ONLY FOR A MOMENT did I catch a glimpse of a shadow against the wall before it retreated. I quickly changed directions and walked away from the alleyway. Purposely I tried keeping my footsteps quiet by taking little steps with the soles of my shoes rolling from heel to toe against the pavement. It did not help as I heard a rustling sound behind me. Darting into a gangway between two apartment buildings, I saw each of them had wrought iron fire escapes that mirrored each other. They looked like origami figurines with a limb reaching out to grab me. Walking up to one of the fire escapes I grabbed a hold of the bottom rung of a ladder that easily gave way for me to pull it far down enough for me to hoist myself onto it. Quickly I made my way up to the first floor and cowered against the building in a crevice of a black area the nearby street lamp could not reach. The dark shadow I had seen lengthened down the alley towards my location. A looming figure attached to the shadow came into view… WHAT YOU JUST READ was something out of my imagination. I apologize if you wanted to find out what happened next, but that scenario never took place. However I will tell you as I was writing it I was looking at it as if it really did take place. You see whenever I write a piece of fiction I see everything in my mind first and then it appears before my eyes. My own version of virtual reality I guess you can call it. In fact I have been accused of not paying attention in class or when someone is speaking directly to me because I do not maintain constant eye contact; I actually am listening to them and picturing what they are telling me. When I think about it I have always had this capability, even before I found my fondness for writing; all that was needed was an imagination. Being a visual learner I certainly can attest to the benefits of visualization. What a surprise it was to see Charles Dickens did the same thing in this comedic drama. DISAPPOINTED WITH HIS RECENT works Charles Dickens, played by Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, Downton Abbey-TV), was desperate to overcome his writer’s block and produce a successful story for the holidays. All he needed to do was look at the people around him. This film festival winning movie based on a true story also starred Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, A Beautiful Mind) as Ebenezer Scrooge, Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Game of Thrones-TV) as John Dickens, Simon Callow (Amadeus, Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Leech and Miriam Gargoyles (The Age of Innocence, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) as Mrs. Fisk. The idea for this story was a new twist on the Christmas Carol story. I enjoyed watching the process Charles Dickens went through to create his iconic story. The acting was a mixed bag for me; I thought Christopher Plummer far outshined Dan in this biographical film. At times I thought the humor was a bit much, inching the Charles Dickens character closer to buffoonery. I may have felt this way because Dan was not totally believable to me. I would have preferred added focus on creating more drama in the script. Despite these issues there still was a certain charm to this picture and fans of Charles Dickens or at least his novel “A Christmas Carol” will get a kick out of the imagination used to bring the novel’s characters to life.
2 ½ stars
It was chosen because of the way it caught your eye. Perfectly sculpted with a dimple at the top and one on the bottom, its skin looked as if a skilled craftsman had polished it to a fine high gleam. As you brought it up to your face you caught a faint, sweet aroma just seconds before you bit into the beautiful apple. Anticipating the juicy flavor of the fruit to flood your mouth, suddenly a sharp bitterness cut through and stabbed your taste buds. You glanced down as the receding apple came back into view and there, just below its gorgeous surface, was half of a cancerous, dark brown mass. Horrified you spat out the partially pulverized putrid pus. How far removed was this scenario to an experience you may have had when you discovered a person’s true nature; where on the surface everything looked wonderful but you soon see below their ugliness? We could sit here for days if I were to share with you some of the experiences I had in my personal life. However, since this is a movie review site let me tell you my feelings about those celebrities who reveal their real colors. I have mentioned before there are a couple of movie stars that are persona non grata in my family; we will not see any of their films. When I discover an actor has done something offensive it saddens me. I am not comfortable buying a movie ticket to their films because I feel, by purchasing that ticket, I am condoning their behavior and that is not the case. You would think recognition, money and adulation would be enough to be a respectful human being. WRITER Philip Lewis Friedman, played by Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Express, Saving Mr. Banks), was anxiously waiting for the publication of his 2nd novel. Self-centered, obnoxious and just plain rude; his publishers would have a challenging time selling copies of his new book. This film festival winning drama had a crack team of actors for its cast. Besides Jason there was Elizabeth Moss (The One I Love, Mad Men-TV) as Ashley Kane, Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Tomorrow Never Dies) as Mike Zimmerman and Krysten Ritter (Confessions of a Shopaholic, She’s Out of My League) as Melanie Zimmerman. The acting on the whole was wonderful. With a smartly sometimes humorously written script, I appreciated the way the characters evolved throughout the story. The issue I had with this movie was the way things played out. I felt the writer did not know what else he could do so he ended it. Perhaps you will find something more than I did. Outside of that this film provided an in-depth peek into the lives of some real characters.
2 2/3 stars
The sun was about to open its eyes, sending the first ray of light into the softening blue sky. Enemy soldiers were perched strategically around waiting for the signal to begin their assault against the base. What the enemy forces did not know was the soldiers on base were prepared and had a secret weapon. The Roller Blaster was prepped for maximum coverage to drive a wedge through the enemy. Its design was simple; made of the cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels and marbles for ammunition. I came up with the design one day while I was playing with my toy soldiers as a little boy. You should have seen how the marbles would roll out of the partially lifted tube and knock down the enemy soldiers. Not that I want to brag, but this action movie could have used some of my imagination. The G.I. Joes had to battle an evil plot that not only threatened their very existence but could bring down the government of the United States. Channing Tatum (The Vow, Magic Mike) and Dwayne Johnson (Snitch, Race to Witch Mountain) played G. I. Joe commanders Duke and Roadblock. The bantering between the two of them was pitiful; in fact, the entire movie was filled with every cliche you have heard from every action movie. And can someone tell me when Bruce Willis (Looper, Die Hard franchise) became the godfather of the testosterone thriller movies? Playing General Joe Colton, Bruce was no different then he had been in his past several films. I could have forgiven the cheesy script and crazy plot if the fight scenes had been creative. Except for one fight scene, the rest were lackluster. The problem was director Jon M. Chu, known for the Step Up movies. Filming dancers and ninjas should not necessarily be different, but the fighting was confusing here. If it would have helped make a better film, I could have offered the G.I. Joes my Roller Blaster.
1 3/4 stars
Just from the movie title, this comedy should get an extra star in its rating. Unconditional love is a powerful combination; a term I have always tried to live my life by. For anyone who lives with unconditional love, I say more power to them. Besides having a great movie title, I am doing a different type of review because I was an extra in this film. I will share my observations as I was fulfilling one of my dreams–to see and be part of a movie production. Kathy Bates (Misery, Titanic) played Grace Beasley. Devastated when her husband Max, played by Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Ghostbusters franchise), told her he did not want to be married to her any longer; on an impulse, Grace decided she would fly to London to attend the funeral of her favorite entertainer Victor Fox, played by Jonathan Pryce (Brazil, Pirates of the Caribbean franchise). While in England Grace convinced Victor’s partner Dirk Simpson, played by Rupert Everett (Hysteria, My Best Friend’s Wedding) to fly back with her to Chicago to find out who had killed Victor. There was a trail of madcap events that ensued which would put the couple in danger and have an affect on the entertainer’s estate. This was a fluffy, harmless comedy caper with a robust cast of characters. The story was silly for the most part, but I still enjoyed it. Kathy Bates was an incredibly warm person who would come to the set each day in a full length fur coat, fluffy house slippers and her little pet dog. The staff told us we were not allowed to look Rupert Everett in the eyes, nor speak to him unless he spoke to us first. He was surly and ignored everyone except his fellow actors. Lynn Redgrave (Gods and Monsters, Peter Pan) who played Victor’s sister Nola Fox was absolutely charming, sitting with the extras in the general dining area. Throughout the day the extras were fed pizza and doughnuts between takes. Luckily I brought some snacks that were a little healthier. The scene I was in included Barry Manilow and Sally Jessy Raphael. Between shots Barry entertained everyone by singing and playing the piano. Sally would walk behind the set after each take, where her husband dutifully waited for her. My scene was at the very end of the movie; I was an audience member of a television show. It took 2 1/2 days to film that one scene because Dan Aykroyd purposely kept changing his lines, causing everyone to crack up with laughter. If you look beyond his shoulder you can see a younger me with a full beard and more hair on my head, having the time of my life.
2 1/2 stars — DVD
Women, for all these years how have you been able to put up with us men? Inspired by true events, this romantic comedy’s main story was about the development of a device that would be used to cure women from the medical condition called hysteria. Set in Victorian England, the young physician Mortimer Granville, played by Hugh Dancy (Our Idiot Brother, Adam), came upon the idea by chance. While holding his friend, played by Rupert Everett (My Best Friend’s Wedding, Stardust), Edmund St. John-Smythe’s motorized feather duster; Mortimer came up with the device which was to become the forefather of the modern vibrator. With Dr. Robert Dalrymple, played by Jonathan Pryce (Tomorrow Never Dies, Pirates of the Caribbean franchise); the two men formed a successful partnership. However, one of Dr. Dalrymple’s daughters, Charlotte played by Maggie Gyllennaal (Crazy Heart, The Dark Knight), was skeptical of the whole concept. I thoroughly enjoyed Maggie’s character as she was a strong advocate for women’s rights. All the actors looked like they were enjoying themselves and came across the screen in a likable way. The majority of the audience was female who were hooting and laughing throughout the film. Make sure you stay for the credits, to see a timeline on the evolution of the vibrator. You may not walk out of the movie theater with the urge to light up a cigarette, but you easily will have a smile on your face.
2 3/4 stars