THE YOUNG MAN WAS SHARING HIS STORY with the audience on national television. In his words he was expressing how hard it was for him to get to this point, where he made it onto the dance show. He grew up in a tough neighborhood that had its share of crimes. Many of his classmates were already dealing drugs or doing other illegal activities; all he wanted to do was dance. He said he had been picked on and beaten up because of it. When the host asked what his parents thought about his dancing the young man said his Dad wanted a son who liked playing sports. I felt sad for this talented guy who struggled to do what he loved to do. His story reminded me of this couple I knew who had a little girl. The girl preferred playing with trucks and cars instead of her dolls. The parents were not exactly distraught, but you could tell they were concerned their daughter preferred “boy toys” instead of “girl toys.” Oh, and they were upset that the little girl hated wearing dresses. She would cry every time her parents would try to get her to wear a dress. FROM THE TWO STORIES I JUST SHARED with you, can you find a common theme between the two? I will give you a minute to think about it. Ok time is up; let me tell you what I see. The young man and little girl did not have any issue with what they liked; the man loved to dance, and the girl preferred playing with trucks. The people around each of them had an issue with it. Hearing the man talk about his father wishing he was into sports bothered me. I feel a parent’s job is to love their child unconditionally; to nurture them to grow into kind, respectable, responsible adults. The father, I believe, is taking his prejudices and applying them to his son. Maybe I am assuming, but what I took away from the young man’s story was his Dad and neighborhood kids thought less of him, or maybe thought he was not masculine enough, because he was a dancer. The same can be applied to the parents of the little girl. They had a problem with their daughter not playing with toys associated in the past with a girl and not dressing the part. What a child is or chooses to do is not necessarily a reflection on their parents. It is similar to the parents in this heartbreaking, dramatic movie. WHEN NANCY AND MARSHALL EAMONS, played by Nicole Kidman (The Beguiled, Lion) and Russell Crowe (The Nice Guys, The Water Diviner) discover their son is gay, the only thing they feel will solve the “problem” is to enroll their son Jared, played by Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Lady Bird), into a program that will convert him to a heterosexual. Jared agreed to participate; he wanted to please his parents. Based on a true story, this film was written and directed by Joel Edgerton (Loving, It Comes at Night) who also starred as Victor Sykes. Most of you know I find Nicole to be a gifted actress and for the time she was on screen, she was dynamite. For the small body of work Lucas has done already, he too is a gifted actor. The script based on the biography was well written, despite a couple of areas that could have used more explanation. As for the topic, I looked on in disbelief that anyone would even consider such a preposterous idea about conversion therapy. But looking underneath the surface, the lack of acceptance upon finding out about their son was sad to see. This was a powerful and thought provoking picture.
3 ½ stars
THOUGH I WOULD LIKE EVERYONE to act in an honest and ethical way, I am sure there is a lot that goes on in the business world that would shock me. Not just big corporations, I am sure it trickles down to small shop owners. I have a couple of friends who ran a medical practice and I used to get surprised by the things they told me they encountered during the average work day. Drug salespeople were constantly dropping in hoping to catch a quick meeting with the doctor. If they could not meet on their first attempt, some would try to bring in lunch for the staff. I assume they were hoping they could entice the doctor to meet them over a meal. There was one salesperson who would stock their cabinet with trial size packages of the drug they were representing; however, they always either pushed back their competitor’s product to the back of the shelf or even took some of it away. Through my friends’ years at the medical practice I was astounded by the amount of free products the drug reps would try to leave at the office. I had to wonder if the drug company eliminated the free trial size portions would they lower the prices of their drugs. THE PAST WEEK A FORMER pharmaceutical executive was sentenced to prison for fraud. I think the verdict is just since he broke the law; but this is the same person who raised the price of a life-saving drug from $13.50 a pill to $750.00. Now I am all for everyone making a profit but gouging the public is simply wrong. The percentage of that price increase covers the price of inflation for centuries. Granted having the product billed as a lifesaver makes it worse, but I would feel the same way if a company increased the price of their bread by some exorbitant price. The difference is they would never do it because one can always buy a loaf of bread from a different company. People in business who only think of themselves and are willing to sacrifice the consumer to get ahead are no different in my opinion to those malicious email attachments seeking your bank information. And as a side note the latest statistics show those emails increased by 300% in the last quarter of 2017. Despite the crooked and unethical things I have mentioned, I was shocked by what I saw in this action crime comedy. WANTING TO BE THE FIRST to come to market with a brand new drug medical executive Richard Rusk, played by Joel Edgerton (Red Sparrow, The Great Gatsby), was willing to do anything to succeed. This would put his employees in a precarious predicament. With Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde, Mad Max: Fury Road) as Elaine Markinson, David Oyelowo (A United Kingdom, Queen of Katwe) as Harold Soyinka, Thandie Newton (Crash, 2012) as Bonnie Soyinka and Amanda Seyfried (Dear John, Mamma Mia!) as Sunny; I felt the cast choices were way better than the roles they were given to play. The script started out promising to me but as time went on I thought the addition of multiple story lines and the under developed characters bogged it down. I actually do not recall anything funny in this film. Instead I thought the story was a generic version of several “chase” films I have seen before. Even with the acting I felt Charlize was the most authentic; I can only assume David wanted to do something totally different, but it did not work for me. This movie has to make one wonder if all involved producing it were sampling the drug that was coming to market in this story.
1 ¾ stars
FOR MANY YEARS I DID NOT realize the ability to “read” an individual was a gift. I just assumed everyone was capable of doing it. As a kid there was a teenage neighbor that was polite and quiet. I did not have much interaction with him; I thought it was due to the age difference. However I always got a cautious feeling when he was around me. I could not explain it but there was just something about him that made me wary of him. One day I was walking down the backstairs with a cousin when the neighbor appeared at the bottom of the stairs we were about to descend. Without warning the teenager threw a rock at us and hit my cousin in the forehead. As the two of us ran back up the stairs the neighbor ran out into the alley and disappeared. Another example of being able to see a person’s true self happened when a friend of mine started to date this man who right from the start was making her all these promises of what their life would be together. Really, I thought; it was not long into their new relationship when his true intentions came out. The guy told her his funds were temporary tied up and he needed $500.00. Need I go any further in this story? SO THE ABILITY TO GET a sense of a person’s true intent is a valuable tool to include (if available) in one’s check off list when evaluating an individual. Now I do want to make it clear there is a distinction between “reading” a person and making a judgment about them. I do not believe my feelings about someone are written in stone; it may be only a feeling that causes me to be more cautious, but I do not assume the person is absolutely what I think they are in inside. Only time will tell the truth and even that is not always a given. I guess this is the area where one can only look for red flags, warnings that something is not right. I have heard just from my friends alone, so many stories about a person pretending to be someone they are not. It is even more prevalent on social media sites. And the ironic thing is this has been going on for such a long time; the only difference is there are now more people being duped who have stopped giving a person the benefit of the doubt, taking longer before they begin to trust someone. The main character in this mystery thriller will show you how it is done. PRIMA BALLERINA DOMINIKA EGOROVA’S, played by Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games franchise, Joy), career was cut short due to an accident during a performance. With no other means to support herself and her mother, she was ripe to be recruited into a special Russian spy program. She would become a quick learner. With Joel Edgerton (The Gift, Warrior) as Nate Nash, Matthias Schoenaerts (The Danish Girl, Rust and Bone) as Vanya Egorov, and Charlotte Rampling (45 Years, Never Let Me Go) as Matron; I thought the actors were well cast in this film. Granted Jennifer was the star of the story and gave it her best, but due to the uneven script I did not get totally wrapped up into the story. There were scenes that were intense but then we would go through a dull lull before something exciting happened again. I thought the story was sound but not everything clicked together in this picture. Also I felt the violence and sex on display were used as a distraction for the poorly written script. I had a sense this film would not match up to the excitement of the movie trailers; I guess I should listen to myself more often.
HEARTBREAKING was all I could think about as I listened to the news reporter. I do not remember all the details since it happened some time ago, but I vividly retain the feelings I had back then while seeing a picture of the family car before tragedy struck. The mom and dad were driving in the car with their children when they got caught in a flash flood due to the heavy storms experienced in their area. As the car started to float off the road and head towards the river, the parents were trying to gather up the kids to get them out. Here is where my memory is a little fuzzy; the car was starting to sink and the father found himself in one of the worst scenarios possible. Two kids still remained in the car as more of it was sinking below the surface. He had to dive underwater and work at releasing the children from their car seats, I believe. Frantically he had to return to the surface for air and swim back down to the vehicle. Unfortunately he was only able to save one of the 2 kids. I cannot imagine the feelings of guilt the dad must have suffered; it had to be a life altering experience that would not be easy to reconcile. THERE are many times where one has to make a decision that will not bring the best outcome. I have made many decisions that if I could do all over again, I would have chosen a different path. What is that saying people use in these types of situations, hindsight is 20/20? The phrase I tend to use is, “If I knew then what I know now…” Maybe there is some truth to that saying about, “with age comes wisdom.” No matter how old the father was in this horror mystery movie, I do not think any of his decisions were easy. WITH unknown terrors lurking out their door a father, mother and their son seal themselves up inside of their house. Their daily routine would be disrupted when there was a pounding at their door. Starring Joel Edgerton (Loving, The Gift) as Paul, Carmen Ejogo (Selma, Alien: Covenant) as Sarah, Kelvin Harrison Jr. (The Birth of a Nation, Mudbound) as Travis, Christopher Abbott (A Most Violent Year, Martha Marcy May Marlene) as Will and Riley Keough (The Runaways, American Honey) as Kim; this story was more of a psychological thriller to me. The viewers never really saw the terror that was being afflicted across the land. I thought the script started off well enough in building up the tension, assisted with the able acting from the cast. Visually this film had a natural darkness to it, literally and figuratively; things were kept simple from the dialog to the sets. One could really get a feel for what this family was experiencing. My issue with the script came in the latter part of the movie; I felt confused on where the writer was taking the story. By the end of the film I still had some questions I wish would have been answered; in fact, I would not be surprised if some viewers were left feeling dissatisfied. This picture presented some tough choices for the characters and in turn, could present the viewer with their own dilemma if they were in a similar situation.
2 ½ stars
THE first time I heard that word being hurled at me I knew it would not be the last time. What I did not know was once a person was labeled by that word, no matter what they achieved, most of their peers would still only see a f-a-t person. Around the same time I remember a classroom discussion about race. A little boy in class asked the teacher why some people’s skin was a different color. I still recall what the teacher said to us. She told the class all it meant was that person’s family, from a very long time ago, was born in a different part of the world. The closer to the equator, the darker the person’s skin would be is how she described it. This bit of information turned into a game outside of class, where students would guess where a person’s grandparents were born based on the color of the skin on a person. NOW fast forward to high school my freshman year; we heard a rumor there was a time when girls were not allowed to wear pants in school. You can imagine how astonished we were on this bit of news. It turned out it was true; if you were female then you had to wear a skirt or dress to school. I could not understand what possible reason did the administration have for such a ridiculous rule. Past my school years when I was living in the city in my first apartment, I was walking down the street. Two guys were walking in my direction but I did not pay attention since there was a variety of shoppers on the street. Just as we were coming shoulder to shoulder the guy closest to me punched me in the face and I staggered back into a plate glass window. Either they did it for some initiation or they just did not like the way I looked. For 2 1/2 decades I had experienced actions based on looks, why was there such a preoccupation with it? MILDRED and Richard, played by Ruth Nega (World War Z, The Samaritan) and Joel Egerton (The Gift, Black Mass), were deeply in love. Their love however was not right according to some of their neighbors. Based on a true story this dramatic biography set during the 1950s in Virginia had such an important story to tell. With Marton Csokas (The Lord of the Rings franchise, The Equalizer) as Sheriff Brooks and Nick Kroll (Adult Beginners; I Love You, Man) as Bernie Cohen, the actors were all good; however, Joel and Ruth were incredible and Ruth deserves an Oscar nomination. For this story I felt the script could have done a better job in telling the story. I wanted to know how Mildred and Richard met considering the obvious racial divide that was on display. There was a subdued nature to the telling of this story, both the written word and the directing of scenes. At the end of the film I had a mixture of feelings. On the one hand one could say we have come a long way from this story; but on the other hand, the hate I am currently seeing in the world makes it seem as if nothing has changed. Hate is the new black.
2 3/4 stars
Being the recipient of unconditional love is one of the most extraordinary events to experience in one’s lifetime. To have a person who loves you, respects you and accepts you with all of your quirks and oddities is like always having a comforting warm hug around you. Most everybody assumes the first exposure to unconditional love comes from our parents and for the most part that is true. However I have seen examples where I had to wonder to myself why that person became a parent. This may sound harsh to some of you but I saw a parent during a team sporting event that spent the entire time yelling at their child, telling them everything they were doing wrong. It was horrifying and frankly disgusting to me. I cannot honestly say that parent loved their child unconditionally. Let me ask you what you think about a parent who informs their child they should have never become a parent; what does that say about them? In fact because they did not want to be bothered by their child they started giving them an allowance at a very early age to stay out of their hair. Unconditional love is not exclusive to one group of people; it goes for everyone. I have had discussions with friends who were in relationships with people who smoked cigarettes. Knowing they were non-smokers I asked how the two worked it out. They said an agreement was made that there would be no smoking in the house or car and they deal with it because they love their significant other. To me that is unconditional love and as I was moved by that statement I was just as moved by the unconditional love I saw in this adventure drama. WITH the government thinking his son could be a threat and a religious group thinking he was a savior, the only thing that mattered to Roy, played by Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, The Iceman), was figuring out how to keep his special little boy safe. This film festival nominee immediately grabbed me at the beginning of its original story, which is listed as science fiction by the way. With Joel Edgerton (Black Mass, The Gift) as Lucas, Adam Driver (Frances Ha, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as Sevier and Kirsten Dunst (Spiderman franchise, Upside Down) as Sarah Tomlin; I thought the acting was wonderful, adding oomph to the already compelling script. The combination of Michael Shannon as the Dad and Jaeden Lieberher (Aloha, St. Vincent) as his son Alton was powerful enough for me to actually believe they were family. The acting took this story which was essentially a long chase scene and made the movie extra special for me. On another level the script allowed the viewer to come up with their own interpretation concerning the different factions staking out their claims. I feel if one can accept the story they will find this picture a fascinating study. This movie took me away despite falling off towards the end; but it was okay, I still loved watching this indie feeling film treat.
3 ¼ stars
We would sit and observe the couples sitting near us. It was not on a consistent basis, but there were times where it amused us. Looking at a couple, all of us would try to figure out, just from what we observed, what kept the couple together or maybe not. There were couples that would sit across from each other and never utter a word of conversation; they would slowly eat their meal with little emotion crossing their faces. Other times two people would hold hands from across each other, chatting up a storm interspersed with laughter and surprise. I remember looking at some couples and wondering what attracted each person to the other. Even among my friends there have been times where someone would bring there new significant other into the group and after a few meetings one of us would start to wonder what our friend saw in their girlfriend/boyfriend. I do not mean in a catty or gossipy way; but in a protective way. For example there was one friend I felt was being used by their new love interest, where I finally had to have a conversation with them to share my feelings. When they told me they were aware of being used and did not see the relationship going long term, I was cool with it then. We were all adults; sure we watched out for each other but we would never force our feelings onto another. We would respect each other’s decisions, though there were times it was challenging. I felt the same way about the main character in this dramatic western. WHEN her husband Bill Hammond, played by Noah Emmerich (Super 8, The Truman Show), returned home shot and bleeding from a gang of thieves out to kill him; Jane Hammond, played by Natalie Portman (Thor franchise, Black Swan), had no choice but to contact her ex-lover Dan Frost, played by Joel Edgerton (Black Mass, The Gift), to come help her defend her husband and home. This action drama had some good things going for it. First there was Natalie and Joel along with Ewan McGregor (Star Wars franchise, The Impossible) as Colin McCann; they were real good in their roles. I enjoyed the idea of a strong female character leading the story. Sadly the issue with this western was the script; it was predictable enough where I could almost figure out everything going on. There was at least a cool twist in the story, but the scenes were not consistent. They did not have an easy flow to them as if there was a 2nd director doing several scenes. Too bad the film did not gel well together because I liked the old fashioned feeling to it with its fresh idea of a leading strong female character. Also the script certainly had an interesting take on what brings two people together. There were multiple scenes with blood and violence.
I used to live near this great restaurant that served these incredible french fries. They were hand cut with some of the potato skin left on them. They were always served separately on their own plate which I thought was a great idea, because you would get more fries than if they were placed next to your entree on the same plate. Besides, this way you could douse them anyway you wanted with ketchup. What made this place standout from other restaurants was the personal touches the staff did for the customers. If your bowl of soup cooled off before you finished it, they were always glad to bring a cup of steaming broth to warm it up. Another thing that made this place standout from others was the way they would hand mold their burgers. No matter what you ordered it always looked and felt like a home cooked meal. When the owners wanted to expand they brought in new business partners. On the outside nothing looked different; there was the same creaky front door and the same counter with its maroon colored stools, where the cushioned seats would spin a full 360 degrees around. However, I soon noticed some subtle changes with the food. The french fries were no longer hand cut; the process became automated, where the potatoes were put through a machine to cut them up. The cloth napkins were replaced with disposable paper ones that were barely big enough to wipe your hands clean. All the personal touches and care that went into cooking the food became automated and it was never the same. I lost interest in the place since my last visits were never as satisfying as the ones with the original owners. This is the same way I have felt about Johnny Depp. His recent films were not entertaining to me since it was obvious he was on automatic. Just slap makeup and costumes on him and it was the same thing over and over. All of that changed with this dramatic crime film. BASED on true events Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland, Finding Neverland) played James “Whitey” Bulger, a mobster who with the help of the FBI became Boston’s biggest crime boss. The acting performance by Johnny was stunning; it reminded me of his acting from years ago. With Joel Edgerton’s (The Gift, Zero Dark Thirty) wonderful performance as FBI agent John Connolly and Peter Sarsgaard (Orphan, Jarhead) as Brian Halloran, the acting was of a high caliber for this story. I only wished the script had offered more details. It felt like things were quickly taking place without any explanation just to keep the film under a certain time. Despite this I found the picture compelling enough to keep me involved through most of it. I just hope Johnny will continue to take on roles that push him to really act in them, instead of going on automatic. There were scenes with violence and blood in them.
Those words that get spoken to you may wind up lining the path of your life with land mines. Sadly the speaker of those words may not even be conscious of the destruction they will be causing you. Maybe it is because of the twists and turns I navigated through my life that makes me hyperaware of what a person is saying to another person. I have mentioned my 7th grade teacher before, who told me I would amount to nothing if I tried to become a writer. For the next several years after that comment I spent my time focusing on a scientific career before coming to my senses; imagine how many other kids she must have affected with her opinions. There are three words in the English language that can have a major effect on a person when they are preceded with the word, “You.” The words are can, should and are. Think about a time in your life when someone told you that you could not do something or that you were ____(fill in the blank). As adults we at least have the capacity to process such remarks, both the positive and negative ones. However, a child may not be able to overcome the nickname someone bestowed on them; in fact, the bestower may not even realize how much damage a nickname can cause a person. To this day I can be inside the dressing room of a clothes store, trying on a new article of clothing and hear one of the nicknames forced on me when I was a kid. WHILE at the store picking out items for their new house Simon, played by Jason Bateman (The Longest Week, Identity Thief), bumped into an old classmate named Gordon, played by Joel Edgerton (Warrior, The Great Gatsby). After introducing Gordon to his wife Robyn, played by Rebecca Hall (Closed Circuit, The Town), Simon figured that would be the last he would see of this man he barely remembered from school; that was until Gordon showed up at their house with a housewarming gift. The first thing I have to do is give a shout out to Joel Edgerton because not only did he star in this mystery thriller but wrote and directed it. The story played out like a good old fashioned suspense tale, where I was taken on a ride filled with twists and turns. I am not saying like a roller coaster ride, more like layers that change the landscape as the story progresses along. The acting was excellent to the point where I was experiencing similar uncomfortableness along with the characters. It is a good feeling for me when a script can provide thrills without the need of explosions or special effects; letting the characters build up suspense for the viewers. In the case of this movie the label fits perfectly, a thrilling mystery.
3 1/4 stars
Taken out from a religious context what does the phrase, “Let my people go,” bring to mind? For me it is Charlton Heston playing Moses in the film, The Ten Commandments. I was too young to understand everything about the movie, but several of its iconic scenes have been etched inside of my brain. It would be inconceivable to me to find someone who saw this film prior to the creation of current CGI effects, who was not struck with awe by the parting of the Red Sea. I can remember when we studied that time period in school; I would get confused when the lesson did not match what I remembered in the picture. There are just some films that remain with us for our entire life and this was one of them. So here was my dilemma: could I watch and review this dramatic adventure film without being biased. SURPRISINGLY I was able to sit through most of the action scenes without thinking about Charlton or Yul Brynner. The main reason was due to the special effects; the scope and expanse of the scenes were nearly overwhelming for me. I sat in my seat with stunned surprise at the amount of people used and especially the vast visual depth to the scenes. On a visual basis this film was beautiful, even though the 3D effects did not do much for me. Christian Bale (American Hustle, The Fighter) was excellent playing Moses as was Joel Edgerton (Warrior, Zero Dark Thirty) who played Ramses. However, Joel must have realized the script was quickly tanking as he became more of a caricature as the movie progressed. Directed by Ridley Scott (Gladiator, American Gangster), this film was all surface with no substance. I was saddened on how quickly I became bored with the uneven script that at times would be wonderful then quickly turn dreadful, especially due to the modern macho vibe. Though there was variety with the cast, I thought Ben Kingsley (Gandhi, Iron Man 3) as Nun and Sigourney Weaver (The Cabin in the Woods, Avatar) as Tuya were utterly wasted in this mess. I believe a good portion of the fault was due to having four writers working on the script. There was never a time where I felt emotionally moved by a scene. And of all scenes not able to stir me, the parting of the sea was such an anticlimactic moment for me. I wished the time spent on creating a visual feast would have gone more into the script; I was looking down at my watch a couple of times, which is never a good sign. To give the benefit of the doubt, maybe there are certain stories/movies that should never be remade. I am not sure; but with our technical prowess in special effects, if the movie studio would have spent more energy on the script this would have been a modern epic.
2 1/4 stars