IT SOUNDED LIKE A FUN TIME, so me and a group of friends decided to sign up for it. A charity was holding an event at a large amusement park that was about an hour’s drive away. They had rented out the park for the evening and planned on having games, music, dancing and entertainment besides the rides. I figured it would be less of a hassle to get around the park than on an average weekend day with the big crowds. Also, because they would be serving alcohol in the park, no one under 18 would be allowed. My friends and I were excited about the prospects of having an easier time riding the big attraction rides multiple times. Usually because the lines were so long for the well-known rides, one might be able to go on it only once due to time constraints. I for one do not like waiting in line for over an hour just to ride an attraction for less than one minute. My only concern was the weather; I was hoping there would be no chance of rain, causing the park to shut down some of their rides. Each of us were getting excited as the date got closer. ON THE DAY OF THE EVENT, with a clear blue sky drifting towards twilight, we piled into one car and headed out on the road towards the amusement park. I was the driver for the evening since I did not care for alcohol. While we were making our way there, we decided to come up with a game plan on how to get as many of the “big” rides in while still taking part in the charity’s planned activities. A quick survey showed most of us were excited to tackle the park’s top roller coasters first. I had heard the newest roller coaster was the ultimate thrill ride because it not only spun and swerved around the track, it also plummeted down to an underground tunnel. Some of my friends were planning on doing that ride more than once; while I figured I would go find a less stressful ride, one that didn’t have spinning as a main component. The fastest spinning I can tolerate is the speed of a merry-go-round. Our excitement increased by the time I pulled the car into the parking lot. With tickets in hand, we headed inside the park to carry out our strategy. As we got to the first roller coaster, I was the first one to notice it was not running. Maybe it was broken? We moved onto our 2ndchoice and discovered the same thing; it too was not running. Paying attention now, as we were walking around, we saw many of the “big” rides were shut down. All the excitement we had built up melted into disappointment. I experienced a similar reaction while watching this mystery thriller. DURING A TORRENTIAL RAINSTORM A GROUP of random strangers took refuge in a motel. They thought they would be safe for the night until one of the guests was found dead. With John Cusack (Cell, Grosse Pointe Blank) as Ed, Ray Liotta (Something Wild, Shades of Blue-TV) as Rhodes, Amanda Peet (The Whole Nine Yards, Griffin & Phoenix) as Paris, John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, The Pardon) as Larry and Alfred Molina (Saint Judy, Frida) as Dr. Malick; this film festival winner was a good old fashioned thriller in the same vein as an Agatha Christie story. I thought the cast did a decent job with their acting, despite the disconnected script. Not that I did not enjoy watching this movie, I did; but I felt let down as the script started winding down to its conclusion. I thought the filming and sets added an extra level of anxiety and dread to the written words. During the picture, I found myself getting into the story with its plot twists and suspense. If only that level experienced in the beginning had lasted all the way to the end.
2 ¾ stars
WHAT I WOULD HAVE GIVEN FOR a flashlight; it was dumb of me not to think of one. I was visiting a friend out of state, who thought it would be a cool idea to climb a mountain. It was nothing like the Rockies, but it was high enough. We were able to drive up part of it, park, then follow on foot a trail to get to higher ground. Up until that point everything was going fine. The vegetation was thick all around us which made our surroundings cooler in temperature and darker. I was okay since the day had been hot and sunny. Because we were making our way in subdued light, we kept assuming it was still bright outside, and this was our first mistake. As we were ducking under branches and constantly checking the ground for solid footing, we did not realize our ascent was going slower than anticipated. Neither of us thought about the challenges we would face by trying to crawl down in the darkness of night. I THINK IT WAS ME WHO was getting cold first and hungry. We had reached a substantial height where we could see the city glowing in the distance. All we had with us was water; I had wished I had brought a piece of fruit or a granola bar. We decided to turn back by retracing our steps to get back to a trail and then to our car. It did not take long for me to realize we were in trouble. It was nighttime and neither of us could see the ground clearly enough. There were multiple times where one of us thought we had solid footing but then the ground/rock gave away and we would stumble or fall. I fell and scraped the palms of my hands. With no sense of direction, only knowing we had to go down, we were lost. The area was not known for wildlife; however, that did not stop my brain from imagining a multitude of scary creature encounters. The longer we remained stuck on the mountain, the more we were freaking out. After multiple tries and retreats, we finally found a trail. By the time we returned to the car, we had logged nearly 10 hours in total crawling on the mountain. Ever since then, I have always felt an uneasiness whenever I find myself in a remote area. Whether it is in rugged terrain or wide-open spaces, my imagination kicks into high gear on what things could happen to me. This will explain my anxiousness as I watched this dramatic, crime thriller. WITH YOUNG WOMEN GOING MISSING in an area of Alaska, the only lead Jack Holcombe, played by Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off), had was a junkie named Cindy Paulson, played by Vanessa Hudgens (Beastly, Dog Days) and she did not want to be involved with any part of his investigation. With John Cusack (High Fidelity, Love & Mercy) as Robert Hansen, Dean Norris (Total Recall, The Book of Henry) as Sgt. Lyle Haugsven and Gia Mantegna (The Prince, Criminal Minds-TV) as Debbie Peters; this film festival nominee’s story was based on actual events. For that reason, I found this movie creepier than usual. The main leads were quite convincing in the story; in fact, I was impressed with Vanessa’s work in particular. The filming of this picture made the feelings of isolation and despair more prominent throughout the scenes. It almost felt like it was hanging in the air. The story basically was a good guy vs bad guy set-up; I only wished the writers had delved deeper into the characters. It would have made for a more intense viewing, in my opinion. I was already uneasy about remote areas and this movie has now solidified my feelings about them.
2 ¼ stars
The use of satire to tell a story is a perfectly valid art form. Satire is defined as a way to use humor to show someone or something is foolish or bad. It was first used in the early 1500s. Many authors and film directors have used satire as a way to get their creations past some form of censorship that was imposed on them or the surrounding area around them. The first time I heard about this movie nothing was mentioned about it being a satire. The focus was on the title which is a combination of Chicago and Iraq. I have been following all the controversy about this film and what amazed me was how vehemently some people were complaining about this movie without knowing anything about it. Some elected officials of Chicago were up in arms that this film would paint a “bad” picture of their city. I found their thinking flawed due to the fact that innocent people are indeed being shot in the city; one cannot hide that fact. What is most troublesome is no one ever comes forward, so it seems, to identify the shooter for fear of retaliation. Freedom of speech is everyone’s right and if director and writer Spike Lee (Inside Man, Do the Right Thing) wanted to shine a light on one city’s particular issue, then he has the right to do so. SEEING yet another person being killed in her neighborhood Lysistrata, played by Teyonah Parris (Dear White People, Mad Men-TV), enlisted the help of her fellow female citizens in a plan she felt would force people to stop killing each other. With a story based on an ancient Greek play, this dramatic film immediately jumped into the viewer’s face. There was a powerful soundtrack and strong acting from actors like Nick Cannon (The Killing Room, Roll Bounce) as Chi-Raq, Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers franchise, Big Game) as Dolmedes and John Cusack (Dragon Blade, 2012) as Father Mike Corridan; there were several gripping scenes throughout this movie. There were two issues I had regarding how the story was being told. The first one was a majority of the dialog was spoken in a way similar to rapping or a slam poetry session. One had to pay attention to the words to get the meaning; however, there were times that it went too fast for me to understand what they were saying. Also, after a while I was tired of devoting so much energy to the dialog instead of the action and scenes. The other issue I had concerned the unevenness with the scenes; they came across choppy where some were strong and others weak in their attempt to tell a story. There were times where I felt they were even cartoonish. The bottom line here is this film is shining a light on a problem; it is using satire to make it palatable for the viewer. There were scenes with blood, sexual situations and strong language.
2 3/4 stars
The passage of time quickly vanishes any time one sees the person responsible for them having stored inside of themself fond memories. It does not matter if it is a real or fictional person; the fun feelings do not discriminate. It is like this old friend I have who lives across the country from me. We may not talk or see each other for months and months, but as soon as we do it seems as if we had just been together a day or two before. That bond we formed decades ago continues just as flexible and permanent as it did back then. I experienced a similar reaction when I saw some of my classmates when I attended my high school reunion recently. It is relatively easy for me to attach these types of feelings onto an actress or actor based on their screen roles. There is one actress I am especially fond of because I know every time I go to see one of her movies I will never be disappointed by her performance. Even if the film is not that good, she still shines in it. This explains why some people do not bother reading reviews (except for mine I hope) when their favorite movie star is in the cast, since they are going to see them anyway. It does not matter what genre or time period; the feelings people have for their actors never waivers unless something blatant changes their opinion. For me, once I saw one of the actors in this action adventure film I was reminded of his comical martial arts skills. VITAL for continued growth throughout the region Hua An, played by Jackie Chan (Rush Hour franchise, Shanghai Knights), and his band of trained warriors would stop at nothing to protect the Silk Road. When a new threat appeared, Hua An would need to forge alliances between warring factions if he wanted to keep the road from falling into enemy forces. This award winning drama was filled with massive, spectacular fight scenes. Seeing Jackie back on screen after all this time was fun to see. His style of martial arts always had a comical goofiness to it. Where someone like Bruce Lee was always serious in his fighting, Jackie comes across as if he stumbled in the situation; he incorporates any and all objects around him into the fight. With John Cusack (Maps to the Stars, Love & Mercy) as General Lucius and Adrien Brody (The Pianist, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Tiberius, the three of them could have done so much better if the story was not so over the top filled with melodrama. For such an historical moment, the script did not do anyone justice here. If it was not for my fond memories of this type of action hero movie, I would have been bored. There was blood and violence throughout the film.
I feel very fortunate that I was introduced to a variety of music genres at an early age. For anyone who can put two musical tones together, they have my respect. Music has a way of clearing the fuzz off of our daily life, allowing us to experience emotions in a pure way. One of the first composers that made a strong connection with me was Ludwig van Beethoven. There were 2 things that grabbed my attention about him. The first was his place in history; he was a trendsetter, leading music from the baroque period to the romantic era. Next, his ability to continue writing music after he had become deaf amazed me. Beethoven was the first artist where I realized there could be a connection between great art and human suffering. Walk through any art museum and you are bound to experience breathtaking art done by an artist who had to deal with their own demons or tragedies. Cutting off an ear or dying from a horrible disease and yet these artists created something of lasting beauty; I have to wonder what came first, the ability or the suffering. Someone had once told me that when a person cannot use one of their 5 senses, the other ones acquire a heightened ability. An example for me would be Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles. Look at how many musical artists we have seen who died early or experienced some type of deficiency, yet produced music that not only moved us but stayed with us. CREATING a whole new sound for a song took more than stringing a group of musical notes together for Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. He would have to battle against the voices in his head. No matter when you were born, more than likely you have heard at least one song by the Beach Boys. This film festival winning biography, not to be funny, blew my mind. Getting a glimpse of what was taking place during the time the Beach Boys were producing their hits, it was incredible to see what was happening to their major songwriter Brian. With the dual story lines Paul Dano (Prisoners, Ruby Sparks) played the younger Brian and John Cusack (Maps to the Stars, The Raven) played the older one. The 2 of them were excellent and I thought it was a great idea to have 2 actors play Brian as the script took us back and forth between the different eras. Also part of the cast in this musical drama included Elizabeth Banks (Every Secret Thing, Pitch Perfect franchise) as Melinda Ledbetter and Paul Giamatti (San Andreas, Cinderella Man) as Dr. Eugene Landy. Due to the story being so compelling, the minuses to this film were minor compared to the pluses. Once again here was an example of artistic genius coming out of painful darkness.
With their arms stretched to their maximum length, they are yelling out the names of the celebrities walking past them. Though they are not close enough to touch; just a turn of the head, a slight nod, a smile or the ultimate acknowledgement–a wave of the hand, will make the bond between them complete. However, that connection is only in the spectator’s mind. Now you would think with my love of movies i would be right in the middle of that crowd, jostling my way to the front to catch the eye of a movie star, but you would be wrong. I absolutely want to be at the event, but do not see celebrities as demigods walking the planet. They are humans with bodies that function the same and are similar to anyone else. The rise in people’s fascination with celebrity/reality stars is something I find very odd. I do not understand why anyone would care about the mundane occurrences of essentially a stranger’s life. The thing that I find the most offensive are these “stars” who feel they need to bestow upon us their advice on what or how we should live our lives. Sorry but in my book just because someone has money doesn’t give them the right to tell me what I should or should not be doing. You cannot equate wealth with intelligence. In fact, there are many celebrities or wannabes who are filled with ugliness inside. FROM all appearances Dr. Stafford and Christina Weiss, played by John Cusak (The Raven, High Fidelity) and Olivia Williams (An Education, Seventh Son), looked like a successful couple. With him being a best selling author and her managing the acting career of their son Benje, played by Evan Bird (Chained, The Killing-TV), it would be hard to imagine they had any problems. This film festival wining drama directed by David Cronenberg (Cosmopolis, A History of Violence) had an incredible cast that also included Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland) as Agatha and Julianne Moore (Still Alice, Non-Stop) playing Havana Segrand which she won at Cannes for best actress. The story showed how deep ugliness grows even in some of the most recognizable celebrities. I enjoyed the way the scenes moved from one character’s plight to another. Though the acting was wonderful there were parts of the film that did not gel for me. It almost felt as if there was not enough drive with the characters, becoming similar to caricatures. The writers seemed to have worked harder to show the ugliness in the characters than their history. I felt disconnected at times, similar to when I see celebrities in the news doing dumb things. There were a couple of brief scenes with blood in them.
2 1/2 stars
If you really want to learn something about the area you are in then talk to a local person. I discovered many hidden treasures this way when I traveled to new places. This is one of the reasons why I use public transportation when visiting a new city. With advice from local residents, I was able to experience the best pecan pie in Charleston, South Carolina and a wonderful BBQ meal in Dallas, Texas. In case you were wondering if I am only concerned about food when I travel, I do ask local residents about places that a guide book may not cover. One of my best trips took place in Minneapolis, Minnesota simply because of a woman who was standing next to me at a bus stop. She gave me some wonderful tidbits about local spots. When a story is being told by the person who lived through it, it allows us to relate to it on a personal level. This was a wonderful device that was used impressively in this dramatic film, inspired by a true story. Forest Whitaker (Phone Booth, Repo Men) played Cecil Gaines, a White House butler who served through eight different presidents’ terms of office. The viewer was a witness to numerous historical events, told through Cecil’s eyes. Aware the script took creative license with facts; this review is based on the movie’s entertainment value. Forest was outstanding as the stoic, quiet butler who took to heart the advice given to him on his first day of employment: The White House was not a place for politics. Oprah Winfrey (The Color Purple, Beloved) as Cecil’s wife Gloria, showed us she can be known as an actress who has a talk show. I was impressed with David Oyelowo (The King of Scotland, Lincoln) as Cecil’s increasingly militant son, Louis. The actors used to play the various presidents came across more like a stunt to me; the only convincing one was John Cusack (Martian Child, High Fidelity) as Richard Nixon. For their brief scenes I felt Vanessa Redgrave (Howard’s End, Blow-Up) as Annabeth Westfall and Jane Fonda (Nine to Five, Coming Home) as Nancy Reagan were the only ones who stood out. I thought the story’s flow was well done, despite several scenes being too syrupy for me. Strictly speaking on the entertainment factor, this movie provided a glimpse into historical events, using both drama and humor to tell the story. And what a story it told; my interest never waned. There were a couple of scenes where blood was shown.
3 1/4 stars
Wow, I was both horrified and mesmerized throughout this movie. I could not take my eyes off of Nicole Kidman (The Hours, Rabbit Hole), who was an outrageous southern woman named Charlotte Bless. Honestly, when you think of Nicole you think of a statuesque, porcelain skinned, reserved woman. She was exactly opposite in this thriller with her heavy makeup and tough talking. The director and writer Lee Daniels (Precious, Shadowboxer) deserves credit for getting Nicole to do some of the things she did in this film based on a true story. The tale was about Ward Jansen, played by Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe, Magic Mike), returning to his hometown in Florida to investigate the case of death row inmate Hillary Van Wetter, played by John Cusack (Martian Child, High Fidelity). With his brother Jack, played by Zac Efrom (The Lucky One, Charlie St. Cloud), Ward used Charlotte as a way to get a meeting with HIllary; since she was engaged to the inmate. Ward’s investigation would cause some dangerous repercussions that would be felt by all. Parts of the movie were highly textured, filled with intense acting and southern gothic atmosphere. But then there would be scenes that plopped down with a thud. John Cusack was unbelievable with his ugly creepiness, while Matthew let his southern drawl coat the intensity that was simmering just below his surface. Once again, Zac was the weak one of the cast. Granted he is trying his hardest to break away from his pretty boy sweetness, but casting him with much better actors only showcase his limited acting abilities. Even his unscripted dance scene in the rain with Nicole, wearing only his underpants deserved extra points; it simply was not enough to make his acting blend in with the others. The movie is worthy of seeing for Nicole’s crazy performance. She may have just acted her way to an Oscar nomination this year. Brief scenes of violence and blood.
2 2/3 stars
Where is it written that you have to fit in to the norm? Yet how many of us growing up tried our best to be part of a group? I know I felt different from an early age, like a minority within a minority. Sure I did my best to be considered “normal” but my brain was not programmed for it. My imagination would take me to far away lands just by pretending my pen was a space ship. And let us be honest here, you must have realized I was different by the amount of movies I watch–right? This is why this gentle movie resonated with me. The story celebrated the joy of being comfortable with one’s uniqueness. David, played by John Cusack (High Fidelity, Must Love Dogs), was a widowed science fiction writer who lived a solitary life. He began to wonder if he could become a father when he met an unusual foster child named Dennis, played by Bobby Coleman (Snowmen, Must Love Dogs). Dennis was afraid of the sun, preferred standing inside a big cardboard carton box and believed he was from the planet Mars. This child actor was gifted in this role. Having recently grown tired of John’s roles, I felt he went beyond the ordinary in his work here. The chemistry was perfect between the two of them. For anyone who has felt different or has an overactive imagination, this exceptional movie will ring true for them. For all others this wonderful film will show you a larger world we all live in.
3 stars — DVD
I had high hopes for this film. Why wouldn’t I when it starred Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, The Dark Knight) and John Cusack (HIgh Fidelity, Must Love Dogs). And the added bonus was Morgan’s character, Frank Carden, was an assassin. Sadly, the script was poor and a bit ridiculous. John’s character, Ray Keene, wanted to bond with his son by going on a father/son weekend trip. During a hike they came across two nearly drowned men who were handcuffed to each other. I don’t know about you, but if I saw two people handcuffed together, I would keep my distance, calling the police instead. And it was at this point where the story took the silly path: Father Ray could not get reception on his cell phone. So instead of trying to find help or phone reception, Ray decided he would bring Frank to the police and become a hero in his son’s eyes. The rest of the movie was one long chase scene. As the police were trying to catch up with Ray and his group, Frank’s villainous associates were chasing them, trying to kill Ray and his son. When I turned off my reasoning power, I was able to sit through this movie. Besides, I enjoyed the scenery. So what if the lines were cheesy and some of the situations were loony. I did not mind as the story jumped from one predicament to another with bullets flying and perilous dilemmas defying reality.
2 stars — DVD