IS THERE ANYONE WHO DOES NOT wonder where those stains and marks come from in a hotel room? I for one cannot ignore them when I see them. This is why I am never 100% comfortable when I am staying at a hotel. On a trip to the southwest I stayed at a hotel that was one of the tallest buildings in the city. When I walked into my room everything looked fine. Just like most hotels I have stayed in; this one had a bed, 2 nightstands, an armoire, a desk, an easy chair and a floor lamp. When I walked into the bathroom I was immediately horrified because there appeared to be a blood-stained streak on the shower curtain. My mind was flooded with scenarios that could have caused blood to get splattered in the bathroom. I was not going to attempt to clean it, nor could I simply ignore it. If that was not enough, I decided to relieve my bladder before going downstairs to request a room change. When I went to flush the toilet, the water gurgled inside the bowl but never flushed down; it looked as if the water was simmering close to a boil. I wasn’t about to wonder what was causing the toilet not to flush. The room and in turn the hotel creeped me out. ON ANOTHER TRIP I BOOKED A ROOM in this huge, old majestic hotel. I do not remember the year the building was constructed, but it was originally built as an apartment building. With terra cotta appointments on the façade and a lobby that looked like it came out of 1920’s detective story, I thought the hotel was cool looking. The elevators with jet black doors and silver trim creaked as they traveled up the floors, slightly unsteady like an elderly patient. When I walked into the room I was met by a wall that had worn-out flocked wallpaper. As soon as one entered the room they had to make an immediate right turn to go into the living space. It appeared the original apartments must have been carved up to form the hotel rooms; the room had odd shaped corners and the bathroom door nearly grazed the toilet bowl when it was being closed. There was something about the hotel that made me think about the original residences who must have resided here earlier. During my stay little things happened such as the lightbulb burning out and the water faucet groaning whenever it was turned on. I stayed there despite the odd sounds and my concerns for my safety and hygiene. But I will tell you this; I would rather stay in either of the hotels I mentioned than the one in this mystery thriller. A GROUP OF STRANGERS CHECKED INTO the El Royale but not all of them would check out. This dramatic crime film starred Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) as Father Daniel Flynn, Cynthia Erivo (Widows, Mr. Selfridge-TV) as Darlene Sweet, Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, A Bigger Splash) as Emily Summerspring, Jon Hamm (Baby Driver, Million Dollar Arm) as Laramie Seymour Sullivan and Chris Hemsworth (Thor franchise, 12 Strong) as Billy Lee. I enjoyed the cast and the diversity of the characters they portrayed. This picture had a great look to it with a smoldering script, which allowed every actor a chance in the spotlight. I also liked the way the pieces of the story fit together; however halfway through I started to get bored. It seemed as if scenes were written with less detail and emotion. Sometimes it appeared shocking twists were put in for the sake of shocking the viewer. For me this was not as much of a thriller as a slow burn and I had no desire to book a room at this hotel.
2 ¼ stars
ALL THAT WAS NEEDED WAS A bed sheet and 2 chairs. With these items one could create a fort and that is exactly what we would do. Whenever I would get together with a cousin of mine and we wanted to pretend to be in the military, we would start our fort with the 2 chairs separated but facing each other. Draping the sheet over them we now would have a secret tunnel we had to crawl through underneath the chair seat, right between its legs. Once safely under the cover of the sheet we would go over our just thought out battle plans. There were times where we needed a bigger fort so I would take out the extra folding chairs from the hall closet while he went in search for more sheets and blankets. From our strategically placed covered chairs, we created an intricate compound of tunnels and meeting rooms. If there were enough items we would even incorporate the living room’s coffee tables to expand our structure. We could play for hours besides requesting our meals be delivered to our pretend mess hall in the middle of our fort. FROM THAT EARLY TIME, I fell in love with a variety of real and make-believe games. One of my oldest memories is being taught to play the card game, War. Add in Crazy 8’s, Gin Rummy and Concentration; I was always asking friends and family if they wanted to play with me. Store bought games also became important to me. You might not believe it but I still have some of them to this day and they remain in good condition. There is nothing like sitting down with a friend and taking out the game pieces of a board game in anticipation of a rousing good time. Interestingly I am not competitive against anyone, only myself. So, I never cared if I won or not; I simply enjoyed playing the game. The only time where I do not have fun playing is when there is a group of people and one of them is super competitive; I mean yelling and making rude comments to the other players or even the ones on their own team. I avoid this type of situation, preferring to sit it out and just observe. As for those games that list the ideal age range one should be to play it, do not believe it. There should never me an age restriction on being able to have fun; just watch the childhood friends in this comedy inspired by a true story. FOR THE PAST DECADES CHILDHOOD friends put one month aside a year to continue their game of Tag. Neither wedding or funeral were off limits in getting tagged “you’re it.” With Ed Helms (Chappaquiddick, Vacation) as Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy, Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, The Carmichael Show-TV) as Reggie, Jon Hamm (Beirut, Baby Driver) as Bob Callahan, Jake Johnson (Let’s Be Cops, New Girl-TV) as Randy “Chilli” Cilliano and Jeremy Renner (Wind River, The Bourne Legacy) as Jerry Pierce; the story for this film was wild. The fact these friends have been doing this same game of Tag for all these years is a bit mind blowing. I thought the cast did as best as they could with the script, but I need to tell you I became bored by the repetitive schemes to tag Jeremy’s character. A couple of scenes were fun and okay, but some of the stunts were too goofy for me. Honestly, I think I would have rather seen a documentary about these childhood friends, so I could have gotten a better feel for what type of individuals they were to each other. What can I say when I tell you I thought one of the best parts of this film was the way they did the ending credits. Maybe you will have a better time with this film; I did not get it.
A life without music is a life less rich. At least that is how I feel about music. The famous line from William Congreve’s play “The Mourning Bride” goes, “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” It is usually misquoted as a savage beast; either way I agree with its meaning 100%. However I feel music offers us so much more. As the world appears to be more divided currently, music is the one common element that goes past all boundaries. In my opinion music is a universal language that can establish common ground between individuals. One place where I often see this taking place is at a wedding. You have two distinct families with nothing in common except one of their family members is in love with someone from the other side. There could be differences in race, religion or culture but put on some music and people will come together on the dance floor, beginning the first step in making contact with the other side. ANOTHER benefit music offers us is comfort. How many of us have a “breakup song?” You know that one song that you played over and over because it was speaking to you at the time of your separation from the person you loved. Sure it may cause a tear to spill over your eyelid, but it started the path for your heart to heal. I remember whenever I was sad I would sit at the piano and play my favorite music pieces over and over. By the time I walked away I felt some of the heaviness on my heart had been lifted. Music has to be playing whenever I am in the car or when I have to clean the house. I can better tolerate housekeeping when there is a steady beat playing in the background. If I did not have music playing during my commute I would walk into the office frustrated and angry. Maybe it would be different if I had the mad driving skills like the driver in this action crime movie. SURVIVING a car crash as a young boy Baby, played by Ansel Elgort (Divergent franchise, The Fault in our Stars), may have been influenced by it because he became a fearless getaway driver for crime boss Doc, played by Kevin Spacey (Elvis & Nixon, House of Cards-TV). The only problem was he was not allowed to do anything else. With Jon Hamm (Keeping up with the Jones, Mad Men-TV) as Buddy, Lily James (Cinderella, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Debora and Jon Bernthal (The Ghost Writer, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Griff; this film had a banging hard rock soundtrack. The characters and action were all put into synch with the driving beat. I could not recall seeing in a movie such precision between the two. The driving scenes were intensely thrilling; some of the scenes must be seen to be believed. Ansel was amazing in this picture; I felt it was a breakout role for him. Shifting into a lower gear (I could not resist), there was little explanation about the different relationships between characters. I did not understand Baby’s connection to his friend for example. One other thing for me was the change from such high speed action scenes to lesser ones; it made for some odd pacing. The final diagnostics for this music driven movie is it fires on most cylinders.
I learned at an early age that having more body mass was not a way to keep up with the people around me. Assumptions were made that I could not hit or catch a ball and I must be slow in a game of tag. Though initially I did not think I was different as time went on I sort of fell into people’s expectations. Oh and not being able to wear the latest trends in clothing because they did not make them in my size really pushed me over the edge. What could I do? I did what others in my situation did, ditch these unwritten rules. Little did I know this was going to help me later in life. AFTER living in apartments where all the residents pretty much were on equal footing, I bought a house. It was a major adjustment for me. From living in places where a building superintendant handled any issues, I was confronted with a neighbor who would point out everything that was wrong (in her opinion) with the outside of my house. First let me say she along with all the other neighbors loved (though I felt it was coming from an envious place) my landscaping. I was always getting complimented on it, though I had nothing to do with the lawn and flowers. A close friend of mine was a landscape architect who lived in a high rise building and missed getting his hands dirty. We were a perfect match because I disliked getting my hands dirty. My neighbor would sit out on her front porch and watch everything my friend did around the yard. Sadly this was the only thing she liked about my place. Anytime I was outside she would remind me I needed to do something about my storm windows, my screen door, my chimney; you get the point. From the lessons I was taught early on, I was able to ignore these reminders with a smile and a remark, “Really?” I did not need to keep up with her standards though you should with yours regarding this action comedy. THE new neighbors, Natalie and Tim Jones, played by Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious franchise, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Jon Hamm (The Town, Mad Men-TV), not only fit in with the neighborhood, they were perfect. They seemed a little too perfect for their neighbors Karen and Jeff Gaffney, played by Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers, Home and Away-TV) and Zach Galifianakis (Masterminds, The Campaign). Spying on the new couple would only show how perfect they were indeed, in certain areas of their life. What can I say about this movie; except to say it was poorly thought out and written. The script and story were generic; it was easy to see where the jokes would come in. A waste of talent even though I thought Gal and Jon made a fun couple; I would have liked to have seen this movie focus just on them. If you saw the trailer you already saw the film. You will not be missing anything if you decline an invitation to go see this movie at the theater. Do not feel you have to keep up with the newest movies out.
1 ¾ stars
It is not as fun, fun being a relative term, when there is not an audience or one’s followers around to witness the act. More times than not the person picking on another person has a posse of buddies in tow to be their audience and witnesses when they go on the attack. I have seen it time and time again besides being on the receiving end; watching the bully walk away with their admiring subordinates following up the rear, sometimes punctuating the event with their own punch or kick. Now I know there are some followers who may not agree with their leader’s actions, but they choose to go along as a preventative measure to avoid being in a position where they could be the one that is on the receiving end. This logic can be applied on a global scale. How many times has the news shown a horrific act of violence? I have wondered what would happen if there was a moratorium on reporting such activities; would it have a dampening effect on those individuals or groups who seek out an audience for their actions. Speaking of audiences this recently happened here; a local news station reported on an attempted robbery that took place on public transportation. There was video from a security camera that was shown and the thing that struck me was how there were other passengers around who did nothing as the victim fought back against their attacker. Would they be considered human versions of the Minions? DESPONDENT over their lack of having an evil leader to follow; Kevin, Bob and Stuart head out in search of someone bad enough for them and the rest of their fellow Minions to follow. This animated comedy was geared towards the younger viewer; however, the soundtrack was done with the adult in mind. I thought the song choices were a great accompaniment to the terrific animation. Additionally the choice of actors such as Sandra Bullock (Gravity, The Blind Side) as Scarlett Overkill and Jon Hamm (The Town, Mad Men-TV) as her husband Herb were well equipped to handle their characters. After seeing for months the hilarious trailers, this film was a bit disappointing. The script did not provide enough punch to make this animated movie succeed. For example I thought Scarlett was not evil enough; she lacked the drama that someone in that position could have been yielding. I found myself getting bored halfway through the story since it seemed as if it was one stunt or comedy bit being repeated over and over. Maybe it was due too all the exposure the Minions have been getting the past several months, but this full length feature did not provide any excitement until closer to the end. There was an extra fun musical scene at the end of the credits.
2 1/2 stars
Maybe I should have listened better when I was being told I was good with numbers. I say this because I have been seeing more examples of things being reduced to a number. There is the weekly box office results that list the top 5 grossing movies for the weekend. Reaching this list contributes to whether a film can be considered a success. However, I have seen numerous pictures that were excellent and they never made the list. Think about all the different food items that have been introduced only to be pushed off the grocery shelf for something bigger or better, at least according to the manufacturers. One of the more troubling aspects to this numbers game is when human beings are reduced to a number, a commodity. It is safe to say all of us have either experienced or known someone who has gone through staff reductions at their place of employment. It is hard for me to think of something worse at the workplace than having one’s dignity taken away by becoming a statistic in a company’s formula on how to save money. Knowledge and experience used to mean something but I fear numbers have beaten them down. In turn, don’t you find people who base decisions on how the numbers benefit them as being less humane? I do and this movie based on a true story shows what happens when numbers are considered the most important thing. Jon Hamm (The Town, Mad Men-TV) played sports agent JB. When he lost out on his last chance to sign up a sports celebrity, JB came up with an idea to hold a contest to look for potential baseball pitchers. His idea would take him all the way to an unlikely place. The story in this dramatic sports film certainly had potential. Jon played a believable character and had the good fortune to have Lake Bell (In a World, Black Rock) play his tenant Brenda. She was such a likable and convincing character. Sadly I could not say the same for Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) as Rinku and Madhur Mittal (Slumdog Millionaire, One 2 Ka 4) as Ninesh. The script reduced them to cartoon characters; I never felt a sense of who or what they were in this biographical picture. This contributed to the whole film being too sanitized and generic; there was no emotional depth that would allow me to care about any of them. At the beginning of this review I said you could see an example when numbers are a factor; let me clarify, the example was the studio playing it safe by sticking to the numbers instead of letting the story come to life. Added photos and videos of the actual people were shown during the ending credits.
2 1/4 stars
There was a time when women could not wear pants. It was not allowed during the period my brothers were in high school. It used to be one could not marry out of their race. Experiencing any type of freedom today, one must look to the past to see who fought for those rights. As a member of the blogosphere, I have read some posts that made me blush. I may not agree with the author of the post, but I would certainly fight for their right to say it. If I am not comfortable reading or seeing something, I simply stop and move on. Being fortunate to live in a country that allows it citizens the freedom of speech, I was curious to see this film about a trailblazer who reinforced that freedom of speech. Poet Allen Ginsberg along with his friend Jack Kerouac were pioneers of what became known as the Beat Generation. Allen’s poem Howl is considered today one of the great works of American literature. When it was first published in the 1950’s, there were many who felt it was obscene. The obscenity trial that ensued was the focus of this film. James Franco (127 Hours, Spiderman franchise) gave an engaging performance portraying the poet Allen Ginsburg. The lawyers at the trial, Jake Ehrlich and Ralph McIntosh, were played by Jon Hamm (The Town, Friends With Kids) and David Strathairn (Lincoln, L.A. Confidential) respectively. I could appreciate the use of three segments to tell this movie; the events that led up to Ginsberg writing his famous piece, the trial itself and the use of animation to enhance the recitation of the poem. But where each segment was interesting, I felt it took away from giving me a fuller story. For example, I would rather have had extra screen time showing more of Allen’s life and his thoughts about the trial. Even having more interaction between Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who was played by Todd Rotondi (Phileine Says Sorry, The Heartbreaker), would have been interesting. The casting for this film was well done, including the small parts for Mary-Louise Parker (Red, Saved!) as Gail Potter and Jeff Daniels (Looper, Dumb & Dumber) as David Kirk. This movie was a compelling history lesson for me. Strong language and visuals of sexual content.
2 2/3 stars — DVD
The heart is a resilient muscle. It has the ability to heal from an emotional wound. No matter how many scars it may have, the heart will always let you know how it feels. The one exception would be when the individual does not have closure. Without that closure the heart remains in a wounded state, always reminding the person of its pain. Though I have experienced a broken heart, I never had to deal with the tragic horror the couple in this dramatic mystery were living. It had been several years with police detective Tom Adkins Sr., played by Jon Hamm (The Town, Friends with Kids) and his wife Barbara, played by Rhona Mitra (Shooter, The Number 23), no closer in finding out the circumstances behind the disappearance of their son Tom Jr. With the strain weighing particularly heavy on Officer Adkins, he could not let go and move on. When the remains of a little boy were found from a 50 year old grave, little did Tom know his detective work on the remains would result in a clue to his son’s case. This movie surprised me for a couple of reasons. First, it had a strong cast with the addition of Jessica Chastain (The Help, Lawless) as Sally Ann, Josh Lucas (Sweet Home Alabama, A Beautiful Mind) as Matthew Wakefield and James Van Der Beak (The Rules of Attraction, Dawson’s Creek-TV) as Diploma/Roggiani. Second, the way the director blended the current events into the story behind the 50 year old remains kept my attention. With the older story, the sepia toned scenes made for seamless transitions between past and current time. In spite of several scenes that did not work for me, this film was a moving tale that touched my heart.
2 1/2 stars — DVD
Still in the glow from my recent 4 star review of Argo, I decided to visit Ben Affleck’s (Argo, Smokin’ Aces) previous directorial effort. Having traveled out east for many years, the setting and mood of this film was quite familiar to me. For those of you unfamiliar with the Bostonian swagger; it has to do with a single mindfulness and toughness. When I first started visiting Boston it was evident that there were invisible boundary lines between neighborhoods. There was an intense loyalty on display from the residents for their community. Granted with Ben growing up in the area this was not a stretch for him to recreate that same brotherhood in this movie. The story was about a group of bank robbing friends. When a heist did not go as exactly planned; bank employee Claire Keesey, played by Rebecca Hall (The Prestige, Frost/Nixon), was taken hostage for a brief time. Concerned she could still reveal clues about the heist to special agent Adam Frawley, played by Jon Hamm (Mad Men-TV, Friends With Kids); Ben’s character Doug MacRay decided to keep an eye on her by following her around. What better way than to somehow innocently make her acquaintance. However, when his worry turned into affection for her; would he be putting his gang into jeopardy? I could see Ben’s directing style clearer here now that I have seen his recent stint with Argo. He has a good eye for what creates tension in a scene. The pacing was steady as he balanced big action scenes with a kind gentleness. Jeremy Renner (The Avengers, The Bourne Legacy) brought a manic bravado to his fellow robber character James Coughlin. I enjoyed the way Ben and Jeremy played off of each other. It is apparent to me that Ben’s skilled directing is no fluke. I venture to say he will be known more for his directing than acting in the years to come. Scenes with violence and blood.
3 stars — DVD
Am I to assume that having children is just a different form of a prison sentence? Seeing the married couples portrayed in this movie, it certainly looked as if marital quality took a nosedive once a child was born. Let me start by saying I give props to Jennifer Westfeldt (Ira & Abby, Kissing Jessica Stein), the writer, producer, director and lead actress of this comedy. Her character Julie Keller with close friend Jason Fryman, played by Adam Scott (The Aviator, Step Brothers) decided they wanted to have a baby. However, witnessing the drama of their married friends and their children, Julie and Adam wanted to maintain their platonic friendship, avoiding the stresses of holy deadlock. The wild portrayals of their friends were crazy in this movie; with some great, funny lines of dialog. The stand outs for me were Jon Hamm (The Town, Sucker Punch) as Ben and Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, Date Night) as Missy. I felt the premise of the movie was original, taking the “can a woman and man be best friends” question to a new level. One of the issues I had with this movie, however, was Jennifer’s acting. There was something about it that was lacking for me. This may sound odd, but her face seemed as if it had just been treated with botox; I could not get any visual cues on her emotions. By the end of the movie, I felt the story lost its edge and went the safe route. More chuckles then belly laughs; this film was a good idea that did not carry through by the end.
2 1/2 stars