IT WAS THE 2ND WEEK OF high school when I first heard the guitar music filtering into the hallway. I was a freshman and still getting the lay of the land in the large school building, compared to my small elementary school. Making a mental note of my surroundings, I promised myself I would find where the music was coming from. The following week during my study period, I asked for a hall pass and made my way through the school hallways listening for the music. It was faint and unrecognizable, lingering just enough in the air like morning mist to lead me towards it. I soon found myself in an unfamiliar part of the school, in front of a slightly ajar door without a room number. As I slowly pushed the door open the guitar playing stopped. I froze for a moment but decided I could not run away now. Stepping into the room I saw a blonde-haired guy sitting on a desk with one leg crossed over the other and a guitar resting in his lap. He was the first to speak by saying hello to me. I said hi back and told him I had heard the music playing and wanted to find out where it was coming from. He asked if I played an instrument and I told him yes, the piano. From there we started talking all things music, from classical to pop music. HE WAS A SENIOR WHICH TOOK me by surprise because I had heard seniors would not be caught dead talking to lowly freshmen. Music was our connection and I found myself hanging out with him playing music every week, since they did not take attendance in study hall. Having a senior as a friend was fortuitous because it gave me inside access on how to maneuver through the school year. He gave me a rundown of which teachers were cool, what foods to avoid in the lunchroom, what bathrooms were safe to use, among a variety of other tips and warnings. I did not have to go through a typical trial and error period of discovery that was filled with risk, especially for freshman. Little did I know how valuable his info would be for me. My years in high school were traumatic, filled with bullying and abuse; I could only imagine how worse it would have been if I did not know what I already knew due to him. Though we only had one year together in school before he went out of state for college; for all intents and purposes he was a mentor to me, just like the main character in this dramatic crime film. HAVING LOST ALL HIS MONEY, NOT able to even buy a meal John, played by John C. Reilly (Stan & Ollie, The Sisters Brothers), was leery of the stranger who suddenly appeared and offered to buy him a cup of coffee. No one does something for free without wanting something; what did this finely dressed man want with John? With Philip Baker Hall (Boogie Nights, The Last Word) as Sydney, Gwyneth Paltrow (The Avengers franchise, Thanks for Sharing) as Clementine, Samuel L. Jackson (Shaft, The Hateful Eight) as Jimmy and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Hunger Games franchise, The Master) as a young craps player; this film festival winner was filled with a tour de force of acting. The cast was outstanding as they slowly made their way through the script. Seeped in mystery and emotions, I enjoyed the unintentional retro vibe coming off this over 20-year-old film. Due to the authenticity of the dialog, I stayed engaged with the story; a story that seemed familiar to me from other gambling films, yet still had some surprise to it. I can see where young writers would use this film as a teaching tool on how to write real characters.
3 ¼ stars
I DID NOT CRINGE UNTIL SHE attempted to speak. She had assistance walking across the stage of the awards show; it was expected considering her frailty and advanced age. In her day, decades ago, she was a top billing major star. Now as I watched her trying to talk, it was obvious to me she was quite confused. I had no idea if the producers of the show requested her or her management team offered her; either way, I felt uncomfortable and sad. Growing old is harder when it is done in the public eye; I think about myself with the classes I teach. Will I know when it is the time to hang up my cycling and yoga apparel? Will I graciously retire when I realize, if I even realize, I am not teaching class at the same level as I have in the past? These are things I have given thought to as I have grown older. I look at some people who have obviously had extensive plastic surgery and wonder why they did it. There has never been a time I have seen an older celebrity and not known they had altered themselves simply by looking at their semi-paralyzed face or their skin stretched tightly like plastic wrap sealing a bowl of leftovers. What is it they are trying to do? ONE OF THE ANSWERS I CAN come up with is they do it because they still need to get adulation and compliments from people. I would like to know how having a wrinkled face would stop someone from admiring you. I went to a concert that was being held in a small movie theater; the headliner was a celebrity who was past his prime. What I mean is their voice could no longer handle their song catalog and their dance moves were reduced to a simple swaying side to side. He was only one of the musical acts; so, there were some people in the audience who had no idea who this man was and what songs he had sung that brought him fame. If it were me I could not get on stage and perform unless I categorically knew it would be at the same caliber as before. As I write this I am reminded about former celebrities who either do advertisements or shall we say low-brow projects. I always wonder if they need the money or they are so starved for attention. Regarding this film festival winning biography, I haven’t yet decided which one the comedy duo needed. AFTER THEIR FAME AND FORTUNE HAD dimmed in the world Laurel and Hardy, played by Steve Coogan (Philomela, The Dinner) and John C. Reilly (Holmes & Watson, The Sisters Brothers), decided they would re-capture it by doing a live tour. It didn’t matter to them that they were older and maybe not as wise. This comedic drama’s story was based on actual events. Without a doubt this picture’s fate was dependent on Steve and John. Gratefully, the two of them were stupendous. I might have to tip the scales more to John’s Oliver Hardy being more authentic, but it still would be a tight race between the two of them. With them front and center the other actors like Shirley Henderson (Transporting franchise, Bridget Jones franchise) as Lucille Hardy and Nina Arianda (Midnight in Paris, Florence Foster Jenkins) as Ida Kitaeva Laurel; though good, were more in the background for me. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this picture. Seeing some of the original comedy acts Laurel and Hardy used to perform and getting the back story on them was a treat. I thought the script and direction worked hand in hand to produce a well-rounded bit of comedic history. Make sure you stay through the credits to see actual clips of the two the producers reproduced in this wonderful film.
3 ½ stars
THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID DISAPPOINTMENT is to not have hopes or expectations. Sounds simple but it really is not. I have learned to avoid placing expectations on people’s behaviors. We all react to situations in a different way; one is not better or worse than the other. Trouble starts when an individual makes statements that use the word, “should;” something like, “You should have known…” This actually was a hard lesson for me to learn, where I would react to what I thought a person should have said or done. It took me a long time to realize no one has the right to tell me how to feel, that I am the only one responsible for how I am feeling. However, as we each go through our daily life there are things that crop up that disappoint us. For example, going to a particular restaurant to get your favorite dish and it winds up they are out of it. Seeing an article of clothing that you feel is perfect for you, only to find it does not look good on you or does not do what it was advertised to do. Things like this can cause us to feel disappointed; we had our mind set for one thing, but then the reality did not match our expectations. THE PAST HOLIDAY IS SOMETHING I look forward to because the movie studios release what they believe will be their heavy Oscar contenders and audience blockbusters. Every year I spend most of the day at the theater watching one movie after another. This year was no different and in fact, I was extra excited because a couple of limited release films were opening at a theater near me. I studied the movie times to figure out what would produce the maximum viewing experience. This also was taking into consideration the duration of the movie trailers; the average amount of time devoted to them is around 20 minutes. I was starting the day at one theater to watch three films then drive to another theater to finish up with 3 more. After finding a parking spot at the 2ndtheater I walked in to discover the films I needed to see were all sold out for the present time slots. Even rearranging start times did not help me; there was only one movie available and I had no desire to see it. The reason being, I saw the trailers and the main star does the same thing for every movie with no discretion towards the scripts. I was so disappointed and after watching this comedy I was even more disappointed that I wasted my time on this picture instead of one of the ones I had on my list. ONLY ONE DETECTIVE COULD FIND THE CULPRIT who was threatening the queen of England and that was Sherlock Holmes, played by Will Ferrell (Daddy’s Home franchise, Get Hard). With the help of his trusted friend Watson, played by John C. Reilly (The Sisters Brothers, Life After Beth), the two would have to work fast to save the queen. This adventure crime film was one of the worst movies I have seen the past year. How it got saved to be released during the holiday season was baffling to me. There was nothing funny since the jokes were noticeable a mile away and were of the lowest level of anything remotely humorous. I was bored out of my mind and angry that I had to pay to be subjected to this mess. Will has done the same schtick in his comedies for so long that his actions and acting must be on autopilot. Notice I did not list the rest of the main actors because I did not want to embarrass them any further.
1 1/4 stars
TAKE IT FROM SOMEONE WHO KNOWS, change is not always an easy thing. Change is something I prefer taking place over time—like the duration it takes for a sapling to turn into a majestic oak tree. Intellectually I know change is inevitable; but that does not mean I have to like it. For the past few years a friend and I have talked on the phone every day during my work commute. I have known her since we were in elementary school. We started talking to each other every day after she moved out of state for work. Recently she received a promotion that changed her schedule. After talking together on the phone for the past few years, she now had a daily work commitment that had to be handled at the exact time we would be on the phone. It was strange not talking to her; one of the reasons I discovered was it made my commute easier. It seemed to make the time go by faster and before you say anything, I always used a hands-free device to talk to her. I still wish we could have our daily talk, but I understand the reason why; she had bettered herself at work and that is always a good thing. PART OF FRIENDSHIP/LOVE WITH A PERSON is wishing them the best. Though things change a true friend or family member remains supportive through the process…or at least that is what they are supposed to do, according to my definition of family/friends. There is a couple of sisters I know where one of them pretends to be supportive but is incredibly passive aggressive toward her older sister. If you are not paying close attention you might miss the barbs and comments that the younger sister tosses over toward her big sister. I was a witness to it and was stunned by the way the younger sister tried to build herself up by putting her sister down. Based on the things I knew about the siblings, I could see why the younger one was acting out; she felt she was not getting enough attention. I felt this way based on the information I was privy to, besides seeing it with my own eyes. As I said before change is not always easy and because the older sister married first and had children, the younger sister was no longer getting to be the center of attention in their family. Some people just act that way; heck, it even happened in this animated adventure film. WHEN HER GAME SUDDENLY STOPPED WORKING; Vanellope, voiced by Sarah Silverman (The Book of Henry, Battle of the Sexes), and her best friend Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly (Chicago, Kong: Skull Island), made their way to the internet to find a solution. They found more than they expected, in ways that would test their friendship. With Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman, Keeping Up with the Joneses) voicing Shank, Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures, Proud Mary) voicing Yesss and Jane Lynch (Julie & Julia, Glee-TV) voicing Calhoun; this comedy sequel had many fun moments in it. I thought John and Sarah did a wonderful job together as they played off each other. The visuals were great to watch as the script provided humor for both young and old. If I have a negative comment it would be about the element of wonderment; since this was a sequel it did not have that extra magic of being a fresh idea. Also, the action did not always have a smooth transition. I still had a good time watching this picture and ultimately it did present an admirable conclusion to the topics offered up in the script. I am happy for this sequel.
SITTING in the semi-darkened theater waiting for the movie trailers to begin, I was wondering how many different film variations of King Kong I had seen. I believe I saw every one of them and I could even include the robotic one Bette Midler used in one of her concerts, where she played the Fay Wray character who was sprawled out across King Kong’s palm. Thinking about these different versions of the big ape, we really have come a long way from the 1st one to the latest one I was about to see. Of course I was basing it on the movie trailers I had recently seen. Recalling the earlier Kong versions, I can still remember how fake looking he was in the oldest movies. My guess is the writers needed to fine tune their script to keep the audience engaged with the story since an unrealistic looking gorilla would quickly become boring. SPEAKING of story lines I wondered what the writers would do to keep me interested in this umpteenth time of me watching a King Kong film. More often than not I have noticed when a movie comes out with a well known character that has played before the script is updated to reflect current times. Sometimes it works and sometimes it is a bust. I can remember a group of classic horror monsters like Frankenstein and the Mummy being part of a series of movies that were based in comedy, starring comedians and comedy duos. Personally I found them ridiculous; taking such classic horror characters and placing them in a genre of films that no one would ever consider for them, diminishes their scariness in the public’s eyes. With these thoughts in mind the movie theater lights became dark and I sat back in my seat to see what Kong was up to these days. FLYING over the Pacific Ocean, bound for a newly discovered uncharted island, a group of scientists and soldiers did not know they would be disturbing the inhabitants to the point of making them angry. This action adventure fantasy succeeded because of the special effects. From all the different versions of King Kong I have seen on film, this was the best looking or should I say the most realistic version of King Kong. The fight scenes were exciting, especially the opening one. If this film had not been so technically advanced I would have been bored by the script. With Tom Hiddleston (Crimson Peak, I Saw the Light) as James Conrad, Samuel L. Jackson (The Legend of Tarzan, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) as Preston Packard, Brie Larson (Room, Short Term 12) as Mason Weaver and John C. Reilly (Carnage, Step Brothers) as Hank Marlow; I only found Hank’s character interesting. Samuel was doing his identical acting thing, so no surprises there. However I was surprised how stiff Tom and Brie were with their characters. This was partially due to the script that offered no insights, along with the direction that kept them one dimensional. Only John C. Reilly and John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane, The Monuments Men) as Bill Randa offered any interest among the cast. If you are into visual experiences then you would want to see this picture inside a movie theater. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
There are some people who are uncomfortable being the 3rd wheel of a group, others do not even think of it. I suppose it depends on what is going on at the time. For those unfamiliar with the term “3rd wheel” let me explain. A third wheel is a person who joins a couple for a social occasion. There rarely is a time when I feel uncomfortable being considered the 3rd wheel. When a friend becomes part of being a couple what do you do? Do you stop socializing with them just because they have a significant other? I don’t think so. We still get together. Now I will say there are times when a friend may be dating someone that I find offensive, but I remain cordial and just deal with it. I can remember though a couple of times where I was aware I was the odd man out. For example, a friend of mine won free tickets to an amusement park and invited me to join him and the person he was dating. Walking and eating in the park was okay but after a while I was getting tired of always having to ride an attraction by myself or with a stranger seated next to me because my friend and his date had to ride together so they could hold hands or hug. It was not a big deal but I did make a mental note to be aware of it if the circumstances were reversed and I was the one in a relationship. If I had time I would tell you about a friend of mine who would come visit me in college and bring along her boyfriend, so they could share the extra bed in my dorm room; talk about being uncomfortable. Do you find it as odd as I do how some people act differently when they are in a relationship? IMAGINE living in a society where you had 45 days to find a partner otherwise you would get turned into an animal. This was one of the most absurdist romantic comedies I have seen in a long time. Starring Colin Farrell (Phone Booth, Miami Vice) as David, Rachel Weisz (Oz the Great and Powerful, The Fountain) as short sighted woman and John C. Reilly (Chicago, Carnage) as lisping man; I had to wonder what the actors must have thought while making this film. There were parts of the story that made strong satirical statements; others were humorous, while some were just odd. I think viewers will have a strong reaction to this film festival winner; they will either love it or hate it. This was confirmed for me by the audience’s reactions I heard after the movie was over. I have to say I had a strong negative reaction to the end of the story; but before I got to that point, I cannot say I was entertained as much as I was curious while watching this romantic comedic drama. The interesting thing about this picture is how it offers something to think about whether you are presently single or in a relationship.
2 ¾ stars
Along with the required classes I took, there was included courses on peer pressure. There was no financial cost. I had never signed up for them, but I quickly learned about it during my schooling. During our younger years, where we may not have yet built-up a base of self-confidence, it was the more assertive pupils who staked out claims to yield power over fellow students. Those kids who were not strong enough (either emotionally or physically) would follow the assertive/aggressive leaders of the class. Now I have seen it time and time again, those who seek out and gain power strictly with brute force tend to have a weak moral compass. It starts out slowly with an odd request or weird command before things escalate and the leader has his own personal lynch mob at his beck and call. The saddest part of this equation is seeing those individuals, who on their own would never act out in such a way, having to participate in a wicked attack goaded on by their fierce leader. There is an ugly addition to this scenario which involves those students who refuse to participate. Chances are they will become the hunted as the aggressive head of the group directs his minions at the innocent. DURING wartime there were horrors one expected but Eriksson, played by Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future franchise, Family Ties-TV), never imagined he would be involved in the kidnapping of a young innocent girl, instigated by his platoon leader Sgt. Tony Meserve, played by Sean Penn (Fair Game, All the King’s Men). This film festival wining war drama was directed by one of my favorite directors, Brian De Palma (The Untouchables, Dressed to Kill). He has an eye for setting up scenes similar to Alfred Hitchcock. I say this because I want you to be aware of the backgrounds during scenes; Brian places other forms of action behind the actors. The pairing of Sean and Michael would appear odd at first, but it actually was a brilliant choice and they were amazing together. So were other members of the platoon like John C. Reilly (Chicago, Step Brothers) as PFC Herbert Hatcher and John Leguizamo (Romeo + Juliet, Chef) as PFC Antonio Diaz. Inspired by true events, the story offered a different view of military life during the Viet Nam war. One other thing I wanted to mention about Brian’s directing; the way the scenes were filmed really amped up the intensity of them. After recently reviewing the movie American Sniper, I found it interesting that this DVD should show up soon after. There were scenes that included blood and violence in them.
3 1/2 stars — DVD
It happened during my first school field trip where we traveled to our city’s zoo. We were in the lion house and I remembered how the pungent smell hung in the still air. I felt I was inhaling musky cotton balls. The big cats were one of my favorite animals so it was worth the odor to be up close to them. While standing in front of one cage with a pacing male lion, a park attendant who was stationed by one of the main entrances announced to all the visitors they would have to remain in the lion house. The reason was one of the animals had escaped from their enclosure outside. It turned out it was one of the zoo’s star attractions, a large silverback gorilla. My classmates and I were nervously excited with all the commotion this caused throughout the crowd around us. Until the gorilla was captured we spent enough time in the lion house to see the animals being fed by park assistants. I recall how frightening it looked to me to see how the lions would attack their fleshy meal. Back then it made sense to me that the animals were in cages for our protection. Little did I know that the time would come where they were there for their protection. From directors Alastair Fothergill (Chimpanzee, Earth) and Keith Scholey (African Cats) this documentary followed one family of bears in Alaska for one year, from coming out of hibernation to preparing for its return. If for nothing else I have to tip my hat to the movie studio for providing exquisite footage of the bears’ habitat. I have visited Alaska and it was breathtaking to see. The camera work not only provided a true sense of the state, but the close-up work in filming the animals was wonderful. Personally I would have liked more facts about the life of the bears but that was just my own tastes. The studio wanted to make a film that was entertaining so I understood why they had John C. Reilly (We Need to Talk to Kevin, Carnage) as the narrator. Children will probably enjoy the humorous spin he put on the animals’ actions; I just happened to find it odd attaching human emotions to animals. Either way this film was an enjoyable experience. I will say my opinion about zoos has changed as an adult now; there are still ones out there that are simply prisons. Once you view this film you just might agree with me.
2 3/4 stars
I never understood why adolescence needed to be a long process. It was such an awkward time as things started to change on me. I would hear my voice and wonder who was talking for me; the cracking noises coming out of my mouth sounded like a venetian blind covering an open window on a windy day. Due to an army of acne that started to invade my skin, setting up campsites on my face, I went to a dermatologist who told me to stop eating chocolate. I remember asking him why I now had to be miserable besides being upset over these stupid pimples. Then there were the names kids would call me. Besides making comments on my face; my hair that was already wavy took on a new persona and looked like the twisting thorny vines that tried to prevent the prince from saving Sleeping Beauty, became a new source for nasty remarks. I just wanted to go to sleep and wake up the following day being fully grown as an adult. As you may guess, I easily sympathized with the main teenager in this Sundance Film Festival nominated movie. Jacob Wysocki (Pitch Perfect) played 15 year old teenager Terri. Not knowing what happened to his parents, Terri was living with his uncle James, played by Creed Bratton (Mask, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X), who was beginning to show signs of dementia. After meeting with Principal Fitzgerald, played by John C. Reilly (The Aviator, Carnage), weekly meetings were set up so pajama clad Terri and Mr. Fitzgerald could check in with each other to see how the week was going. The strongest part of this comedic drama was the scenes that involved Terri and the principal. I thought Jacob and John did the best with their characters. The classroom scenes had enough teenage angst going on that I would think a majority of people could easily relate to them. This film was listed as a comedy and drama but I hardly found anything that I would consider funny; maybe humorous with touching moments. Possibly this had to do with me remembering what my high school years were like, but I could not get into portions of this movie. I felt the character of Terri’s uncle was never fully developed into the story. In a way I felt this film was in its adolescent phase, not fully grown into a complete picture.
2 1/3 stars — DVD
My college sociology professor used the term “Holy Deadlock” to describe a couple who stayed together for the wrong reasons. An example would be staying together for the children’s sake. This instructor claimed using children as an excuse to stay together did more harm than good. I have seen fighting couples use their kids as a way to attack or manipulate their significant other and it was awful to see. At that point the adult was no longer the parent, they were simply a conspirator. On the other hand, there are divorcing parents who act out in a different direction. They give in to the child’s every whim, hoping to make up for the failed relationship. Here, too, the adult is less of a parent as the child quickly learns the art of manipulation. In this comedy Cyrus, played by Jonah Hill (21 Jump Street, The Watch), was a master of manipulation. When his mother Molly, played by Marisa Tomei (The Lincoln Lawyer, The Wrestler), began to date John, played by John C. Reilly (Carnage, We Need to Talk About Kevin), Cyrus thought it would be easy to eliminate John from his mother’s life. He would discover the task at hand was easier said than done. What helped this story was the strong acting from the cast. I have enjoyed most of Marisa’s roles in the past and found her rock solid in playing Molly. In addition, playing John’s ex wife Jamie, Catherine Keener (Into the Wild, A Late Quartet) beautifully played off of John C. Reilly’s character. The fundamental elements of this story were sound; I only wished the writers would have added some punch. There was an easy predictability to several scenes. It takes effort to make a marriage work; it takes extra work to make a divorce successful for all involved parties.
2 2/3 stars — DVD