IN THE SCHEME OF THINGS, THEY may seem insignificant on your life’s journey; but they can have a lasting impact that changes your course. Looking at my evolution for loving animals, there was one breed of dog I did not like. I remember what happened that day, recalling the exact streets I was bicycling on. On a side street, I was riding my bike in a relative’s neighborhood. Suddenly a dog bolted out of a yard; I heard the barking first before seeing where it was coming from. This dog was heading straight to me and from my first glance the dog did not look friendly. I pedaled that bicycle faster than I had ever before as I raced down the street towards the intersection. Because I was afraid of what the dog could do to me, I did not stop as I swerved into the cross street which was a main thoroughfare. A car nearly hit me as the driver laid on his horn while dodging around me. I did not stop pedaling for blocks until I no longer heard the dog barking. That one incident stayed with me for years; I stayed away from that particular dog breed. It was not until college before I became comfortable around that breed, due to some of the classes I was enrolled in. THERE ARE SO MANY EXAMPLES OF little occurrences having a profound effect on one’s self; just off the top of my head I can recall several. From the name calling I endured when I was a kid, I believe I have an extra sensitivity towards the underdog. A person I knew would never eat fried food because when they were a child they accidentally were splattered with hot cooking oil. There was a friend of a friend I knew who would not wear any clothing that had a turtleneck or simply tight collar; she had a choking episode when she was a child and that constricted feeling was something she never forgot. I am sure you have come across this when you hear about a celebrity’s childhood; where they experienced something that planted the seed to create, let us say, the musical artist or inventor that they had become. This is one of the reasons I am always saying, there are no accidents; there is a reason for everything.” Everything I just told you here came about from my viewing of this dramatic, musical, film festival nominated movie. SUFFERING A HORRIFIC TRAGEDY IN SCHOOL put Celeste on a different life path, with the help of her sister. Starring Natalie Portman (Annihilation, Black Swan) as Celeste, Jude Law (Black Sea, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald) as the Manager, Raffey Cassidy (Dark Shadows, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) as young Celeste/Albertine, Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty, A Quiet Passion) as Josie the publicist and Christopher Abbot (It Comes at Night, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) as the journalist; this picture started out with a powerful impact. Because of it I was expecting a different type of movie from what appeared on screen. Natalie gave an excellent performance, but it was not enough to hold my interest due to the confusing script. It seemed as if there were several story lines that could have easily taken charge; but none did, resulting in boredom for me. I did find the music interesting which helped me get through this picture. Honestly, I found this film overly self-indulgent. I could see some of the points the writers/director were trying to make but I did not find my viewing experience entertaining. Maybe somewhere down the road it will hit me that I have discovered or have been acting a certain way because I saw this film. For now, I could have waited a while before paying to see this picture.
1 ¾ stars
THE TICKETS WERE A PRESENT TO ME, for a revival of a Broadway musical that was touring the country. I had seen this production a couple of times before, let alone various video clips of it with several iconic actresses starring in the lead role. The actress in this current production was a “heavy-hitter” having won various awards, including a Tony award. I was excited to see her since she had the acting chops and the vocal power to carry off this demanding role. Arriving at the theater we made our way to our seats, which turned out to be directly center to the stage. There were no sight obstructions, nor any issues with the people in front blocking my view because we were looking down at the stage from an elevated height. At the posted time the lights in the theater dimmed except for one spotlight directed at the musical conductor. Classic songs from the musical score were touched upon during the overture before the curtain came up and there on stage was the Tony winning actress. The crowd erupted with applause as the orchestra paused a moment for the clapping to die down. It was not long until the first song was to be sung in the story by the actress; I was excited to hear her voice again. WHAT CAME OUT OF HER MOUTH was a voice that was unfamiliar to me. I did not know if she had a cold or the years of singing had taken their toll on her vocal cords; but she could barely hold a note. My disappointment weighed on me like a heavy knapsack strapped to my back. She was the lead, so she was expected to carry a major portion of the script and songs. Though the sets were beautiful, and the rest of the actors were good, I was underwhelmed with this production. I knew how good this musical could be and what I saw did not carry me to the end of the story; instead, it had to pull me along on broken legs. That is how disappointed I felt, let down with the singing which I knew could have been enthralling. Ultimately, I was glad I saw this production; especially since it was a gift to me, but it did not work out that way. We talked about the actress afterwards and everyone felt the same as I did. I am willing to bet those friends would feel the same way as I did when I saw this latest installment from the world of Harry Potter. WITH THE ESCAPE OF THE WARLOCK GRINDELWALD, played by Johnny Depp (Black Mass, The Lone Ranger), the wizarding world would find itself in jeopardy of splitting apart. It would take someone extraordinary to go against Grindelwald and remain alive. This adventure fantasy starred Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl) as Newt Scamander, Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury, Don Peyote) as Jacob Kowalski, Katherine Waterson (Inherent Vice, Alien: Covenant) as Tina Goldstein and Jude Law (Anna Karenina, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Albus Dumbledore. Let me start out by saying I bought magical wands for family members; so, you know I was looking forward to this 2nd installment. Visually this film maintained the fun and creative special effects as the previous ones. There were new characters introduced, all laying the groundwork to fill in the paths toward the Harry Potter stories. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed these aspects of the film; but the story/script was weak. This movie lacked the excitement I had grown to expect, feeling like we went from one crisis to another with too many story lines thrown in. I almost felt as if this production was partially “phoned in” because it lacked the “magic” that was found in the Harry Potter films. Whether I felt obligation or a sense of duty, I would have gone to this film regardless; however, I do not want to feel as if I am being given a so-so effort in the creation of this franchise.
FIRST thing we would do is look for a thick stick or broken tree branch. If none could be found then we would head down the alley to see if there was anything lying around that had been discarded by the neighbors. Once something was found the next step was to look for a place to impale the object; a mound of dirt, a pile of leaves, or a large snowdrift would do. As soon as the stick or piece of wood was stuck into the ground it became our sword, a special one. If it was during winter we would break up into 2 teams and battle each other with snowballs as each of us tried to get to the sword and pull it out as the rightful owner who would be king. All of us were familiar with the story about King Arthur and his knights of the round table. Also I think each of us at some point had seen the movie, “The Sword in the Stone.” I saw it 3 times; hoping a bit of Merlin’s magic would rub off on me. AFTER all these years there are certain story lines that remain embedded in my brain. I may not remember every detail but certainly have a good idea of what took place. I find it fascinating that fairy tales read or seen as a kid remain more vivid in my memory than where I parked my car in the parking lot on a recent trip to the grocery store. There is something about these childhood fantasies that always stay strong in us. I wonder if part of the reason is due to the morals of the story, especially in the animated versions. A kiss that wakes up one’s true love or the physical ramifications of lying to someone; until this very moment I never consciously realized these stories were teaching me a lesson. Maybe because of these memories I have about King Arthur caused me to now be confused by what I was seeing in this dramatic, action adventure film. UNTIL King Vortigern, played by Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes franchise, The Talented Mr. Ripley), forced every male to make an attempt to pull the recently discovered sword from out of its stone; Arthur, played by Charlie Hunnam (The Lost City of Z, Crimson Peak), had no idea about his heritage when he became the only successful male to remove the special sword. Written and directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), this movie also starred Astrid Berges-Frisbey (The Sea Wall, I Origins) as the Mage, Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, Gladiator) as Bedivere and Eric Bana (Troy, The Time Traveler’s Wife) as Uther. The story hardly represented the one I had known as a child. Normally that would be okay; however, the script was so loose and disconnected that I sat through most of this picture puzzled by what I was watching. There were some scenes that worked for me, where I enjoyed the CGI effects like the eagle and massive elephants. But then other scenes literally looked like video game clips which were lost on me because I did not care for the quick cut and paste editing. I also dislike modern language in a period piece. For the amount of money the studio spent, all I can say is Jude plays a good evil person and Charlie has a definite presence that lights up the movie screen. They should have kept the sword locked in the stone and forget this story; what a mess.
1 2/3 stars
I sit and wait, searching their face for any clue on which direction their reaction will go. It is a gamble; I know that going in, but I am willing to take the risk. Of course, I make sure I have plenty other choices in case any one of them goes bad. You see I love trying new products, especially in the food category. Anytime I have people over to the house I try offering something new to them and myself. It could be from any food group, I would take a chance on it. And here is the little dietary secret; if a guest enjoys the new product I make them take it home because I do not want it to stay alone with me. It would be too much temptation. This way I get to taste something new without overindulging myself. The other secret about having new food items for company is seeing the look on people’s faces at that first bite; I do not know if I can explain it but I truly love seeing someone putting on a happy face due to some new discovery I found. When I am at the grocery store I feel like a treasure hunter when shopping for an upcoming party. Now before you tell me I need to find a new life, let me tell you I feel the same way outside of my home. When I was a kid I wanted to be a tour guide for the city. I wanted to take people I knew or people they knew and show them something they had never seen before. It could be art, architecture, nature or a restaurant; it did not matter as long as the person would have a positive experience from my tours. My desire to be a discoverer played right into this biographical drama. MAX Perkins, played by Colin Firth (The Railway Man, Before I Go to Sleep) had a special place in the literary world. He was the book editor for Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe. This film festival nominee had a top notch cast of actors. Besides Colin there was Nicole Kidman (Secret in Their Eyes, Paddington) as Aline Bernstein, Jude Law (Spy, Sherlock Holmes franchise) as Thomas Wolfe and Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes, Primal Fear) as Louise Perkins. I was excited not only for the cast but the story itself, seeing these authors I was familiar with coming to life was a treat. You will understand now why my disappointment in this film was significant because the script did not live up to the characters. For such dynamic well known authors this story needed more levels of emotion, besides offering more of the artists’ motivations and feelings. Sure there were drunken and screaming scenes but I wanted to hear more about the “why.” The look of this picture was appropriate and the acting was the best the actors could do with the script; I just wished the script would have been at a higher level to match the story. Considering this film was only playing at 2 theaters in the city, I still felt like I was discovering a little piece of history.
2 1/3 stars
It sometimes starts with a kind word or gesture that plants a seed inside of you. This seed only needs your hopes and desires for it to flourish into a full emotional relationship that is only in your mind. You take their considerate manners as a sign that there could be something forming between the two of you. Some of the things they say can be taken two ways; you always assume the more romantic version. I have had my share of these types of situations; where you are trying to get a read on the other person, trying to figure out if what you are feeling is just as real for them. Maybe it is the fear of rejection that makes us go slow, where we drop subtle hints to see if they take the bait, so to speak. I recently had a conversation with a friend about this very thing. They asked me why I thought this particular person I was attracted to was not interested in me. I explained how I suggested getting together with them on Memorial Day but they already had previous plans. If they were interested, I explained to my friend, they would have made an alternative suggestion to me by now. So for the moment I sit in my fantasy world just like the character Susan in this movie. RUNNING the logistics for her partner Bradley Fine, played by Jude Law (Black Sea, Anna Karenina); CIA analyst Susan Cooper, played by Melissa McCarthy (St. Vincent, The Heat), would do anything for him because she felt they made the perfect team. It was a team Susan wanted to see expand outside of the office. When the CIA’s field agents’ identities were compromised, Susan agreed to leave her office and go undercover to save the mission. The first thing I want to say is I have not been a fan of Melissa’s recent films except St. Vincent. The reason for this is because I found the stories were set up to get laughs by humiliating a large person; if the character was thin there would have been no laughs and I find this offensive. So now that I have said my piece, this was Melissa’s best role to date. Her comedic timing was perfection and I so appreciated the writer giving this character room for Melissa to go with it. The whole cast, including Rose Byrne (Neighbors, Adult Beginners) as Rayna Boyanov and Jason Statham (Furious Seven, The Transporter franchise), were outstanding in this action comedy spoof of past spy films. I laughed out loud more than once, admiring writer and director Paul Feig’s (Bridesmaids, The Heat) wonderful broad strokes for the fun action scenes. This crime picture was the real thing and I loved it. There was strong language used and there was a brief extra scene at the end of the credits.
3 1/4 stars
This past summer I was prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug due to an injury I had on an amusement park roller coaster. That turned out to be my last roller coaster ride. The drug wreaked havoc with my digestive system to the point I never finished the prescription. I decided to take matters into my own hands. Just as I tell my fitness classes, when it comes to our bodies, I believe in the use it or lose it philosophy. I see the body as a medicine cabinet stored with antidotes to a a variety of ailments. When I sense something is different, such as a stuffy nose or scratchy throat; I begin a battle plan of tried natural remedies to combat the invading bugs. I prefer taking the least amount of drugs as possible; but that is just me. After seeing this movie, you better believe I will stay with my methods. In this psychological thriller Emily Taylor, played by Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network), was prescribed a new antidepressant with side effects that drastically altered her life and the lives of the people around her. Channing Tatum (Magic Mike, 21 Jump Street) was Emily’s supportive husband Martin Taylor. Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes franchise, Cold Mountain) played Dr. Jonathan Banks, whose methods came into question for prescribing the antidepressant. Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago, Broken City) was Emily’s former doctor, Victoria Siebert. It has been reported that director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven franchise, Traffic) has said this would be his last movie to direct. Based on this film, it would be a shame if audiences were to be deprived of his keen sense of pacing and layering of a story. This movie had a few twists along the way that swelled into a a dramatic turn of events. I thought the cast did an excellent job, especially Rooney and Jude. If anything, I wished Soderbergh had pushed even more intensity out of his actors. This film may not be the ultimate pinnacle of Steven’s career; but he certainly can leave with his head held high for this spiraling mystery of a thriller. Brief scene with blood.
3 1/4 stars
Since today is my favorite holiday of Thanksgiving, I feel this is the perfect movie to review. Do you know that feeling where random variables line up perfectly to make your life easier? For example, when all the traffic lights turn green so you can get to the movie theater on time. You enter the full parking lot just as one car pulls out giving you the only open space. Then you get to the long ticket line just as extra cashiers open up, speeding up the line, so you can get into the theater just as the last preview ends and you see your favorite seat is the last seat open. In a similar vein, I felt everything fell into place to make this movie extra special for me. Recalling fond memories from past Thanksgiving meals with friends and family, as soon as the film started I felt I was that little boy again, filled with wonder and excitement. This wonderful animated movie starred characters we all used to believe were real. When an evil spirit threatened the children of earth, it would take the forces of the Guardians to come together to save the children. The Guardians consisted of Jack Frost, voiced by Chris Pine (Star Trek, This Means War); North aka Santa Claus was voiced by Alec Baldwin (To Rome With Love, 30 Rock-TV); Tooth aka Tooth Fairy was voiced by Isla Fisher (Wedding Crasher, Confessions of a Shopaholic) and Bunny aka Easter Bunny was voiced by Hugh Jackman (Real Steel, X-Men franchise). These actors did a wonderful job of bringing life to their characters. Jude Law’s (Anna Karenia, Hugo) voice was spot on for his character Pitch the evil spirit. The CGI effects were magical to me, adding an extra layer of fun and excitement to the story. As I walked back to my car I tried to remember if I ever believed in these characters when I was a little kid. Honestly, I do not recall ever believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. But because of this movie I believe in them now. As a side note, there is no reason to see this movie in 3D.
3 1/3 stars
My father’s side of the family traces itself back to Russia. I remember my parents had an old shoebox filled with thick postcard sized photographs of my father’s relatives. All of the pictures were sepia toned, showing somber relatives dressed in heavy clothing. I would periodically go through the photos imaging what those relatives’ lives were like back then. There was one picture in particular that I liked of my uncle. He was bundled in a big fur coat and oversized shearling hat that was pulled down low to his eyebrows, as he was standing up in a reindeer drawn sled. While watching this lush looking film I was reminded of those old photographs. Each scene in this movie was presented in such a way that I felt I was paging through an aristocratic family’s photo album. Adding in the beautiful musical score only made the experience more pleasing. Based on Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel, the story set in 19th century Russia was about the life of Anna Karenina, wife of prominent Aleksei Karenin, played by Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes franchise, Enemy at the Gates). High society was spun into a frenzy when Anna, played by Keira Knightly (A Dangerous Method, The Duchess), was swept up into a torrid affair with the well known Count Vronsky, played by Aaron Taylor (The Illusionist, Nowhere Boy). Keira has a gift for portraying emotionally distraught characters. Jude Law was excellent in his role, showing a restrained maturity. As for Aaron playing Count Vronsky, it was not convincing to me. It might have been because he looked too young or just did not have the acting skills to pull off the character. From the trailers I anticipated a classic story blossoming into a breath taking movie experience. Sadly, the movie was a big disappointment for me. Several times I caught myself beginning to nod off; I was bored for a good portion of the film. The theater within a theater filming made for a pretty picture; however, it made the story choppy. I would have had a better time getting that frail shoebox filled with family photos and going through the pictures again.
2 1/2 stars
Committed relationships are not always easy to maintain; they take effort and work from both parties. Within this dramatic movie, examples were presented of relationships that needed extra work. Will, played by Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes, Cold Mountain) felt like an outsider in his own home, living with Liv played by Robin Wright (Moneyball, A Home at the End of the World) and her daughter. After his architectural firm was broken in to twice, Will staked it out at night and spotted the perpetrator. From a series of events, Will discovered more then just the stolen items from his firm. The acting was exceptional from the entire cast. One of the stand outs for me was Juliette Binoche (Dan in Real Life, Chocolat) as Amira. The director, I felt, did an outstanding job keeping a steady pace throughout the film. I loved the examination of the different relationships portrayed in this movie. Whether it was mother and son or two lovers, the way they were connected into the story line was deftly executed. A well done film that was a surprise find for me; this thrilling drama kept me engaged with each of the characters.
2 3/4 stars — DVD