GROWING UP I DID NOT REALIZE my neighborhood was idyllic, at least for me. But then, I would think any child who grows up in the neighborhood where they were born would think the same thing, as long as they haven’t experienced any type of trauma. I lived in a large apartment building that wrapped around a street corner, so there were 2 entrances for it. There was not one apartment on our side where I did not know the people living in them. In fact, when I had just started walking, I would go out in the hallway and get myself down 2 flights of stairs by sitting on my backside, to visit the neighbor on the 1st floor. The neighborhood was filled with kids my own age who became friends of mine. We would play outside all the time; every parent on the block knew each kid. One of our favorite games was hide and seek among the apartment buildings’ gangways and back porches. Looking back, I wonder how many steps/flights I would have done during a game. With my building we had 2 separate staircases connected by a cement backyard. The various stores in my neighborhood were all familiar with me and my family. I could walk into the drug store with a note from a parent and the pharmacist would hand over any refilled prescription medicine to me without any qualms. When I got older, I could be outside at nighttime with friends, and no one had a concern or fear. AT SOME POINT, I DO NOT remember when, the draw of the suburbs became strong and started pulling my neighbors from their homes to settle past the city limits. The same was true with stores. I remember a men’s clothing store that closed and was replaced by a shop that had black lights to illuminate some of their rock posters and T-shirts. Some people would call the place a “head shop.” I guessed it was because it was messing with one’s head? Where the neighborhood had a strong homogenous look to it, things started to change. I hope this does not come out as a judgement; it was an observation. The store signs in my neighborhood were backlit; in other words, three dimensional for the most part, either actual signage or individual letters. I noticed the new store signs coming in were more like banners or made with strong paper. In my mind they did not look permanent to me. Some of the stores began putting up signs in different languages which I discovered bothered some of the older residents in the neighborhood. Change may not always be easy for certain people; you can see it for yourself in this biographical drama. DURING THE TUMULTUOUS TIMES OF THE 1960s in Ireland, a family experiences something they had never imagined taking place in their small, friendly neighborhood. With Jude Hill (Magpie Murders-TV) as Buddy, newcomer Lewis McAskie as Will, Caitriona Balfe (Ford v Ferrari, Outlander-TV) as Ma, Jamie Dornan (A Private War, Fifty Shades of Grey franchise) as Pa and Judi Dench (All is True, Victoria & Abdul) as Granny; this multiple Oscar nominated film was directed and written by Kenneth Branagh. Based on true events from his childhood, he created a beautifully filmed and directed piece of work here. I loved watching this movie and thought the entire cast worked as one solid, magnificent unit. There was something about the way Kenneth filmed the characters in close or looking up at them that made the visuals stronger. Granted, the actors gratefully could emote without saying a word. The script was solid though there were twinges I felt of manipulation to pull at one’s heart strings. For me, I was able to relate to some of the neighborhood scenes, though I am not sure this would be universal across all viewers. However, it should not deter one from experiencing such a well-done picture.
3 ½ stars
I WAS SITTING ON THE COUCH, deep into a mystery novel, when I suddenly felt a puff of air on the back of my neck. In the seconds I needed to alter my thought process back into the real world, that puff of air was replaced with something wet. As I leaned forward to turn around, there on the back of the couch sat my relatives’ cat; I was so into reading my book I had not noticed the cat jumping up onto the couch to get behind me. I chuckled to myself as I settled into my spot to get back to reading my book. The cat had other plans for me. He tentatively placed his paw on my shoulder as if he were testing the temperature of water. The next thing I knew, he got up onto my shoulders; paused for a moment for sniffing and pressing his paws around my upper back before he stretched himself out and plopped himself around the back of my neck. I asked him what he thought he was doing as I smoothed out the fur on the part of his legs, I could see that were hanging down in front. He was such an easy-going character; so, I went back to my reading while the steady drone of purring played in the background. THOUGH I NEVER HAD A DOG OR cat as a pet when I was growing up, I had several relatives who did. This offered me the luxury of playing with them without the cleanup or mess. One relative had two black cats with white diamonds on their chests. They were not related but they certainly looked like a father and son duo. The older one had a nervous personality, where he was always suspicious and skittish. If I came over with a new toy, I would have to leave it out in the open in the middle of the floor and walk away from it. He would wait until I left the room before he would come out from under a piece of furniture and circle the toy, stopping in his tracks periodically to see if the toy would do something. Slowly he got closer to the toy, always on guard. When he finally got to it, he would take a sniff before swatting it to see what it would do. I could spend hours watching him and his methodical ways. In general, I have always enjoyed watching and playing with cats; that is, until I saw this comedic, family drama film. ONCE A YEAR A GROUP OF CATS come together to see which one will be chosen to start a new life. One of the cats however planned on stacking the deck in his favor. With newcomer Francesca Hayward as Victoria, Idris Elba (The Dark Tower, The Mountain Between Us) as Macavity, Judi Dench (Victoria & Abdul, Philomena) as Old Deuteronomy, Rebel Wilson (How to be Single, Isn’t it Romantic?) as Jennyanydots and Jennifer Hudson (The Secret Life of Bees, Dreamgirls) as Grizabella; I am at a loss for words to describe my experience sitting through this odd movie. Having seen the stage play, the transfer of it to the big screen took away a lot of the magic and wonder of seeing the cats perform both on stage and in the audience. Here, I found the actors looked weird and had no screen presence except for Jennifer Hudson. Her scenes were the best in my opinion. Since there really was never a plot to the story, sitting in the theater listening to one song and another; I would have preferred if I could have watched them as music videos on TV or the internet. Visually this picture was pleasing to see with its fanciful scenes and sets; however, it was not enough to keep me engaged. If you have a choice, I would recommend instead of watching this bizarre experiment you volunteer your time at an animal shelter.
1 ¾ stars
WHEN ONE IS BORN into a majority that person’s awareness of the issues facing someone who was born into a minority may be skewed. The news this week reported on a former sports coach who made comments to the effect that he has not been aware of any racial oppression for the past several decades. Rather startling wouldn’t you say considering the multitude of events that are being shown by the news agencies. I tried to find some rationale to this person’s comments and the only thing I can come up with is maybe they do not read or watch the news; or another possibility may be the coach lives in a gated community where all the residents are the same. I honestly cannot come up with any valid reason for a person to make those types of comments. TWIN GIRLS WERE BORN to a mixed race married couple. One girl was fair skinned where one would think she was Caucasian. The other twin was extremely dark skinned to the point a person would assume she was black. I remember the 2 girls had a hard time in college of all places. The light skinned twin was treated completely different than her sister; it upset them and their parents tremendously. My awareness regarding this issue really came to the forefront when I was with friends or dates whose skin did not match mine. It was subtle at times; for example at restaurants there were times I noticed people, who were seated after us, getting waited on before us. There were some workers in the service industry who acted differently when interacting with my friend or date. I was appalled by such actions. How and why in the world would someone treat another person differently solely based on their looks? Whether it was skin color, appearance or religious attire; I had a hard time processing this type of prejudice. Since I am just an average person my experiences would not be considered newsworthy; imagine though what it must have been like for someone of royalty. You will find out when you see this film festival winning, dramatic movie based on a true event. NO ONE IN THE ROYAL court could understand why Queen Victoria, played by Judi Dench (Skyfall, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel franchise), took a liking to the lowly Indian servant Abdul Karim, played by Ali Fazal (3 Idiots, Furious 7). In fact they would not tolerate it. The reason this historical biography worked was due to Judi Dench. There is something about her that immediately grabs the viewer and brings them into her character. With Tim Pigott-Smith (Gangs of New York, Alice in Wonderland) as Sir Henry Ponsonby, Eddie Izzard (Absolutely Anything, Hannibal-TV) as Bertie the Prince of Wales and Michael Gambon (Harry Potter franchise, Sleepy Hollow) as Lord Salisbury; the cast was well rounded, but still Judi and Abdul were the main focus. My enjoyment of this film was based on the history of the story; the message about tolerance and acceptance easily could be applied today. There were however some scenes that did not ring as true as the others. I would have preferred more depth into the Queen’s relationship with Abdul, along with more dramatic intensity for the rest of the cast. Maybe my slight disappointment was due to the writers falling into comedic flair at times instead of giving me a meatier, more compelling story. I will say I wish there were more people today who had Queen Victoria’s beliefs.
2 ¾ stars
SHE WAITED UNTIL we were in the car before she broke the news to me. Driving out to the suburbs on a well traveled road, she informed me the person I was in love with was seeing someone else. She realized immediately what she had just said, so she quickly added she did not know if they were sleeping together; all she heard was that they had been spending time together, going out to eat and to the movies. I asked her how long had it been going on and she responded they had only been seeing each other for a few weeks. A few weeks?!?! We had separated only the week before when I was told they needed some time alone; this did not sound like they were going to be alone much. The reason my friend waited until we were in the car before telling me the news was because she knew I could not go “ballistic,” since I needed to focus on the road. In hindsight it was a smart move on her part because I would have gone through the house and destroyed anything that reminded me of us as a couple. YOU MIGHT NOT consider what was done to me as deceitful but I did. Once trust has been established I see no reason why a person would lie in a relationship—unless they were planning a surprise party. Deceitfulness is a deal breaker for me; once a person lies to you how can you ever trust them again? I will say my feelings were badly hurt when my friend broke the news to me; I mean c’mon, how does someone go from one relationship to another in a matter of a couple of weeks? I know I could never do it. Those of my friends who are into Zodiac signs say I am the perfect definition of my sign. Once a person gains my trust they have it for a lifetime…until they do one thing that damages or breaks that trust then I am done with them. I could never trust several of the characters in this film festival nominated drama. MARRIED TO A WEALTHY businessman for the sole purpose of producing an heir became less important for Sophia, played by Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl, The Light Between Oceans), when she was introduced to Jan Van Loos, played by Dane DeHaan (Life after Beth, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets); the artist hired to paint a portrait of her and her husband. With Christoph Waltz (The Legend of Tarzan, Carnage) as Cornelis Sandvoort, Judi Dench (Philomena, My Week with Marilyn) as Abbess and Holliday Grainger (The Finest Hours, My Cousin Rachel) as Maria; the cast was well rounded, easily handling each of their roles. Set in Amsterdam during the time tulips first became an important commodity, I found that aspect of the story especially intriguing. The sets and scenes were beautiful and easily transported me back centuries to that specific time. Unfortunately I found the script lacking in originality; to me this story reminded me of a Shakespeare tragedy. In addition there was one character that acted out of character based on what had happened to them; It did not make sense to me or at least it was not fully explained why they were back. Along with many dull spots in the script this movie was a perfect example of looks being deceiving.
It may still be evolving but at one time the word peculiar had a narrow definition. If someone did not fit in and what I mean by that is look or act the same, they were considered different. Being labeled different was like getting a life term in prison. The mentality back then was not so dissimilar to a science fiction television show where there was an alien species that tried to assimilate human beings into their world where there were no independent thoughts or actions; every being was part of a central collective and all looked the same. This is how it could feel to someone who was considered odd. There was a school near my house where all the students were issued a standard uniform; each one of them had to wear the drab colored clothing. At the time I thought it would be horrible to be told to wear the same thing every day. But I did not realize that dressing in clothes one prefers could set the person up for ridicule. I could see how everyone wearing the same outfit would eliminate a person picking on a fellow student for wearing something different. Now I grant you the issue of clothing only scratches the surface on how people react to someone who is not the same as them. I am sure we all have seen stories in the news about incidents where being different causes a conflict. What I would like to know is when and how did differences among us became a negative trait? I have always wondered if it was due to the level of education, fear or maybe something that gets taught for the wrong reasons. We hear more and more about diversity and I believe the entire planet is just one big melting pot for everything living on it. There is room for everyone. DISCOVERING information to a mystery Jake, played by Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Hugo) is lead to a special place filled with unusual beings. Based on the bestselling book series this adventure fantasy had a wonderful look to it. Starring Eva Green (Dark Shadows, 300: Rise of an Empire) as Miss Alma LeFay Peregrine, Samuel L. Jackson (The Legend of Tarzan, Big Game) as Barron and Ella Purnell (Wildlike, Never Let Me Go) as Emma Bloom; the acting was a bit off for me. Where I thought Eva was perfect in her role with the look and movement, I thought Samuel was doing what has become his standard role now in most of his movies. Sure he does it well but how many times do we need to see the same style of character? This dramatic film started out slow for me; I found the script dull at first. Halfway through the story things starting to pick up and I began to enjoy this picture. I am guessing the book has to be better. As for the special effects, some of them were gleefully fun but others were just so-so. As a side note the majority of the audience at my viewing was young adolescents. I enjoyed the message of this story regarding our differences; I only wished it was carried through the whole film which could have been a more exciting experience for me.
2 1/3 stars
I felt I was interrupting a prayer service as I stepped into the train car. The majority of the passengers had their heads bowed. They were all looking at their cell phones, though there were some with earbuds dripping out of their ears who stared off into space as if they were witnessing a vision. For whatever reason as I sat amongst them I wondered what the future would be like; would there be mobile apps to take care of all our needs? I have already witnessed the deterioration in our ability to communicate, I just wonder as we grow old will we be tucked away in our own tiny spaces having little contact with the outside world? Though I like my alone time, I find comfort in being part of a community. I may not see some of my neighbors for weeks, but we are well aware of each other’s routines and activities. It may be their car is in a different spot or their dog is out in the backyard; there is an invisible bond that connects all of us. Just this past weekend I was chipping away the melting ice from my walkway and my neighbor came over with an ax. Granted until I recognized him due to the sunlight shining in my eyes, I had a moment of fear spring up. WITH only one room left to rent in his hotel Sonny Kapoor, played by Dev Patel (Chappie, The Newsroom-TV), had his eye on a second property. It would already be a challenge; but with the added stress from the approval process and his upcoming wedding, Sonny would need a lot of things to go right if he was going to realize his dreams. This sequel saw the original cast like Maggie Smith (Quartet, Harry Potter franchise) as Muriel Donnelly and Judi Dench (Philomena, Skyfall) as Evelyn Greenslade mingling with new cast members such as Richard Gere (Brooklyn’s Finest, Amelia) playing Guy Chambers. I enjoyed seeing the cast again but there were parts of the script that I found unattractive. What I mean is I felt some of the writing came across as cheap and easy, not giving the actors enough to fully develop their characters. Sure there was the same mix of comedy and drama, but I did not find this film as entertaining as the first one. It was as if the writers did not know whether to make the story more like a madcap ensemble comedy piece or go in a more serious vein. I really hoped this would have been a better film because I was fond of the idea to have a group of people coming together as a family of choice, a real sense of community.
2 1/4 stars
Once the heart loses a loved one it never fills up the same way. The empty space in the heart gets filled with memories like air in a balloon until it almost resembles its former shape. But as time goes by the area shrivels due to the memories fading. The heart never deflates completely; as recollections withdraw to the deeper recesses of the mind, it takes more effort to keep the heart aloft. Though it may not be felt right away, life does go on as the heart seeks out a new or different type of love to nourish and return it to a higher place of consciousness. I have experienced such loss (who hasn’t, right?) and understand we each treat loss in different ways. Inspired by a true story, the main character in this dramatic film had been secretly carrying her loss for 50 years. Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal, Ladies in Lavender) was stellar in the role of Philomena, the Irish woman who had her out of wedlock son taken away from her and given up for adoption. Steve Coogan (Ruby Sparks, Tropic Thunder) played investigative journalist Martin Sixsmith who would take and document Philomena’s journey to find out what happened to her son. This film festival winning movie used Martin’s book, “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee,” as a source. First and foremost let me start with the acting in this film. Judi was amazing in the role. It was a different type of character for her, where she gave the impression of being naive, but underneath had a solid core of strength. As for Steve, I was impressed by him taking on a cynical, smart aleck type of character who had a protective fondness for Philomena. Because of their chemistry and acting skills, they never let the script fall into a sentimental mushy state. I was surprised with the turn of events and I have to say it was hard not to become emotional. This was an adult story that captivated the audience to the point I was able to hear people’s emotions welling up. There is a good chance Judi and possibly Steve will get nominated for an Oscar, besides the director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity). None of us may ever experience what Philomena did, but each of us will certainly be able to relate to the love and loss she endured.
3 2/3 stars
Being met by a plethora of colors and a sea of people, a group of British retirees had landed in Jaipur, India to begin the next chapter of their lives at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Well, the brochure they received stated it was the “Best.” However, the hotel looked like it was way past its bloom. As for me, the movie felt like it was cut off before fully blossoming, with characters not fully developed, to make for a better story. There were some parts of the film that were quite enjoyable. These usually involved stellar acting from Judi Dench (J. Edgar, Ladies in Lavender) as the widowed Evelyn Greenslade, Bill Nighy (Wrath of the Titans, Pirate Radio) as retired civil servant Douglas Ainslie, Maggie Smith (Harry Potter franchise, Ladies in Lavender) as the wheelchair bound Muriel Donnelly and Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton, The Debt) as former judge Graham Dashwood. These four characters were more believable to me as we saw their characters grow throughout the movie. I have always been fascinated seeing other cultures and appreciated the way the director used the city and its citizens to propel the story forward. However, there were other parts of the movie I found slow and not totally believable. I have to say, it was a pleasure sitting in the company of all adult viewers–no one was texting or talking on their cell phones during the movie.
2 2/3 stars
From a simple title came a powerful actor driven movie. At the time, the most powerful woman in the world had secluded herself away from her subjects, still grief stricken over the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert. The woman I refer to was Queen Victoria and she was portrayed brilliantly by Judi Dench (Quantum of Solace, J. Edgar). Notice how she used her entire face, especially her eyes and her body to convey her feelings. When she became angry, her eyes would turn lethal with their fiery stare. Having been part of the staff of her late husband, Queen Victoria summoned John Brown to become her personal servant. This simple Scotsman, filled with admiration and love for his Queen, was wonderfully portrayed by Billy Connolly (Timeline, White Oleander). With stubbornness, determination and devotion to her, John had a profound effect on her royal majesty. From her deep sorrow, Queen Victoria slowly came back to life as the two grew to share a special bond. As I watched this film, I felt I was seeing a piece of history come to life; every detail of the Queen’s court, the protocol were easily created in this beautifully done film. Love was the healing force here and in this case, a country and world would benefit from it.
3 1/4 stars — DVD
Talk about your impulse buying; Mrs. Laura Henderson bought herself a theater. Inspired by true events, I felt Judi Dench (Casino Royale, Jane Eyre) was perfect to portray Mrs. Henderson, the woman who opened the famous Windmill Theater in London, England during the 1930’s. With flair, humor and impeccable diction, Mrs. Henderson had the drive and determination to hire theater Impresario Vivian Van Damm, played by Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Vanity Fair). The combination of these two dominant characters created its own theatrical show, as they argued and threatened each other to try and get their own way. Pay attention to their dialog, for it was crisp and loaded with some fun, sly remarks. With the success of the theater, soon other places started copying the windmill’s revues. Being an independent, free thinking woman for the times, Mrs. Henderson came up with a brillant idea–incorporate naked women into the shows. Mr. Van Damm insisted it would never be allowed, but that would not stop Laura Henderson. Not even World War II would stop her as the theater’s famous motto, “We Never Closed” would humorously be altered to “We Never Clothed.”
3 stars — DVD