ONE IS EITHER BORN INTO the role or is trained by default to be the neutral party aka buffer zone between conflicted family members and/or friends. It takes a particular temperament to handle groups of people who have opposing opinions; a person needs to be calm, sensitive, thoughtful and most importantly strong enough to never offer an opinion. Even in the face of an evil, belligerent person; one needs to maintain a serene exterior, even if they are thinking the extreme thinking friend or family member is hateful or bigoted. If the social event is being held in a large space chances are there will be less drama and little policing of the opposing combatants. However if the meeting place (feel free to replace meeting place with the word arena) is a small space such as a restaurant booth or a person’s dining room, then things could be trickier to maintain some semblance of peace. THROUGH THE YEARS I have been exposed to various events and locations where I was able to witness the buffer zone person in action. I am actually familiar with the dynamics of an occasion where 2 people are not seeing things eye to eye. It can be quite stressful for the other people around. There was a party I attended where such a scenario took place and I agree it was a challenge trying to stay neutral with both sides while each one of them was making their case to me that they were right. The thing I find interesting is when this type of behavior plays out during a special occasion such as a holiday or birthday. Wouldn’t you think in respect to the person celebrating or the special significance to the gathering people could put their differences aside? I do not know if it is an ego thing, a stubborn thing or lack of confidence that makes a person act out in public in such a way. If you are interested there are several examples of people acting ridiculous in this comedy film. TIRED OF DIVIDING THEIR children’s time up during the holiday between each of them Dads Brad and Dusty, played by Will Ferrell (The House, The Campaign) and Mark Wahlberg (Patriots Day, The Gambler), came up with a brilliant idea; to spend the Christmas holiday together. The idea would have been perfect if not for the visit of the grandfathers. With John Lithgow (Miss Sloane, Betriz at Dinner) as Don, Linda Cardellini (Grandma’s Boy, Avengers: Age of Ultron) as Sara and John Cena (Trainwreck, The Marine) as Roger; this sequel for the most part followed the same formula as the original movie. I found the script was predictable and some of the humor had a negative edge to it. If you happened to see the trailers you pretty much saw what the whole film was going to consist of: physical comedy mixed with stereotypical acting. Some of the scenes rang somewhat true to the point I could appreciate what the writers were trying to convey; but, there were times I thought the story was diving into a ridiculous slapstick form of comedy. Having seen the first movie, I did not find much being offered with this picture in the way of new, fresh ideas. Maybe those of you who are in a similar situation as the characters in this picture will enjoy this film. For me I could not be positive or even neutral in my review of this formulaic written movie.
1 ¾ stars
WATCHING the irate customer badger the salesclerk over the rung up price for a box of cereal reminded me of myself. How awful; I saw myself in this belittling loud consumer. Having a storehouse of anger inside of me made me be a walking pressure cooker. One perceived wrong being done to me would set me off, always going over the top since I had a vast amount of anger readily available anytime. As the salesclerk remained calm, though I could see her eyes constantly scanning for a manager, I wondered how many people thought I was a crazy person. On a positive note, if you want to call it that, at least I could observe the situation and acknowledge I used to act that way; grateful that I dealt with my issues and was able to rise above the source of anger. Don’t people say recognizing the issue is the 1st step in the healing process? HAVING the opportunity to grow old allows one to reflect on the multitude of personas they wore in their life. Not too long ago I was talking with a friend, mentioning something about being a former participant in a local group. My friend was taken by surprise because they never pictured me in such an activity. Curious, they asked how that came to be and why I was no longer interested in it. As I shared that part of history with them, I saw myself back in that period of time. I felt like I was talking about a distant relative like a 2nd or 3rd cousin; you know, having a blood connection but far removed to the point where there is a different level of familiarity. One of the pluses of having this type of conversation and reflection is it provides one with validation to what they have become. This dramatic comedy offered me the opportunity to see separate versions of who I used to be. WITH a broken down car in her client’s driveway holistic practitioner Beatriz, played by Salma Hayek (Here Comes the Boom, Once Upon a Time in Mexico), was invited to stay for a dinner party. For some of the guests she was the entertainment. With a cast that included John Lithgow (Miss Sloane, Love is Strange) as Doug Strutt, Connie Britton (American Ultra, Friday Night Lights-TV) as Cathy, Chloe Sevigny (Boys Don’t Cry, Big Love-TV) as Shannon and Amy Landecker (Doctor Strange, A Serious Man) as Jeana; the acting in this movie was excellent. John was the perfect choice for that character. As the story started out I was interested in the activity, particularly once the guests arrived for I found the mix of them familiar ground to my experiences. There were different ways to look at the story; it was easy to plug in variations of the good vs. evil scenario, which I will leave for the viewer to explore. However as the story unfolded I found myself losing interest. There was something lacking for me to the point I was feeling less connected. Honestly my connection to this picture was the opportunity it provided me to reflect on portions of my former life. At the end of the movie I felt unsatisfied. I would have appreciated more intensity and more discussion of philosophies between the characters. Instead I wound up getting annoyed by John’s character (which I thought was intended) and not caring for the ending. This was a mixed bag for me, but I did enjoy the opportunity to do some reflection.
2 ¾ stars
THERE was a parked delivery truck in the middle of the street blocking my way. By backing up I was able to turn into an alley that would take me behind the block so I could continue on my way. As I carefully drove down the alley, dodging garbage bins and bushes, I came up to a garage that had a swastika spray painted across its door. Here I was driving through what looked like a pleasant, well maintained neighborhood and came up to a sign of hatred behind what appeared to be to me the street side facade of peacefulness. I looked at the garage door and did not want to believe someone filled with hate or anger took the time to come out and spray the door as an expression of their feelings. THERE have been so many things I have come across where I did not want to believe they were real. Seeing a mass shooting at a school, an oil spill, toxic drinking water or a hotel bombing; the world is filled with awful events and it seems like there are only more taking place. Maybe I live too much time in my fantasy and film fantasy world, but the fact that I can still be surprised by a variety of dastardly deeds/actions tells me I still have my humanity. When friends or colleagues tell me the true story behind certain events, both personal and international, I am reminded that I may be too naïve because I tend to take everything at face value; trusting or hoping people would lean towards goodness instead of badness. So we now come to today’s movie and if any of it was based on true events I am more afraid of the world than I was before. KNOWN for her killer instincts lobbyist Elizabeth Sloane, played by Jessica Chastain (Crimson Peak, The Martian), pitted herself against a tough opponent. It was one that happened to know her. The cat and mouse game that ensued could easily destroy one of them. This dramatic thriller soared on Jessica’s acting skills. She was the main character and she was incredible. All the actors, such as Mark Strong (The Brothers Grimsby, Before I Go to Sleep) as Rodolfo Schmidt, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Free State of Jones, Beyond the Lights) as Esme Manucharian and John Lithgow (Interstellar, Love is Strange) as Congressman Ron M. Sperling; were excellent, but the women ruled this picture. The world of lobbyists is unknown to me so I enjoyed the story, finding myself periodically surprised with several scenes dealing with the methods used in lobbying influential figures. As for the script I thought the first and last parts of the film were the strongest; the middle of the movie lost me a bit because I felt too much time was being used to remind us of Miss Sloane’s intensity. Personally I would have enjoyed the writers digging deeper into her actions and motivations as well as some of the other characters. With that being said I will tell you I loved the twists in this story. If this movie was based on any truth regarding lobbyists, the world really is a scarier place.
2 ½ stars
Water seeking its own level is a way I look at people who have an overabundance of one attribute. Let me show you what I mean. If I saw a person who was extraordinary in a sports activity I would soon discover they were deficient in another part of their life. Not to make this sound like a given but within my small world this seemed to be the norm. There was this boy in school who was a genius when it came to mathematics. He had little skill in socialization, often times he would be off and away from the other students. Because he showed this amazing side of himself and the teacher did nothing to bridge the gap between him and the rest of the class, the other students shied away from him. He had a hard time through high school, though he only stayed for a couple of years before getting a scholarship to MIT at the age of 15. I hope this explains what I mean by water seeking its own level; because math skills took up a majority of this person’s brain, other skills were not fed as much. Hopefully I am making sense here; because there was a time (or maybe it still happens) when people did not take the time to find that special skill in a person. I feel each person has abilities but some don’t translate well. Another way of saying this would be to describe human beings as a recipe. If there is too much sugar they are extra sweet; if they are mean spirited then there is not a lot of goodness in them. Everything has to find a way to balance out inside of us some way. CHRISTIAN Wolff, played by Ben Affleck (Gone Girl, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), had a father who refused the advice of doctors on how to treat his son. It was because of his decision Christian was able to take care of himself as an adult. This action crime drama twisted its way inside of me. With Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air, Pitch Perfect franchise) as Dana Cummings, J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Labor Day) as Ray King and John Lithgow (Interstellar, Love is Strange) as Lamar Black; the story grabbed me on several levels. First I thought the way the writer handed the subject of autism was both sensitive and humorous. Ben did a wonderful job and I especially liked the chemistry between him and Anna. They were not only sweet together but plausible. I thought the flashback scenes would have been a distraction but on the contrary they only added a real depth to the characters. Now keep in mind I never look ahead while watching a film to try and figure it out. This film took me by surprise with the twists and turns that took place. Keeping this real, let me tell you there were a few scenes that did not ring true; but in the scheme of things, it did not matter to me. The movie took an important subject and made it part of an entertaining story. Now if I could find an accountant like this one; or on second thought, I would be glad to wait for a sequel to this film.
It must be something in the blood or maybe DNA that pushes individuals to explore uncharted areas. I have met some of those people and they are fascinating folk. Listening to their exploits of climbing mountains, backpacking across states, camping and kayaking is somewhat foreign to me. I can climb the type of trail that ends at a gift shop with a restaurant and working restroom; but the idea of trekking through the wilderness and camping makes me shudder. Not that I want to be pampered and taken care of, but my idea of camping is staying at a motel where the sink is not in the same room as the commode and the only place to find a meal is at the fast food restaurant that shares the parking lot with the motel. I will say with all the means we have regarding electronic communications and GPS navigating, exploration is much different now compared to years ago. The idea of people willingly leaving their life behind to stake out new territory boggles my mind. The history books we had in school focused more on the big historical events; I had to imagine what life was really like for those people who traveled across uncharted lands to stake out a foreign place to make as their home. They were referred to as settlers. HAVING settled in the territory west of Iowa Mary Bee Cuddy, played by Hilary Swank (Amelia, Million Dollar Baby), lived an uncommon life; she was an unmarried woman who did her own farming. When no one took up Reverend Alfred Dowd’s, played by John Lithgow (Interstellar, Love is Strange), request to transport three “not in their right mind” women back to Iowa, Mary agreed to do it. The trek would be dangerous for anyone, but to have a single woman do it was even tougher. This film festival nominee was a western drama in the true sense. The reason this drama worked was due to the story staying on a personal level. The characters such as Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black franchise, Hope Springs) as George Briggs and James Spader (Lincoln, Boston Legal-TV) as Aloysius Duffy came off as real settlers trying to make their way through life in recently established areas. The acting was solid with extra credit going to Tommy Lee since he directed and helped write the screenplay. This movie grew on me the more I thought about it after leaving the theater. Without major battles or massive emotional outbursts for dramatic effect, the story simply showed a real slice of life for those individuals who were brave enough to start a new life in a new place. I not only admired the effort of the people who made this film but the characters that were portrayed in it.
They are two of the most powerful words one could ever utter in their entire life. Each word represents a profound, deep commitment from an individual; neither should ever be taken lightly. One word is love, the other one is sorry. Though I use both words cautiously, each one represents a deep core value that is permanently embedded inside of my being. The reason I do not freely use these words is because I want them to retain their specialness, so when I say either of them to a person, they know they are getting the true fullness of my heart and soul without any conditions. There is another word that carries almost as much weight as the word love; however, I do not feel it is as strong. The word is hate. It certainly can strike a person as deeply as the word love, but from my experiences I feel it takes less effort to be hateful than loving. Hate to me means one closes themselves off from experiencing feelings, like an old item that one would store up in an attic. A person hates something so they may walk away from it, never allowing themself to explore and see if they can look at it through a different set of eyes. For me love is a full-time commitment that one nourishes, allowing it to continually flourish. TOGETHER nearly 40 years Ben and George, played by John Lithgow (Leap Year, Cliffhanger) and Alfred Molina (An Education, Chocolat), decided to get married. Their celebrating with friends and family did not last long once George’s employer heard about the union; they terminated him. Forced to find cheaper housing the couple would have to live apart after living together for the majority of their adult life. The story in this drama was straight forward without embellishing the situation for dramatic purposes. The acting by John and Alfred was outstanding; in fact, along with Marisa Tomei (Parental Guidance, The Wrestler) as Kate and Charlie Tahan (Blue Jasmine, Charlie St. Cloud) as Joey, the acting was the major force of this movie. What dragged this movie down was the ponderous script. I felt the additional story lines took away from what was the heart of the story. The directing was of no help because there were times where the film seemed to drag a bit for me. With a story that could have been plucked out from current news, this dramatic picture handled the subject matter honestly and with sensitivity. Believing love is one of the most powerful acts a person can commit, it was the underlying theme in bringing this story to life.
2 3/4 stars