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
HOW IRONIC, WE WERE HAVING THIS conversation over dinner. Friends for years, we had gotten together to catch up with each other; it had been some time since we had last seen each other. During our meal the conversation had turned to the topic of how busy everyone seemed, including us. I was talking about my schedule and how I was booking dates a couple of months ahead already, to get together with friends and family. My friend did not understand why I was having a challenging time in getting together with people. I explained I enjoyed getting together with people over a meal; but after a couple of times meeting in restaurants, I like to plan some type of activity we can both experience. It does not have to be anything elaborate like a boat cruise or indoor sky diving; it can be as simple as going bowling or to a movie. For me, doing something together adds fiber to the relationship. Let’s face it, how many of us will remember a meal we had from a year or so ago? Ok, well maybe I would; but food is not a reliable memory maker. Seeing a museum exhibit that moves both of you or a play that you thought was fantastic or even horrendous, would stay longer in your memory I believe. THESE SHARED EXPERIENCES PROVIDE ME WITH A deeper emotional connection and understanding to my friends and family members. Being together and witnessing feelings in “real time” is better to me than having someone sitting and telling me about it. The exhilaration of being at a concert, sporting event or discovering a new place on a walking tour; are things that will stay with me. Another option is taking a trip together. They say you really get to know about a person when you take travel with them and I am telling you, it is absolutely true! Granted, this may not always be a positive thing; but you would certainly know more than you did if you hadn’t taken a trip together. One of the fun aspects of sharing an event together is hearing about it years later. Seeing your memory through someone else’s eyes is a fascinating learning experience. You might be surprised to find out something you did not know before. I am not only talking about the activity; it could also be about yourself. Either way, if you want to take a visual trip and see for yourself then watch this film festival winning, comedic drama adventure. IT WAS NOT ENOUGH FOR ZAK, played by newcomer Zack Gottsagen, to only see his idol on television. He needed to escape the nursing home where he lived and go find his favorite wrestler, the Salt Water Redneck, played by Thomas Haden Church (Sideways, Easy A). This movie was a treat. Playing out like a modern Mark Twain story, the filming of it was beautiful. Enough time was given to the scenes to allow the viewer to settle into them. With Shia LaBeouf (Fury, American Honey) as Tyler, Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, The Social Network) as Eleanor and John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, The Sessions) as Duncan; the acting was outstanding. Shia was such a force on the screen that I was surprised by it. Though I have not been a big fan of Dakota in the past, she was wonderful in this role. Thanks to the direction and script, watching this film was like reading a novel. I felt like I was experiencing things at my speed, allowing me to get the most I could out of the scenes. An original story with a lead actor representing a group that has less exposure on screen; I wish I would have taken someone with me when I went to see this exquisite film.
3 ½ stars
The first thing one notices is the air feels different, a fresher smell unlike the cloying scents from air fresheners. It seems more spacious with odorous wisps filled with childhood memories of jumping into piles of leaves and water sprinklers. Traveling higher the landscape reveals ancient scars deeply etched into its face, some are dry while others have rushing water tumbling down them. If you are standing in the right place on a sunny day you may see the appearance of a rainbow floating in the mist coming off the water. There is a sense of discovery or more precisely being on a treasure hunt because one could travel undercover for some distant, where the sun’s rays can barely reach you except for the momentarily flash between waving leaves, before stepping out of the darkness to a cliff overseeing a wide valley of sleepy hills under a wheat and green colored blanket. Personally I love exploring this type of terrain…from the comfort of my car. Now before you ask me how I can explore nature while riding around in a car, let me explain. My first two hiking experiences turned me off from physically climbing and scaling rugged territories. The first hike ended with the rocks under my feet dislodging and I tumbled down towards a cliff, my clothes ripping apart on the jagged surface. My second time was hiking on an easier topography, however it was dense with foliage and we lost our way as night fell. We were stuck on the mountain for 4 hours until we finally found our way down by midnight, hungry and cold. Ever since that time I only hike if there is a designated trail to walk or a road to drive on. So for the life of me I could not understand why the people in this adventure thriller wanted to climb Mt. Everest. BASED on a true story, a group of mountain climbers have the perfect window of opportunity to scale Mt. Everest, unaware a storm is about to take birth. The storm would become one for the record books. This dramatic movie was incredible to watch. The different landscape shots were spectacular. With a cast that included Jason Clarke (Lawless, The Great Gatsby) as Rob Hall, Josh Brolin (Labor Day, Gangster Squad) as Beck Weathers and Thomas M. Wright (Balibo, Van Diemen’s Land) as Michael Groom; the acting was utterly convincing. I do not know how the actors handled the grueling frigid scenes; it looked totally real to me. Putting aside my bewilderment for this type of undertaking, the story really had the potential for creating a powerful movie. However, the script had poor dialog and a smattering of cliches. I know the focus was on the action and this picture really delivered it. I just wished the movie theater had turned up the heat; we were bundled up sitting in our seats.
Before I talk about this movie I need you to know that I rarely pay attention to what a person looks like–unless there is some hygiene thing going on. Whether tall or short, big or small, blonde or black, glasses or not; the surface of an individual has no bearing on what type of human being they can be. For me, what is inside of a person means more to me, for example a good heart and a kind soul. With that being said, I found watching Helen Hunt (As Good as it Gets, Mad About You-TV) to be a bit disturbing. Her plastic surgery has given her the appearance of a Klingon. I do not understand why she felt the need to alter her appearance. The other issue I had, which I know is more valid in reviewing this film, was the continuous loss of her Boston accent for her character Cheryl. Inspired from a true story, Cheryl was a sex surrogate hired for an unusual job. Mark O’Brien, played incredibly by John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, The Perfect Storm), was a polio victim who only had the ability to move his head. Using an iron lung to help him breath and a gurney as his only means of transport, Mark had the blessing of Father Brendan, played by William H. Macy (Fargo, The Cooler), to try and lose his virginity. Cheryl and Mark would discover the journey was more important than the end results. This movie could have been a downer, but the witty script and flowing direction kept the story moving along in a charming way. John Hawkes was amazing in this challenging role, able to convey feelings and emotions simply with his face and words. I found this engaging Sundance Film Festival winner to be a testament to the mind being stronger than the body and the heart giving us our humanity.