turned out to be the man’s obituary. He had provided the voice for this character in all the cartoons, which was one of my favorite cartoon shows when I was younger. After having read that obituary I started making a point of glancing at the obituary columns whenever I read the newspaper. Discovering someone who was unfamiliar to me yet through their occupation or creation had an effect on my life was something I always found fascinating. I enjoyed reading about that person’s life, looking for any clues on what was the catalyst for the individual to steer to a particular profession or come up with their invention/creation. AFTER A SHORT length of time reading different obituaries, I started to notice how those individuals with some type of prestige or prominence got “top billing” in the layout of the death notices. This started me thinking about the finality of death and no matter how much money or notoriety a person acquired, when the time came for their death, they would die the same way as those less fortunate. From my discovery about the obituaries I started to notice a similar bias in news reporting. If a person of some stature was the victim of any type of crime the reports would spend more time to follow the person who killed them and keep the public updated on any and every detail. However if the individual was “average” or disenfranchised, then they barely received a mention in the news. There was something about this that did not sit well with me. In my opinion everyone has the right to die with dignity. Sometimes the newscasts would show the spot where a poor or homeless person was found dead and it was utterly sad to see. But was there an outcry by anyone or plans in place to avoid something like that ever happening again? This is why I loved the determination shown in this action, crime mystery. AFTER A NATIVE AMERICAN, barefooted woman was found dead in the snow Cory Lambert, played by Jeremy Renner (Arrival, The Avengers franchise), made a promise he would do his best to find out what happened to the young woman. With Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla, Captain America franchise) as Jane Banner, Graham Greene (The Green Mile, Dances with Wolves) as Ben, Kelsey Asbille (Run, The Amazing Spider-Man) as Natalie and Julia Jones (The Twilight Saga franchise, Jonah Hex) as Wilma; the acting in this chilling setting was outstanding. Jeremy and Elizabeth were especially wonderful, each brought life to the well done script. This film festival winner may not have had a fast pace, but the simple settings and landscapes added a layer of despair throughout the picture that added to the mystery. In its own way I felt the story brought to light a subject that may not be familiar to most people. I did appreciate how the writers avoided the typical “Hollywood” ending, yet did not turn the story into a major downer. I could not leave my seat right away because I was thinking about what the world would be like if everyone had respect for each other.
3 ½ stars
THEY seemed scared as they huddled over their map. Looking up at the arrival time for the next train, they stood near the edge of the train platform. I made the assumption they were tourists who were not familiar with the language. Luckily I knew how to say hello and how are you in their language; plus, I was ½ of the winning team among my friends in charades the past 2 years which I felt could help. Walking up to them I said hello and immediately their heads sprung up and turned to me. They excitedly began talking to me in their native tongue but I had no clue what they were saying. I made hand gestures which I hoped conveyed the little I knew about their language then pointed at their map and made a questioning facial expression. En masse they moved next to me and pointed to a sticky note attached to what I could see on the map was the downtown area. THEY were looking for a well known tourist attraction in the city. Using my charade skills I was able to show them which train they had to get on and how many stops they needed to travel to get to their destination. I think they were saying thank you to me as my train arrived and I bordered it. Being proud of my city I have this thing where I want all tourists to have the best time here. So if I can spend a few minutes learning how to communicate with those who do not speak English it is well worth it to me. The key word is communicating; I see and have experienced so many people who do not take the time to properly communicate. It seems as if language is turning into a series of emails, texts, abbreviations and emojis. How can someone figure out a person’s intent with such things? LINGUISTIC expert Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams (American Hustle, Man of Steel), was given a short time frame to find a way to communicate with the alien spacecraft that landed on earth before the military took over. This film festival nominated drama mystery took a different route from the usual alien versus human plot and it paid off. I enjoyed it so much and thought Amy was fantastic in the role. Along with Jeremy Renner (The Avengers franchise, The Hurt Locker) as Ian Donnelly and Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler, The Last King of Scotland) as Colonel Weber, the actors did well in conveying a sense of urgency and fear. The soundtrack added an eerie dimension to the scenes that I felt brought out more suspense. With director Denis Villeneuve’s (Prisoners, Sicario) skills the story had a gradual buildup of tension, even with the subplot that was interjected between present day scenes. This science fiction movie had a couple of surprises, though I have to say the ending was confusing to me. I am not sure I totally understood what was going on but I still felt like I was entertained for the most part. Especially with the poor (in my opinion) state of communications today, I really was impressed with this picture.
3 ¼ stars
Though pretty much everyone wants to be told the truth, not everyone wants to hear it. When asking someone what they think of your new item of clothing, who really wants to hear that it looks ugly or unflattering on you? I realize there may be times where it would serve no useful purpose to tell someone the truth, such as an elderly parent who is in the throws of dementia that one of their children had died. Similarly, a young child at the center of their parents’ bitter divorce does not need to hear all the sordid details about their mother or father, I would think. My friends tell me I am brutally honest to a fault. I am aware what I say can initially seem hurtful; but I expect the same honesty in return. I cannot tell you how many dates I have had where I asked if they would like to get together again and was told yes. For me it is more hurtful when they never return my follow up calls; I would rather be told right at the start that they are not interested. What is the big deal to say no thank you? I would not take it personally since they do not even know me; however, I realize there are some who feel uncomfortable expressing their true feelings. TRUTH did not come about easily in this dramatic crime film based on a true story. Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Hurt Locker) played investigative news reporter Gary Webb, who stumbled onto a story that would affect the standing of the United States Government on a global scale. I vaguely remember parts of this story since there was another noteworthy event taking place around the same time as this one which involved drugs for guns. Along with Jeremy the entire cast which included Rosemarie DeWitt (Men, Women & Children, The Watch) as Gary’s wife Sue, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Die Hard franchise) as Anna Simons and Oliver Platt (Love & Other Drugs, 2012) as Jerry Ceppos, were all outstanding in their roles. The tightly woven scenes produced a continuous flow of suspense that kept me riveted in my seat. I especially enjoyed the insertion of actual film clips into the scenes as the director kept up a steady pace with the filming. There were only a couple of parts that felt slow to me; however, I understood the reasoning since the story was biographical. In fact, it added an extra level of poignancy to this powerful film and that is the truth.
3 1/3 stars
I wish it was not the case but I cast a cynical eye towards a kind gesture from a stranger these days. Where I first noticed a change had taken place over me was when I used to travel to Georgia. People were saying thank you for the simplest things, besides opening doors for each other. I realized I had not seen such actions for a long time. Then there were incidents I witnessed that began altering my perceptions. I used to know someone who was always eager to share their recipes with anyone who asked for them, but would leave out one small item from the list of ingredients. During my daily commute I cannot remember the last time someone slowed down to let me pull into traffic or merge into another lane due to construction. It seems as if people are becoming more isolated and protective of their surroundings. I partially understand it because of all the news that gets reported on Ponzi schemes, fake charities and internet scams. Last summer I answered the knock at my front door and there was a high schooler who was selling discounted subscriptions for the local newspapers. Yep, you are right; I gave him $20.00 but never saw a single newspaper. Life is hard and I would say it is partially due to the modern world we live in; however, one only has to look at history to see it is not a modern phenomenon. You could also see a horrifying example in this Cannes Film Festival nominated drama. Set in the early 1920s Ewa Cybulska and her sister Magda, played by Marion Cotillard (Contagion, The Dark Knight Rises) and Angela Sarafyan (Paranoia, Love Hurts), traveled from Poland to America to start a new life. During processing at Ellis Island Magda was quarantined, leaving Ewa to fend for herself on the streets of New York City. She had to rely on the kindness of strangers and Bruno Weiss, played by Joaquin Phoenix (Her, Walk the Line), was eager to welcome and help her. Marion Cotillard was made to do this romantic mystery movie. Her eyes alone could have done all the talking for her, she was mesmerizing. The story was filled with many opportunities to create a powerful piece; however, it never gelled for me. I did not believe Joaquin’s character, finding his performance odd. It really was a shame because the sets and scenes were beautifully appointed. Jeremy Renner (American Hustle, The Town) was a welcomed addition to the story playing the magician Emil. I wish I could offer a kind gesture to this film by giving it a higher rating but truthfully it does not warrant it.
2 2/3 stars
One would think with my love of movies I would see a favorite film more than once. In all honesty it happens very rarely. If there is a movie I just have to own, I will see the film again when I buy the DVD. As far as I can remember, I think there are only 4 movies I have seen twice while they were still playing at the theater. One of those films was The Sting with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. If I were reviewing movies back then I would have given this film a 4 star rating. Everything from the acting to directing to the music was as close to perfect as possible. Now the reason I brought up this film was because this crime film reminded me of The Sting. From writer and director David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter) this film festival winning movie was loosely based on the ABSCAM scandal from the 1970’s, which was an FBI sting operation against public corruption. Forty pound heavier Christian Bale (Out of the Furnance, American Psycho) and Amy Adams (Man of Steel, Enchanted) played con artists Irving Rosenfeld and Sydney Prosser. Forced into service by ambitious FBI agent Richie DiMaso, played by Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, The Words), they discovered their lives could be at risk when some dangerous individuals suddenly became involved. The first thing in this Golden Globe nominated movie that reminded me of The Sting was its story. Besides both being about a sting operation, the story had several twists and surprises. The next thing that was similar was the unbelievable, amazing acting. Everyone in this film held their own with their terrific acting skills. One of the youngest actors in the cast gave such an astounding performance that she should get nominated for an Oscar. That actress was Jennifer Lawrence who played Irving’s alcoholic wife Rosalyn Rosenfeld. I thought her young age would be a hinderance in playing this role, but that was not the case. However, Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, North Country) who played Mayor Carmine Polito looked too young for the part. His acting was first rate, but I felt he needed to look older for the part. Everyone in this dramatic film had equal amounts of screen presence which carried me through the couple of parts I found to be slow. With a little more editing the already fantastic dialog would have been ideal for me. The music and sets were perfect for the times. This movie certainly will get a couple of Oscar nominations and is definitely worth seeing. Now that I have seen it I have this urge to see The Sting again.
3 2/3 stars
My introduction to the brothers Grimm was through animated movies. I can remember being perched atop folded coats on my theater seat, so I would have a clear view of the movie screen. Cinderella dressed in her magical ball gown or the poisoned apple that induced eternal slumber for Sleeping Beauty were characters that amazed me, when I saw them up on the big screen. At a time before movie characters were marketed into every conceivable consumer product, I stored a variety of Grimm fairy tale characters in my imagination. Let me first say I am not a purist when it comes to keeping a story true to its original form. If the story can still be entertaining, I am fine with it. Unfortunately this abomination lacked the entertainment factor, besides a variety of other things. The movie updated the story of Hansel and Gretel by turning the brother and sister into adult witch hunters. Sure I get it, nearly cooked in an oven by an evil witch as kids; I could buy into their chosen profession. What I found out of character was having the two talking in a contemporary style, dropping the “F” word freely. It was foolish to have fairy tale characters from olden days swearing like thugs. Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Bourne Legacy) was Hansel and we were led to believe he was a diabetic. He wore a special wristwatch that rang every 2 hours, reminding him to take an injection that would keep him alive. It was so ridiculous I knew the concept was only there to be used later in the boring story. Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Clash of the Titans) was the sharpshooter Gretel. The two were hired by a town to find a witch that was stealing children. What Hansel and Gretel found was a diabolical plot by the powerful witch Muriel, played by Famke Janssen (X-Men franchise, Goldeneye). In a nutshell the acting was miserable, the special effects were bland, the story was putrid and I resented the movie studio for tarnishing a classic tale.
1 1/4 stars
Still in the glow from my recent 4 star review of Argo, I decided to visit Ben Affleck’s (Argo, Smokin’ Aces) previous directorial effort. Having traveled out east for many years, the setting and mood of this film was quite familiar to me. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bostonian swagger; it has to do with a single mindfulness and toughness. When I first started visiting Boston it was evident that there were invisible boundary lines between neighborhoods. There was an intense loyalty on display from the residents for their community. Granted with Ben growing up in the area this was not a stretch for him to recreate that same brotherhood in this movie. The story was about a group of bank robbing friends. When a heist did not go as exactly planned; bank employee Claire Keesey, played by Rebecca Hall (The Prestige, Frost/Nixon), was taken hostage for a brief time. Concerned she could still reveal clues about the heist to special agent Adam Frawley, played by Jon Hamm (Mad Men-TV, Friends With Kids); Ben’s character Doug MacRay decided to keep an eye on her by following her around. What better way than to somehow innocently make her acquaintance. However, when his worry turned into affection for her; would he be putting his gang into jeopardy? I could see Ben’s directing style clearer here now that I have seen his recent stint with Argo. He has a good eye for what creates tension in a scene. The pacing was steady as he balanced big action scenes with a kind gentleness. Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy) brought a manic bravado to his fellow robber character James Coughlin. I enjoyed the way Ben and Jeremy played off of each other. It is apparent to me that Ben’s skilled directing is no fluke. I venture to say he will be known more for his directing than acting in the years to come. Scenes with violence and blood.
3 stars — DVD
One’s actions, whether they choose to take responsibility or not, always come with a reaction or consequence. I try my hardest to take responsibility for my behavior. There have been times when I was not aware I was causing a person distress. On the other hand, at times I knew exactly what I was doing; not saying it was right or wrong, just going with the moment. It was a pleasant surprise watching this small, independent film. Small in budget, but not in star power. I found this dramatic movie put a different twist on the idea of a person being accountable. The story was about two strangers and how each of their actions led them to one common tragedy and its aftermath. Ana Nicholas, played by Minnie Driver (The Phantom of the Opera, Good Will Hunting) was a mother being told her son needed to be in a better equipped school, to handle his special needs. Minnie was exceptional in the role; I could feel her emotional exhaustion as she struggled to keep everything in control. Saul Gregor, played by Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker, The Bourne Legacy), was becoming more and more desperate to find the money to pay back a loan, before bodily harm befell him. It was a treat to see Jeremy in this role, that was filmed before he did The Hurt Locker. One could see what a fine actor he already was becoming before hitting the big time. I found him to be powerful in an ever increasing powerless situation; the anxious desperation oozed out of him. The filming was unique, taking me a few minutes to get into its unusual pacing. Scenes and their story lines alternated between the two characters, with a mixture of colorless starkness and soft edges. This film festival winner was a treat for me. The final message really hit home on how we can be a better person when we take responsibility.
2 3/4 stars — DVD