THE picture was of a young woman wearing a hat. Her head was turned enough to only provide a profile of her face. We were told to look intently at this picture; the teacher asking us if anyone saw something else. I kept looking at it then suddenly the image of an elderly woman appeared, removing any trace of the young woman. It was amazing to me and this became my introduction into the world of optical illusions. Whenever I was in the school library I sought out books that would reveal more optical illusions to me. There was the zebra with 2 heads, the elephant with extra legs and what would became one of my favorites, the two people sitting at a table who morphed into a human skull. At one point in time I had a poster of an abstract illusion hanging in my room. EVEN into adulthood I always enjoyed a good optical illusion or things that appeared to be impossible but were real. A new skyscraper was built in the city and on one side of it there was a built-in aquarium with dolphins. Honestly, it looked that real; even though it was just a painting. In fact there was an art exhibit where the same concept was used at various spots in the city such as a fake staircase in the front of a building and a swimming pool that spanned several hundred feet across a city sidewalk. It is fun to have one’s beliefs tested in this way. The same could be said for a person who does magic tricks or even performs a stunt that has never been attempted before. I enjoy these types of events. However, there are some times I have to just sit there and say to myself, “What were they thinking, why would someone do something like that?” This crime drama would be one of those times. TERMINALLY ill assassin Rose, played by Helen Mirren (Eye in the Sky, The Debt), decided to do one more job with her stepson Mikey, played by Cuba Gooding Jr. (As Good as it Gets, Men of Honor). When she came face to face with the intended target Helen did something she had never done before. This action film had a heavy hitting cast of actors that included Vanessa Ferlito (Julie & Julia, Death Proof) as Vicki, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt (Snowden, The Night Before) as Dr. Don and Stephen Dorff (Public Enemies, Felon) as Clayton Mayfield. We are talking Oscar and Golden Globe winners and nominees, though I realize this film is over 10 years old. I liked the idea for the story but the script was dreadful. There was no oomph to the characters and action; it felt like everyone was just going through their paces. Helen has stellar acting ability and Cuba in the right role can do a great job but I literally sat there with my mouth open watching them together in some scenes on this DVD. This was one of the oddest pairings I have ever seen; what were the studio people thinking about to cast these 2 together in these roles?! I still cannot believe what I witnessed in this movie.
1 ½ stars – DVD
Go ahead call me paranoid, I have been called worse; but I try to do as little as possible any personal business on the internet. When I am forced to purchase an item online and the site asks me if I want to save my charge card information I always decline the offer. I am sure I mentioned this before but I do not have an ATM card; I have heard so many horror stories about people having their identity stolen that I do not need to have that easy of an access to my bank. This week the news reported a major hacking of a popular web site; what was it, up to 50 million people may have had their information stolen? I do not want to tempt fate but I have had 3 incidents where my credit card information was stolen. One of those times it was the restaurant waitress serving us who took down my credit card info and tried to make a purchase with it. Fortunately the issuing banks caught each of the incidents immediately and closed my account. On one of this site’s social media outlets I have been reading about a follower who had their personal information stolen and now the thief has been reaching out to all of the victim’s contacts for money. The impersonator wrote their banking information was hacked so the bank froze the account, asking the contacts if they could float some money until everything gets resolved. Can you believe this?!?! So feel free to call me old fashioned or behind the times; I would rather have peace of mind instead of fighting to get my stolen identity back. This dramatic action biography did nothing to calm me down. DISCOVERING where the government was searching for information Edward Snowden, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Walk, Don Jon), decided he could no longer be part of the process. Based on the book “The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man,” this movie was co-written and directed by Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers, Any Given Sunday). Joseph did a fantastic job of acting in this role, but he was not alone. There was Shailene Woodley (The Fault in our Stars, Divergent franchise) as Lindsay Mills, Zachary Quinto (Star Trek franchise, Margin Call) as Glen Greenwald, Melissa Leo (Prisoners, The Fighter) as Laura Poitras and Tom Wilkinson (Belle, Michael Clayton) as Ewen MacAskill. There were times during this picture where I thought the story was powerful and tense. As I alluded to earlier, I was stunned seeing some of the surveillance techniques that were depicted in several scenes. Though the acting was wonderful, I felt the script was scattered in parts. There were scenes of Edward in the military, scenes with Lindsay and current scenes that made the flow of the story a bit jagged. I felt the story itself was substantial; it was the main drive in grabbing my attention. Without getting into the politics of Edward’s actions; based on the story that was presented here, I left the theater feeling like I was entertained. Yet I was more scared than when I first arrived to see this film.
2 ¾ stars
The pool of friends started out large enough where they could have used a small school bus to fit them all in. They all grew up together having survived the blizzard of the century that kept them home from school for several days, besides puberty. During their high school years the group expanded whenever any of them started dating; the dates just became a part of the culture they had created, hanging out at the pizza place or meeting at the beach when the weather was warm enough. When it came time to go to college the group temporarily diminished by those friends that went out of state. However, any time they returned home there always would be plans in place for everyone to meet up. A change started forming around this time, where those in relationships that were solidifying did not hang out as much with the gang. It wasn’t too soon before that school bus could be traded in for a limo or minivan to fit in all the friends. Not that they did not stop being friends, they just did not hang out due to new commitments like relationship and job. Once the college years were over, the group got even smaller. Some friends had to relocate to a new city or country for their employer. It was time to trade in the minivan for a compact car. And do you know what the hardest part was among the friends? It was the one friend left standing, who was still available to be the driver since they did not have any commitments that would take them away from hanging out with their friends. It could be a tough spot to be in which explained why some friends set up a rotating date to see each other, just like the friends in this comedy. EVERY Christmas Eve childhood friends Ethan, Isaac and Chris; played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Walk, Don Jon), Seth Rogen (Steve Jobs, The Interview) and Anthony Mackie (Our Brand is Crisis, The Hurt Locker); got together. Growing older would eventually challenge their annual night of fun. I found this movie to be a mixture of good and bad. The story was nothing new but there were some funny scenes throughout the film. There were times whereI felt things were scattered, going from serious to comedy and back; but at least the actors were okay doing it. Though I have to say Seth’s role seemed no different to several of his other ones; this one appeared a bit stale to me. I did enjoy the cameo roles through this picture which helped me stay alert since I found some scenes dull. Will this film turn into an annual Christmas movie? I do not know; but if one needs to take a break from the hectic frenzy of the season, this movie could be a candidate to let you sit back and do nothing.
2 1/4 stars
I wish commitment and determination would play an important part in people’s lives as it did when we were younger. When you watch a small child that has been introduced to a new toy or even a benign household item, they will not let up until they can open it or make it work. I am sure some of you who have listened to an infant crying out of frustration know what I mean. Commitment has always played a strong part of my makeup; I am not one to make plans then cancel them because I suddenly do not feel like doing it or I got a better offer. Through my years of teaching I cannot tell you how many times people have asked me to sub out my class so I can join them for an event. I made a commitment to be at that class and could never on a whim suddenly decide to sub it out. In fact, I have in the past taught class while wearing sunglasses because my eyes were still dilated from my eye doctor appointment; even one week with a bout of trachea bronchitis did not stop me. It seems to be as people age they do not have the energy to see something all the way through; all it takes is one setback and they are ready to give up. I hope this has not come across as too judgmental but when a person says they are going to do something I take them at their word; otherwise why say anything, it is not like anyone would ever know. ONCE he saw a photograph of the soon to be completed World Trade Center towers in New York City; high-wire artist Philippe Petit, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon, The Dark Knight Rises), could think of nothing else but to walk across the towers. The only problem was he could not do it alone. Based on true events I was familiar with this dramatic biography because I had seen and reviewed the wonderful documentary, “Man on Wire.” This adventure film was written and directed by Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away, Flight) and unfortunately the movie started out slow for me. What turned me off was having Joseph as Philippe narrating the story while perched on top of the Statue of Liberty. I felt him telling us what he was feeling at the time took away from the drama. However the last half of the movie was visually stunning; those who may have a fear of heights would have a hard time watching this film. The cast which included Ben Kingsley (Self/Less, Learning to Drive) as Papa Rudy and Charlotte Le Bon (The Hundred-Foot Journey, Mood Indigo) as Annie were fine, but if the script had been stronger they would have been better. Luckily once the story switched to New York from Paris one could not help but admire Philippe’s determination to create such an artistic feat.
Such a fickle force that makes us breathlessly swoon as we extend our arms into an inviting hug; yet, it can similarly drive us to a dark place to commit a murderous act of passion. It is frightening how much power love can have over us. In yesterday’s review I spoke of love’s ability to move us to a point where we would willingly take the suffering and pain away from the person we love if we could. With today’s movie I am being led to the darker qualities of love. I have met several people who were obsessed by love. For those in a relationship, they needed constant reinforcement from their significant other that they were being loved. If it was not enough they would seek it from outside their relationship. Unfortunately I have dated this type of person and discovered it in an inconvenient place. We had traveled out of the country for a vacation; I was not familiar with the language, but they were fluent. During our stay at the hotel the assistant manager always made a point to come up to us to say hello or ask how we were doing, conversing in English for me and Spanish for them. I did not think much of it at first; however, their conversations seemed to last longer filled with chuckles and smiles. As the week progressed the assistant manager periodically popped up at our door just to check on us and chat. I think you know where this is going. When I returned to the hotel room early from a tour I had taken by myself, I caught them in bed together. Evidently they needed to be loved by more than one person. EMOTIONS of love and hate ran high, driving people to do extreme things in this action thriller. It seemed as if several of Sin City’s citizens with hidden agendas were crossing paths on their way to administering their own form of justice. This sequel to the 2005 movie was able to stand on its own; it had to because I vaguely remembered the first one. The cast included Josh Brolin (Oldboy, Men in Black 3) as Dwight, Eva Green (Casino Royale, Dark Shadows) as Ava and Mickey Rourke (The Wrestler, Angel Heart) as Marv. Using the same stylized graphics as the previous film, the majority of violent scenes were made to look more cartoonish; though, there were a couple of places I had to turn my head away from the screen due to the intense violence. In spite of this I was entertained by watching this crime picture. It was nothing spectacular and I was a bit confused in some spots; but, the story was easy to follow and I enjoyed trying to figure out which actors were playing the unrecognizable characters. I believe a majority of viewers will either love or hate this movie.
2 1/3 stars
Even before I knew what dreams meant, music has always been around me. Once I learned how to walk I was immediately placed on any tabletop or chair seat where I instinctively would begin to move to any music that was playing in the house. From those basic dance moves, as I got older, a dream was born inside of me to become a dancer. Visions of me dancing on Soul Train, being a go-go boy or becoming a part of the Solid Gold Dancers lingered at the front of my mind until I realized I was not disciplined enough to forge through the actual work of becoming a dancer. However, my dream did not totally deflate because it still played a part when I became an aerobic and group fitness instructor. My aerobic classes were not your usual type of class. Being a long time member of the licensing agencies ASCAP and BMI (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; Broadcast Music, Inc.), I would choreograph every move to music from the actual artists. The members felt they were dancing at a concert. That dream of me being a dancer morphed into a career that has brought me unlimited joy, even to this day. Dreams are the fuel that ignites willful desire and in this English speaking version of the Oscar nominated film for best animation, there was a man whose entire life revolved around one simple dream. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt (Don Jon, Looper) voiced Jiro Horikosai, who only dreamt of flying. Due to his nearsightedness preventing him from flying, Jiro kept his dream alive by becoming an aeronautical designer like his idol Count Caproni, voiced by Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games franchise, The Terminal). Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle), this dramatic movie was utterly beautiful to watch. The way the colors and scenes would move and evolve were stunning to me. I did not realize the film was a tribute to a real person; if I had known this I might have felt a stronger connection to the story. As it was, I thought the story was slow in parts. If it was not for the flawless animation I would have been less entertained. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of all the events shown in Jiro’s life, but I could easily relate to a man living out his dream.
3 1/3 stars
Memories of past relationships never completely leave us; they float in the cove of one’s heart. For whatever reason the relationship ended, even to the point of hostile anger; those memories may sink below the surface of emotional waters, but they eventually rise up. It could happen when walking by the favorite restaurant you both liked or hearing a song that still makes your heart skip as you remembered how the two of you danced together. No matter how hard one tries, these memories never go away; their hard edges only soften from the emotional pull through the years. I have seen and been a part of several close relationships and have noticed this emotional connection. It will remain through life and beyond. With this knowledge I understood the motivation to the story in this dramatic mystery movie. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Don Jon, Looper) played Brendan, a high schooler who discovered his ex-girlfriend dead in a sewage canal. If he wanted to find out what happened to her, Brendan would have to find a way to navigate between the different cliques of the student body. What he discovered took him beyond the high school walls. It took me a little time to get into the rhythm of the dialog in this film festival winner, mainly because it was an unfamiliar way of talking for me. Possibly it was a generational thing, but I got used to it and was able to finally focus in on the performances and story. Joseph Gordon-Levitt already has done a variety of characters, each one well; so his role here was another solid and believable performance with a touch of teenage angst and a dash of bravado. Though he had a small role, I enjoyed seeing Richard Roundtree (Shaft, Collar) play Assistant Vice Principal Gary Trueman. The cast of characters was varied with some distinct personalities such as Lukas Haas (Witness, Inception) as The Pin and Noah Fleiss (Taking Chance, Joe the King) as Tugger. I thought part of the movie was repetitive; but with the unusual film angles and truthfully the characters’ swagger, I did not find it too much of a distraction. Adding in the crisp direction, I found myself drawn into the story. Now I still have all my memories from my high school years, even the bad ones; but I have to say, I am glad my high school was not like the one in this good film. There were a couple of brief scenes where blood was shown.
3 stars — DVD
The music has to be just right before I will use it. I can visualize what movements would match the tempo of the songs. No eating at least 2 hours before because I do better on an empty stomach. In my mind I can see how I want the room set up so it would be inviting. As I go over everything I feel confidant and excited. No matter how perfect I imagine it will be, it will not matter because everything is dependent on who is participating. When I am a guest presenter at a different health club I can plan every single detail of how I want the class to be. The exercises I planned may be perfect for me; but it may not work for the members, that is just the reality of teaching a group fitness class. Being somewhat of a control freak, this used to throw me for a loop. The fact is a fantasy is just that, a fantasy. It is a lesson New Jersey native Jon Martello Jr., played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, Mysterious Skin), could learn. When Jon started seeing Barbara, played by Scarlett Johansson (Hitchcock, We Bought a Zoo), it was not the same as the women he would watch online. For a first effort Joseph did an admirable job as writer, director and star of this comedic drama. Those of you concerned about the content of this film; the story was more than just about a man who loves looking at, shall we say, special web sites. From a visual standpoint there was no gratuitous bare scenes with any of the actors. As for the pictures on the web sites Jon perused; they were sanitized, hyper images that briefly flashed across the screen. The script was amusing with an earthy charm to it. The family conversations were priceless between Jon and his parents Jon Sr. and Angela, played by Tony Danza (Crash, Who’s the Boss-TV) and Glenne Headly (Mr. Holland’s Opus, The Namesake). I loved Scarlett in her role; she was perfectly cast. The wonderful Julianne Moore (What Maisie Knew, Chloe) played Esther, a character that added a different element to the story. I found the shift in the story came up abruptly; I would have appreciated more groundwork to the unfolding developments. Joseph Gordon-Levitt had a good eye for directing; the scenes were crisp with a steady pace to them. I was already impressed by Joseph’s acting and now this sweet charmer of a movie made me like him even more. There certainly is a gap between reality and fantasy. With the making of this film I hope it became narrower for Joseph; he certainly can be proud of this well done movie.
Like most young children, I wished I had superpowers. I wanted to fly 6 feet off the ground, skimming over the heads of people. As to why that particular height, I believe it was because I knew no one over 6 feet tall. Another power I wanted was to have the ability to time travel. The capacity to travel back to historical events and meet famous people has always fascinated me. After all these years my wish came true with this amazing movie. I was watching Abraham Lincoln not Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood, My Left Foot), the actor that portrayed Lincoln. His performance was more than outstanding; it was real, causing me to tear up every time he spoke. Daniel will be the one to beat in this year’s Oscar race. Sally Field (Forrest Gump, The Amazing Spider-Man) brought a deep understanding to her character as Mary Todd Lincoln. Honesty there was not a bad performance from any of the cast which included Tommy Lee Jones (Hope Springs, In the Valley of Elah) as Thaddeus Stevens and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) as Robert Lincoln. The story focused on the time surrounding the creation of the 13th amendment to the constitution, which would ban slavery. Tony Kushner (Angels in America, Munich) wrote the rich screenplay, allowing a majority of characters in the movie to have their own special moment. I appreciated the work involved in recreating the sets to exact details, having read director Steven Spielberg (War Horse, Saving Private Ryan), Daniel and Tony each visited the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois for research. For example, Steven recorded the sound from Lincoln’s pocket watch and recreated the exact titles of books for the bookcases in the White House. The only fault I can say about the movie was several scenes seemed implausible to me. I felt they were manipulated to create a more heartwarming experience for the viewer. With that said, this movie was one of Steven Spielberg’s finest creations. When the lights came up in the movie theater, I could finally say I met Abraham Lincoln. I left my seat with a better understanding of our country’s history, feeling uplifted. Brief scenes of blood and violence.
3 1/2 stars
It felt like my brain was given an electrical pulse within the first few minutes of this intelligent, science fiction movie. Even those not into this genre, would absolutely enjoy the great story. There were several ways one could interpret the movie. For me, I pondered the concept that our past influences our future and whether fate is finite or can we alter it. From beginning to end, this movie kept my attention with its deft pacing and laser focused direction. Set in the future, time travel has been outlawed. However, large criminal organizations were using it to send people back 30 years where a looper (time traveling assassin) would be waiting to kill them. Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Premium Rush, The Dark Knight Rises), was a smart looper; saving half of his earnings with the intention of moving to France one day. His plans were put into jeopardy the day his next kill arrived and it was an older Joe, played by Bruce Willis (Moonrise Kingdom, Red). Hesitating for a moment, the older Joe escaped and set out to change his past; with the young Joe in pursuit and the mob hunting both of them. If this sounds confusing to you, please do not worry; it will make more sense as you watch the movie. The story was fresh and original with skilled acting propelling everything forward. Joseph Gordon-Levitt was eerily good, looking like a young Bruce Willis. Bruce was back with his macho swagger; one could only imagine he thrived playing a well developed character for a change. Another important aspect was the part of Sara, played beautifully by Emily Blunt (The Five-Year Engagement, Your Sister’s Sister). Remembering the audience’s applause at the end of the film and how the rest of my weekend was great, my past really had an effect on my present. I just hope this movie starts a trend of making more creative, original movies in my future. Brief scenes of blood and violence.
3 1/2 stars