THE FIRST TIME I traveled to Las Vegas my friends explained what I needed to do to play Blackjack. I already knew how to play but I was not familiar with the non-verbal communication between dealer and player. There were hand signals I needed to know; such as a quick drag of two fingers towards me on the felted playing board meant I wanted another card or moving my hand above my cards in a horizontal way meant no more cards. What they did not tell me was how fast the game would go once I was seated. When I flew out and got settled into my hotel room I went downstairs into the casino, confident I would remember all the different signs I was taught. I had $30.00 worth of chips (yeah, I am a big spender) and stacked them in front of me like everyone else did at the blackjack table; I did not want them to know I was a newbie, though I am sure it showed on me. In approximately 6 minutes I lost all of my chips. EVER SINCE THAT TIME I have never gambled again at any of the tables in Las Vegas. That feeling of giving my money to a business and not getting anything in return was one I never wanted to feel again. Sure there are some people who are lucky or even skilled that walk away with more money than what they started with, but I am not one of those individuals. It is funny because I knew several people who more times than not came home with extra money no matter the venue. Now I will tell you I enjoy watching the people in Las Vegas gamble because it is fascinating to see how much money goes into play at some of the tables. I stand there and try to figure out what these people do for a living, where they can make $1000.00+ bets. The other aspect that intrigues me is the camaraderie that forms between some of the players. I am not familiar with which game it is, but there is one where all the people sitting at the table are rooting for one particular player. Everyone cheers depending on what that player did and you would swear these people have no care in the world. It is a foreign concept to me and despite my lack of knowledge I was captivated by this biographical drama. FROM A RANDOM NON-DESCRIPT job former Olympic class skier Molly Bloom, played by Jessica Chastain (The Zookeeper’s Wife, Crimson Peak), took a chance in hopes it would pay off big. The game was poker and she was determined to come out on top. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing-TV) I thought the script was smart and precise. It was certainly adult dialog though at times I thought it was getting too wordy. With Idris Elba (The Mountain Between Us, Thor franchise) as Charlie Jaffey, Kevin Costner (Hidden Figures, Black or White) as Larry Bloom and Michael Cera (Superbad, Juno) as Player X; I thought the acting was of a high caliber. Jessica was amazing in this role and I felt Kevin put in one of his better performances. The story was incredible and I found myself getting into the nitty gritty of the poker games. I did not feel there was any lag time between any of the scenes; each one offered something of interest to watch and hear. Due to the high level of acting in this picture, I do not think you will lose if you choose to gamble on seeing this film.
3 ½ stars
SEEING a person willingly jump out of an airplane could elicit one of two responses: the individual is courageous or crazy. Though there is no way I would ever go skydiving, I would not judge someone who wants to experience such an activity. As I go through my daily life I am constantly witnessing acts of courage. There is the individual who admits to being out of shape, who comes to a fitness class, because they want to make a change in their life. The blind person who is navigating down a crowded, noisy city street or the parent who gets sick on roller coasters, sitting next to their child who is thrilled to be on the ride with their parent; to me all of these individuals are courageous and strong. There are so many other examples of courage that I could write about but it would take up all of my time today. FOR the past several months I have viewed news reports with an eye to the future. The news segments can range from peaceful protesters to refuges to the environment; I look at each one of these and am usually amazed at the amount of courage an individual has in the face of life or death, let alone the person who is willing to make a stand against injustice. Thinking back to some of the famous scientists who left their homeland for a better life or to just stay alive, there is something to be said for that individual’s braveness. Imagine if the scientist was not strong enough or courageous enough to leave a place where they were being persecuted; how different would the world have turned out? Whether a person actively engages in a cause or donates time or money to it, for them they are acting in a courageous way. One cannot necessarily compare different acts of courage; however, some do take on more risk and this movie based on a true story shows you how much risk one person was willing to take to make a difference. AFTER German forces took control of Warsaw they set up a camp in the middle of Antonia and Jan Zabinski’s, played by Jessica Chastain (Miss Sloane, The Martian) and Johan Heldenbergh (The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Misfortunates), zoo and got rid of most of the animals. The couple formed an idea that could save lives but they needed the zoo to remain open. This biographic drama was powered with Jessica’s acting. She was the dominant force in this film, though other actors such as Daniel Bruhl (Rush, Woman in Gold) as Lutz Heck and Shira Haas (Princess, A Tale of Love and Darkness) as Urszula still drew my attention to them. The story was amazing, frightening, tragic and a few other adjectives. I will say the script did not come up to what I felt could have been a more powerful story. There were a few scenes that I am willing to bet were created simply for dramatic effect. This produced an odd seesawing effect between intensity and sweetness; for entertainment value it was okay but the story deserved more intensity in my opinion. Regardless, to see Jessica acting in this courageous story was time well spent.
2 ¾ stars
They share similar features, have the same inflection in their voice, with mannerisms that are alike, even from the same gene pool; yet they are nothing like each other. This is something that has always fascinated me: the similarities and differences between siblings. I always wanted to figure out what were the factors that caused brothers and sisters to turn out the way they did when they were from the same parents. One of the obvious things to me was the birthing order because I strongly believe there is unique baggage in being an older, middle or younger sibling. I have seen families who blatantly treated their first born child differently compared to their 2nd born. From the people I know who were the youngest of their siblings I know some people claim this group was spoiled the most by their parents. I do not totally agree with this; I just think by the time the youngest of at least 3 children have been born, the parents were too tired to care about the same things they once did with their older children. Personally I am not a fan of dressing up one’s children in the same clothing; I feel it takes a bit away from a child’s identity. Now when siblings display strong reactions towards each other, I have to wonder what took place in their childhood that caused such negative feelings towards each other. It is so perplexing to me that I notice when I am introduced socially to new people I tend to ask them at some point if they have any siblings. You should hear some of the responses I have gotten, but nothing that matches the siblings’ story in this fantasy adventure drama. AFTER suffering a horrific loss Freya, played by Emily Blunt (Sicario, Into the Woods), decided to leave her older sister Ravenna, played by Charlize Theron (Young Adult, Mad Max: Fury Road), and stake out her own land where she would be the sole ruler. Her kingdom would have one major law: falling in love was not allowed. The special effects in this action film were certainly fun to watch with the actors. Besides Charlize and Emily there was Chris Hemsworth (In the Heart of the Sea, Thor franchise) as Eric and Jessica Chastain (Crimson Peak, A Most Violent Year) as Sara. I was stoked to see this cast especially in the fight scenes; however, the dull script ruined the already poorly thought out story. I could not believe two actresses like Emily and Charlize were not given more powerful dramatic scenes that they could easily have handled. With the multiple story lines I do not know if this picture was a prequel or sequel; it was totally baffling to me. The writers and director could have created a wild fantasy franchise but for me this movie was a bust. I do not know about you, but I have seen more sparks and drama at a family dysfunction.
1 ¾ stars
When one experiences a traumatic change in their life, the person should hold off on making any life altering decisions. I remember hearing this advice a long time ago and did not quite comprehend the magnitude of it. In the past when something rough happened to me I used to binge on food; I know, a classic case of stuffing one’s feelings. I have not done that in manny, many years. As I matured I started to understand the meaning of that wisdom and would force myself to have a pause in my life, to contemplate the issue and look for a solution or allow myself to go through the grieving process. There was one horrible breakup I went through where I did not leave the house for a few days, doing a marathon of movies on DVD. It actually helped me come to terms with the changes that took place. I realized I did not have control over them, learned how to acknowledge my feelings then worked at eventually letting them go. No one can tell you what to do during such times; I believe a person has to come to terms with their emotions. Though I will say I appreciated listening to the different advice my friends were offering me. Unfortunately I had a friend who was not in a space to listen to others when her long term boyfriend decided to end their relationship. She spiraled down into a deep depression. However in a matter of several weeks she all of a sudden introduced me to her new boyfriend. I thought it was rather quick and became more concerned after a couple of months later she told me she was going to marry him. I knew this was going to be trouble just as I knew there was trouble brewing in this dramatic fantasy film. AFTER the tragic loss of her father Edith Cushing, played by Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre), married and moved out of the country with businessman Thomas Sharpe, played by Tom Hiddleston (Thor franchise, Only Lovers Left Alive), to live on his estate. His mansion came with some dark secrets. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim), this horror film was utterly gorgeous with sumptuous sets and period pieced costumes. The actors including Jessica Chastain (The Martian, A Most Violent Year) as Lucille Sharpe and Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim, Children of Men) as Dr. Alan McMichael were all wonderful in spite of the dull story. With such elaborate sets and scenery I really had hoped the story was going to be a strong gothic suspense drama. There was very little intensity throughout the film as if everything had fallen into a middle of the road type of mentality. Not to take anything away from the actors but due to the script, I found the house to be one of the strongest characters out of the movie.
2 1/3 stars
I always want to be respectful of people’s feelings, even when I know with pain and discomfort it is all about perspective. Someone complaining about a nasty paper cut is something I can understand and sympathize along with the person. However, compared to someone having a limb amputated due to disease, the paper cut appears pretty minor; it is all about perspective. Last week was a challenging time for me. I am still a novice when it comes to doing things that are computer related and I had 2 online courses that had to be completed by October 1st. Without formal training on how to navigate the website, I felt lost as I struggled to find my way to taking and completing the courses. In fact on one site, every time after I logged in and clicked on the course title I was brought back to the login screen. Even trying it on a different computer and operating system ended with the same results; it was absolutely frustrating as I had to work with the site’s help desk as the clock was ticking. At the same time my day job was getting busier as we approached month end, so my mind was being heavily taxed to say the least. And if that was not enough I thought a birthday gift I had ordered online was missing as the birthdate was fast approaching. By the time Friday end of work rolled around it took all my energy just to go park the car and buy my theater ticket to see this dramatic adventure film. Right from the start my problems quickly disappeared as I saw what the main character had to endure in his situation. ABANDONED and left for dead astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon (Interstellar, Saving Private Ryan), realized he had to find a way to contact NASA and his crew before his food and supplies would run out. Mars was not going to be helpful in his endeavor. From director Ridley Scott (American Gangster, Black Hawk Down), this science fiction film was extra special because of its cast, which included Jessica Chastain (Mama, A Most Violent Year) as Melissa Lewis and Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber franchise, Looper) as Teddy Sanders; everyone was outstanding with their characters. The other reason I was transported to Mars was due to the script; special effects took a back seat as I realized I was getting an abundance of technological jargon, but Matt made everything seem believable to me. Nothing seemed frivolous; I felt Ridley used a deft touch in letting the tension and drama play off of each other. There were some scenes where I was sitting on the edge of my seat in nervous anticipation and in the next moment I was sitting back as my eyes teared up. This picture absolutely took me away to a different place, besides adding a new perspective to this year’s batch of Oscar worthy movies. One brief scene showed blood in it.
I am used to friends and family picking up and moving out of state for either a job opportunity or retirement. As for me I would be willing to do it only on a part-time basis, specifically during wintertime. I never had the courage to even think about this until the past several years as the winter months have been harder on me; but who knows if I will ever get to a point where I could afford to do such a thing. What I find to be more courageous are those individuals and families who emigrate to a different country, especially the ones who hope to become business owners one day. I have known people who were willing to work seven days a week, doing whatever needed to be done, to try and make a go of their new business. Depending on where it is located can add an extra level of difficulty when it involves local or federal government agencies. In fact, I just heard a story from a member from one of my classes who is trying to build a new building. The restrictions and requirements to get and keep a building permit is truly a nightmare. ON the verge of expanding his business Abel Morales, played by Oscar Isaac (Inside Lleywn Davis, Body of Lies), was desperately trying to keep things afloat while trying to find out who was stealing from his company. With all of his finances tied up in the business he was taking these acts of crime personally. This film festival winning crime drama had everything going for it. Written and directed by J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, All is Lost), the movie perfectly balanced the emotional scenes with brilliant film work. One of the main reasons why this worked so well was due to the cast and what a group of actors were chosen. Besides Oscar’s performance which was wonderful, there was Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Help) who played his wife Anna, David Oyelowo (Selma, Interstellar) as Lawrence and Albert Brooks (Defending Your Life, Drive) as Andrew Walsh. All of them were amazing to watch; but let me add, Jessica was electric in this role. She was so good that I have to say I think this was her best performance to date. Set in New York during the early 1980s, the whole look of the picture was right on. This action movie was the complete package that was beautifully done with the right amount of emotional investment; I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. There were a couple of scenes where blood and violence was shown.
3 1/2 stars
A mound of recently fallen autumn leaves became an ancient fragile pyramid that was ready to be explored by us. We had to be careful as we dug our way inside so the colored walls would not crumble and fall. The discarded stove in the alley turned into a rocket ship with 4 blazing thrusters and a retractable dock door that revealed a double landing deck made of steel. For a child the world was this huge amusement park, filled with infinite places to explore. I feel exploring is part of our human nature. Not necessarily in the same way, all of us do it in some kind of form. There are people who explore various stores to find the cheapest price on an item before buying it. When I take a trip to an unfamiliar place, I go into full explorer mode. After researching and mapping out my trip; once I arrive I usually go non-stop to cover as much territory as I can before I return home. Think about it; isn’t taking an art or dance class a way for us to explore our creative side? Throughout the ages there have been individuals who spent their entire life looking for something new and different; as I said, it is just in our nature. EXPLORING for a new planet to call home was imperative if mankind wanted to survive as a species since the Earth was dying. For Professor Brand’s, played by Michael Caine (Harry Brown, The Dark Knight franchise), plan to succeed he would have to depend on the skills of retired astronaut Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club, Mud), to pilot the spaceship. One of the passengers was the professor’s daughter; a scientist who Cooper referred to simply as Brand, played by Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables, The Devil Wears Prada). No one knew if the crew would be back in time before the planet expired. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight franchise, Inception), this science fiction adventure was a major piece of work. Without the use of green screens for the special effects, the actors were able to react in a more realistic way to the sets around them. Visually the movie was stunning with its broad spectrum of varied scenes, both on Earth and in space. Where I felt this movie stumbled was its story. Though the script per se was well done, even with the past and present story lines going simultaneously, the story had some muddled spots in it. With a running time of 2 hours and 49 minutes; I felt the film could have used a little more editing. The hardest part watching this movie was at the end; after sitting all the way through, I found myself confused to the point I felt I was left out in space.
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 middle brother who was the #1 renter of DVD’s in the country was also a master ghost storyteller. My cousins and I would huddle around him at family gatherings as he wove and spun elaborate tales of suspense and surprise. He would slowly build up the stories, shocking us with the sudden appearance of a flame from his lighter or a quick slap of his hands; making us jump in the darkened living room. The most innocent of events would be transformed into a wild frightening story filled with scary apparitions and spirits. What made his ghost stories so good was the way he slowly built up the suspense, taking his audience on an unexpected journey to a different world. These same factors were employed in this darkly hued horror film. There was no slashing of flesh, no spurting of blood needed in making this well done film scary. There were times when the music would give away the upcoming twist, but it was the use of shadows that propelled the tension forward. Uncle Lucas, played by Nikolas Coster-Waldau (Kingdom of Heaven, Headhunters), had been searching five years for his missing nieces, before he was notified they had been found alone in an abandoned house in the wilderness. Lucas and his girlfriend Annabel, played by Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, Take Shelter), would help reintroduce the girls into the living world by becoming their guardians. What the couple did not realize was the girls already had a protective guardian. Taking on a different kind of role, Jessica still brought her considerable strong acting skills to her character. Megan Charpentier (Red Riding Hood, Jennifer’s Body) and Isabelle Nelisse (Mirador-TV) were absolutely creepy as the nieces Victoria and Lilly. There was never a time where I jumped out of my seat from fright; however, the tension and suspense kept me captive. It was done in a similar way like my brother used to do with his stories when I was a kid.
2 2/3 stars
The heart is a resilient muscle. It has the ability to heal from an emotional wound. No matter how many scars it may have, the heart will always let you know how it feels. The one exception would be when the individual does not have closure. Without that closure the heart remains in a wounded state, always reminding the person of its pain. Though I have experienced a broken heart, I never had to deal with the tragic horror the couple in this dramatic mystery were living. It had been several years with police detective Tom Adkins Sr., played by Jon Hamm (The Town, Friends with Kids) and his wife Barbara, played by Rhona Mitra (Shooter, The Number 23), no closer in finding out the circumstances behind the disappearance of their son Tom Jr. With the strain weighing particularly heavy on Officer Adkins, he could not let go and move on. When the remains of a little boy were found from a 50 year old grave, little did Tom know his detective work on the remains would result in a clue to his son’s case. This movie surprised me for a couple of reasons. First, it had a strong cast with the addition of Jessica Chastain (The Help, Lawless) as Sally Ann, Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama, A Beautiful Mind) as Matthew Wakefield and James Van Der Beak (The Rules of Attraction, Dawson’s Creek-TV) as Diploma/Roggiani. Second, the way the director blended the current events into the story behind the 50 year old remains kept my attention. With the older story, the sepia toned scenes made for seamless transitions between past and current time. In spite of several scenes that did not work for me, this film was a moving tale that touched my heart.
2 1/2 stars — DVD