OUTSIDE OF MY BEDROOM WINDOW, I was able to see buildings from four blocks away. We lived on a high third floor of an apartment building. The reason I say “high” was due to the first-floor entrance and lobby was not considered a separate floor. You would have to walk up a full flight of stairs from the lobby to reach what was considered the first floor of apartments. We were the only apartment building on our side of the block; there were however 2 others that were on the opposite side of our square city block. I had an unobstructed view, starting with a row of residential houses and their backyards. During the warmer months, I considered myself the silent guest who watched birthday parties and barbeques that took place in the neighbors’ backyards. As a little boy, I made a mental note on the different games party guests played at birthday parties. Part of the reason was me trying to figure out what were the popular games and how to play them, then figure out what were the best ways to try and win at them. During the winter months, only when the backyards were empty; I would see how far I could throw snowballs from out back porch. AFTER SEVERAL YEARS OR SO A developer bought up the row of houses from their owners and built a large four storied apartment building. I was crushed as I watched the building being built, even though I was fascinated by the workmen mixing cement and laying brick. My view was going to be obstructed by a big white rectangular building. After construction was done and landscaping put in, the apartments were quickly rented out. With rows of new windows facing our apartment, I quickly got over my sadness for my lost view. Suddenly, I had multiple people living next door to me, living their daily lives. I felt I was getting a glimpse into a person’s life when I saw one apartment dweller exercising in their living room. Another neighbor cooked volumes of food everyday for her family. I could not get over the amount of pots and pans she used in her meal preparations. Before you get to thinking that I was getting obsessed with watching my neighbors, I have to explain there was little chance to avoid them because the apartments were in clear view whenever I was sitting at the dining room table or when I was watching television. Our TV set had a bank of windows behind it; so, while watching TV, I would see movement taking place in my field of vision. Yes, it was a distraction. I am just grateful I never saw the things the main character saw in this dramatic, crime mystery. HAVING NUMBED HERSELF THE PAST SEVERAL months with pills and alcohol; the reclusive homeowner Anna Fox, played by Amy Adams (Hillbilly Elegy, Nocturnal Animals), saw something outside of her window that forced her to take some kind of action. With Fred Hechinger (Eighth Grade, News of the World) as Ethan Russell, Gary Oldman (Mank, Darkest Hour) as Alistar Russell, Julianne Moore (After the Wedding, Still Alice) as Jane Russell and Wyatt Russell (Overlord, 22 Jump Street) as David; this movie was a poor tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Rear Window; if indeed that is what it was trying to do. I thought the acting was admirable, but the script and direction turned this picture into a messy pile of scenes. There were times I thought the film was going to be a psychological drama, only for it to change direction and become a scary thriller. The injection of the same repetitive snowy scene over and over was a complete distraction for me. I am sure the novel this movie was based on is much better. The only thing I can say about this misfire it that I am glad I am not a neighbor of these people. There were scenes with blood and violence.
1 ¾ stars
SHE INVITED ME OVER TO BE her taste-tester. A home cooked meal was always a treat, so I eagerly accepted the invitation. We had been friends for years; so, I was comfortable with her cooking for me, having had many dinners over at her place before. I insisted on bringing dessert. When I arrived, as soon as she opened the front door, I smelt a warm, homey aroma wafting in the air. Walking inside, I saw she had a bowl of guacamole and chips set out on her coffee table. This was an extra treat for me. We sat and caught up on each one’s life while munching on the food. At some point she asked me what I thought of the corn chips; I said they were fine. She said they were a new brand and she loved their freshness and taste. Honestly, they may have been; but, nothing to the point where I noticed a big enough difference that made them stand out for me. We were close to finishing off the guacamole when a bell sounded off. She said that was the timer, letting her know the food was done in the oven. Asking me to give her a couple of minutes, she got up and went into the kitchen, telling me to take a seat at the dining room table. THE FOOD SHE BROUGHT OUT LOOKED amazing; I could not wait to dig in and start eating it. She poured herself a glass of wine, knowing I did not like the taste of alcohol; I stuck to water for the evening. We each helped ourselves to the food she had set out on the table. It was as good as it looked; I could not have been happier. During the meal she brought up the subject of how she found many of the products that went into the meal. She knew I was teaching myself how to cook, I listened to her describe each product that she used for the meal; in fact, she had excused herself a couple of times to go into the kitchen and bring out some of the ingredients, so I could see for myself. Something rang odd about the whole situation, but I could not put my finger on it at the time. It was not until she insisted, I taste one ingredient, even pouring a little bit onto my plate, that I asked her what was going on. She told me she joined a food club and was positive I would like it; all I had to do was sign up online and pay a monthly membership fee. The whole purpose of me coming over was for her to get me to sign up under her name, so she could get points. I was angry she was not upfront about it before inviting me over. My anger was similar to one of the main characters’ feelings in this dramatic film. IT WAS AN UNUSUAL REQUEST; BUT Isabel, played by Michelle Williams (The Greatest Showman, All the Money in the World), knew she would have to do it if the orphanage was to receive the one-million-dollar donation. She just wanted it to be a quick, short trip to New York; however, there was more to the request waiting for her once she arrived. This dramatic film also starred Julianne Moore (Gloria Bell, Still Alice) as Theresa, Billy Crudup (Big Fish, Jackie) as Oscar, Abby Quinn (Landline, Radium Girls) as Grace and Alex Esola (The Young Pope-TV, Dangerous Lessons-TV Movie) as Jonathan. The strongest asset this movie had was the acting skills from the main cast. Michelle made her character extra special due to her nuanced and thoughtful performance; I could not stop watching her on the screen. Julianne was excellent but the writers and possible director did not provide her with enough emotional punch. The story was predictable and at times unrealistic to me; however, the acting kept me interested in the story. I did however find the story confusing because it did not know whether to be a mystery drama or a tearjerker. This movie could have been a powerful piece if the script had been better, which I believe would have upped the actors’ chances to be considered for an acting award this season. Instead, I felt manipulated and disappointed that this story did not match the quality of the actors.
2 ¼ stars
THERE IS NO DENYING IT FEELS wonderful when someone is so into you. To receive constant attention and affection simply makes you feel special. I should know because I have experienced just such a relationship, where I was on the receiving end of a steady stream of compliments, affection, little gifts; among other things. It started out by meeting at a café mid-afternoon; I remember I had cinnamon tea because we both were commenting on how good it smelled. We were making small talk when they complimented me on my smile. I said thank you and stopped myself from returning the compliment because I wasn’t ready to go there yet. It was more important to me to find out about what things move and excite them. We stayed at the café for an hour or so, sharing a couple of our past life events. When we were leaving I found out they took public transportation to the café, so I offered to drive them home. You would have thought I was offering them a free car, they were so excited and happy. I was going the same direction and I thought it was the polite thing to do. FROM THAT POINT IN TIME THINGS began to accelerate. We would text back and forth throughout the week. Some of the texts I received came with selfies. None of the photos were inappropriate but I could tell they were set up to be somewhat flirtatious. I admit when it comes to relationships I tend to go at a slow and steady pace instead of quickly jumping in all the way. We had maybe 5 or 6 dates before they commented that they were falling in love with me. Whoa, only after 5-6 dates?!?! That seemed awful fast for me and it sent up a red flag. After several weeks does a person honestly know enough about someone to express their love? I could see saying something like, “…you have the qualities I find myself attracted to” or “I am feeling more comfortable around you,” but to profess their love so soon does not feel right to me. In my younger days I would probably be thrilled and find myself going right into a relationship; but, as I have grown older I have become aware of people who misdirect their love. They are in love with being in love. The object of their affection just needs to somewhat fit into a blueprint they created in their mind and off they go. An example can be found in this comedic, dramatic romance. THE HIGHLIGHT OF GLORIA’S, PLAYED BY Julianne Moore (Still Alice, The Kids are All Right), week was going out to the clubs to dance. When she danced she felt free and that freeness attracted recently divorced Arnold, played by John Turturro (Barton Fink, Fading Gigolo). Her personality was intoxicating to him. This movie also starred Jeanne Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct, Micky Blue Eyes) as Fiona, Alanna Ubach (Legally Blonde, Meet the Fockers) as Veronica and Michael Cera (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Person to Person) as Peter. This remake was fortunate to have Julianne starring in it; she did a wonderful job with the character. I enjoyed watching the way she conveyed Gloria’s feelings without having to hit the viewer over the head with them. If this had been cast with a less experienced actress I do not think my interest would have held up. The reason being is the script was too sanitary for me; everything seemed to fit into a prescribed place which prevented any surprises taking place. I can see where a viewer would quickly fall in love with Julianne; but as for the rest of the story, one may hold off a bit before expressing their feelings.
2 ½ stars
THE DINING ROOM TABLE was all set for the arrival of the dinner guests. Covering the table was a handmade table cloth from a relative now deceased. Each place setting had a plate, bowl, glass and silverware; all were recently purchased. In the middle of the table was a candelabra that was handed down through at least a couple of generations in the family. Made of silver the candlestick holder was tarnished; in fact, no matter how much work was put in to polish it the silver never regained its former luster. There were arms that came out from the center fluted column; each arm had a holder at the end that looked like an upside down, silver foiled candy piece. Also on the table was a salad bowl that looked like a white, plastic helmet. This too came from a deceased relative. The host remembered when he was a small child, seeing the plastic bowl out for big family dinners. There was one more thing on the dining room table that had memories attached to it, a small ornamental metal cup that was only used on religious holidays. At least that was what the host was told when the cup was handed down. WHEN I AM A guest in someone’s house, I find myself looking around the room for, what I call artifacts. You know things that look old or maybe I should say look like they have a story. Whether it is framed pictures, ceramic statues or pretty much any object in the place; I always want to hear what the story is behind the thing. You see I feel the people in our lives, both alive and deceased, help mold us into what each of us will become. Plus I enjoy having in my possession items that were handed down from generation to generation. In the previous paragraph imagine how many people would be sitting around the dining room table who had come into contact with the candelabra, salad bowl or metal cup; the connections between everyone would be tremendous. And for that reason this is why I was fascinated with the story in this film festival winning dramatic mystery. THOUGH BORN DECADES APART young Rose and Ben, played by newcomer Millicent Simmonds and Oakes Fegley (Pete’s Dragon, This is Where I Leave You), each wished to find where they belonged. Their journey would lead them to unexpected connections. Based on the book I was fascinated with the story and the dual story lines in this movie. The two young actors in the cast were joined by Julianne Moore (Suburbicon, Maggie’s Plan) as Lillian Mayhew, Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea, My Week with Marilyn) as Elaine and Tom Noonan (Heat, Last Action Hero) as Walter. Visually I felt more interested in Rose’s story, but that probably was due to the decade in which it took place. With an easy soundtrack and interesting scenes I felt engaged with the story. However I thought the directing could have been smoother and the characters could have been given more depth to them. It took me a while to warm up to each character because at first they came across in a monotone way, sort of one dimensional. As the picture progressed and I got more invested into the characters, I felt less slowness which had almost bordered on boredom. There was a payoff for me by the conclusion of the story. When the movie ended I felt as if I had made a connection to several scenes that linger to this day like a family memory.
2 ¾ stars
IT STARTED WITH THREE friends who decided to get together for dinner and a movie. They had been friends for years so pretty much knew each others’ tastes regarding food and films. Once the date was found that fit into everyone’s schedule the three friends could figure out where to meet. It was during this brief time when one of the friends asked if they could bring a friend of theirs; the other friends had met the person a few times already so they were fine with including another person into their movie night. A few days later this new addition into the group asked if their cousin could join. The friends could not say no, so starting out with a group of three grew now to five. By the time everyone was getting together there were a total of seven people in attendance. Things were going to get interesting with that many people now involved in the decision process. WHERE THE THREE ORIGINAL friends could quickly pick a restaurant to fit the taste preferences for all of them, these additional people torpedoed that certainty. One person did not like Chinese food, another would not eat Mexican cuisine, one person did not want to spend “too much” money on food; the decision process turned into a mess. Emails, calls and texts were going back and forth nixing one suggestion while negotiating another. It took days to decide on a restaurant that would suit everyone’s demands and even that restaurant was agreed to begrudgingly by a couple of the individuals. One of the three original friends had little patience for someone who agrees to do something then spends the whole time being sour about being there. Chances were good this scenario could happen at the restaurant; I agree because I have been in this very situation myself. Things rarely go well when there are multiple people who each have strong opinions on what should take place. It seems the writers of this dramatic, crime mystery were suffering the same fate. A QUIET SUBURBAN NEIGHBORHOOD reels out of control when a loan shark comes to collect a debt and a black family moves in. With Matt Damon (Inside Job, The Great Wall) as Gardner, Julianne Moore (Maggie’s Plan, Still Alice) as Rose/Margaret, Noah Jupe (The Night Manager, Wonder) as Nicky, Glenn Fleshler (A Most Violent Year, Boardwalk Empire-TV) as Sloan and Oscar Isaac (The Promise, Drive) as Bud Cooper; I overall enjoyed the entire cast and each of their characters. Add in the perfect sets and costumes and this film looked like it was going to be a winner. I was so wrong and I feel the reason was due to the script. There were too many storylines; one could be considered a drama, the other a comedy and another one of a more mysterious nature. As I was getting into the action of one, the scene would change and go to a different subject. All this did was make me lose interest in what was happening on the screen. If I had not liked the actors I think it would have been true boredom to sit there. It really was a shame because each story line could have easily been separated into its own movie. I could see each of them being a good and engaging story that I would want to see. Sadly this was just a mess but on the bright side if you are out with a group of friends, I think you would all agree to give this one a pass.
1 ¾ stars
WALKING OUT FROM the station he was greeted by a sea of shirts all in the same color. Every single person was wearing an article of clothing close in the same shade. There were so many people that they filled the space from one side to the other; it indeed looked like there was a slow current of fluid moving away from him, reflecting a settling crimson sun on its surface. He had heard about this special event and looked up the details before committing funds and time to attend the occasion. Though he grew up in the city; the majority of his life was spent in the neighborhood he grew up in. He felt somewhat out of place to his peers because he did not have any reference points to show him he was actually okay. Making his way into the crowd of people before him, he soon discovered the feelings he had about his childhood were similar to the experiences from many of those around him. DON’T YOU FIND it interesting when you grow up feeling the experiences you had were unique to you, only to find out someone from far away had the same type of experiences? I get a kick when I meet someone from another country, in a completely different environment, who has similar feelings about common things that have happened to each of us. It shows me the borders we use to define ourselves are more transparent than we may realize. When you move away from home and set out on your own, you can discover how certain truths instilled in you have a wider definition than you believed. For example in a recent conversation I had with a friend, they shared an experience they had growing up that was so close to one I had that you would have thought the same people were involved in the incident. I was totally surprised by it in the same way the members of the Kingsman were in this action, adventure comedy. AFTER THE DESTRUCTION of their home Eggsy and Merlin, played by Taron Egerton (Eddie the Eagle, Legend) and Mark Strong (The Imitation Game, Miss Sloane), discovered their organization was not the only unique one of a kind place to work at; there was something similar halfway around the world. With Julianne Moore (Still Alice, Carrie) as Poppy, Colin Firth (The King’s Speech, Love Actually) as Harry Hart, Channing Tatum (White House Down, Magic Mike franchise) as Tequila and Halle Berry (Kidnap, X-Men franchise) as Ginger; the cast was fun to watch in this 2nd installment. I enjoyed the first one so had high hopes for this film; however, I found the script was weak and filled with strong language that was being used for cheap laughs. Maybe if I had not seen the previous movie I would have enjoyed this more, but I felt the freshness and wicked fun of the first picture was not captured in this story. There were big action scenes and crazy high tech weapons/accessories, but the whole picture felt a bit forced to me with obvious shtick. As I mentioned earlier the actors were a good choice for the roles they had; I wanted to see more depth in them. If the writers were trying to make something that would stand out and be different from other films of this type; in my opinion, they created a typical action picture.
2 ½ stars
No matter how hard one tries to plan things out, life is always the ultimate decider. Take it from someone who does his best to plan everything to the minute (people can set their watches by me); life has a way of saying, “Not so fast there, here is something you can deal with first.” As I get older I am finally learning to let go and as they say, “Go with the flow.” This reminds me of a woman I knew who was married with 2 children. I met her husband only once or twice, but really did not know much about him since she rarely talked about him. They had been married for years and were quite settled as they were heading towards their senior years. According to her it came out of nowhere; her husband filed for divorce. She told me he did not want to be with her anymore; there was no other reason given for his decision. She was devastated by it. Here she thought she had most of her life planned out with her husband and now, as she would constantly say, she was alone. I told her that was not true; besides her children and friends, she may want to look at her situation as a place where she could redefine herself. Of course, I waited awhile before I expressed these thoughts at a time where I thought she would be more receptive to hearing them. And do you want to know something? She branched out and started trying new activities and meet up groups, where she eventually met someone who was as passionate as she was about dancing. They started going together to see ballet performances and enrolled in several dance classes; it was such a hoot to hear about this from her. She was happier than she had ever been before. Isn’t it funny how your version of life may not be what is in store for you? MAGGIE, played by Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha, Mistress America), had everything planned out it to become a single parent. That is until she met John, played by Ethan Hawke (Born to be Blue, Good Kill). This film festival nominated comedic drama had a wonderful cast of actors. Along with Greta and Ethan there was Julianne Moore (Seventh Son, Still Alice) as Georgette and Bill Hader (They Came Together, Trainwreck) as Tony; each one made their role memorable, but I have to say Greta was incredible. I found this romantic story to be intelligent and quirky at the same time. It had adult conversation coming from messed up people, making them more real to me. There were a few scenes that I felt did not work, besides one story line that seemed odd to me. It is not easy to blend comedy and drama but the script pulled it off; the humor was more of an amusement level than a laugh out loud one. For me this film simply felt like a slice of life, where I could just sit and watch someone else’s drama without feeling like I needed to participate and be supportive.
This review comes with a disclaimer; I may have been influenced due to events that were out of my control. The evening had started out ideally for me since this movie was starting right after work. Luckily there wasn’t a big crowd buying tickets for this showing so my favorite seat was still available. I nestled into my seat before the start of 16 minutes worth of previews. We were 50 minutes into the movie before the screen suddenly went dark, followed by the light fixtures that were perched on the walls between the speakers. I looked up towards the projection booth that was steeped in darkness. Not sure what was happening I stayed in my seat like everyone else in the theater. It was no more than one to two minutes before the entire theater turned pitch black as all the remaining lights, including the running floor ones, lost power. Before anyone had time to take out their cell phone to use as a flashlight, several piercing bright strobe lights started flashing around the theater and a recorded voice announced there was an incident in the theater. The recording told us to walk not run in an orderly fashion to the nearest exit and leave the building immediately. My first reaction was annoyance that this was interrupting my movie watching experience. But as I noticed several patrons running to the exits, I was hit with a new reality. Since the exit to the main hallway was closest to me I made my way to it and slowly stuck my head out. There were people coming out of the multiple theaters, heading towards the main lobby. The building had lost power. We were ushered out the main doors where we stood for 20-25 minutes until power was restored and then allowed back in to finish watching our films. WITH the districts forming alliances Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle, X-Men franchise), had to convince them to direct their energy towards the capital and President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland (The Italian Job, An American Haunting). For the final installment to this science fiction adventure it was fortunate that Jennifer was the lead. Her acting along with Josh Hutcherson (Red Dawn, The Kids Are All Right) as Peeta Mellark kept me interested through the long script. I think it would have been better if the movie studio had not decided to split the last book into 2 films because I felt this one had a lot of filler in it. The 2nd half of this adventure picture was more exciting to me, though I enjoyed the mixture of emotions Peeta and Katniss were displaying in their roles. The movie as a whole was bleak where it felt as if it was going through a checklist of things to include in the story without going into much depth. Maybe due to my disruption, but this finale did not go out with a bang.
2 3/4 stars
As I get older there are less things and less times I say I hate something. As a kid there were fights I had with other kids where I would say I hate them. These days I cannot imagine ever saying that to another human being. My eating habits were a big challenge for my parents when I was a child, though I still am considered a picky eater by everyone who knows me. When I was younger I would never eat tuna or broccoli; I thought they were disgusting. It wasn’t until years later that I started introducing these items back into my diet. The reason for this was due to all the articles I was reading about how good they were for you. I have come to terms with them and do not even remember how much I hated them. Hate is such a strong word that can be fueled by judgements. There are so many things that were in my hate column that now I may say, “I am uncomfortable with it or it is not to my tastes.” I think one of the most important lessons I learned was realizing I do not have to accept anything just respect it. It is like the time I was out on a date and they ordered oysters. When the appetizer came to the table I took one look at the oysters and said it looked like snot from a runny nose. It sort of killed the mood. Who was I to judge and make such a statement? And yet I see so many people making judgements against other people. WHEN New Jersey police detective Laurel Hester, played by Julianne Moore (Seventh Son, Carrie), discovered she had cancer; she wanted her pension to go to her partner Stacie Andree, played by Ellen Page (Inception, The East). The city officials declined her request even though Laurel and Stacie were registered domestic partners. As far as Laurel was concerned this was not fair, but how could she fight them while her health was declining? This film festival winning drama was based on a true story. The cast which also included Michael Shannon (99 Homes, Man of Steel) as Dane Wells and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher, The Office-TV) as Steven Goldstein were excellent with Ellen and Michael as the standouts. They really did the best they could with the heavy handed script. I felt the writer was pushing the tough scenes to wring out every last drop of emotion out of them instead of letting the actors convey their feelings naturally. The other aspect I found troubling was the directing; scenes did not always flow from one to the other. It seemed as if I was only seeing parts of the story that in reality was a powerful one. After seeing this romantic biography I still do not understand how some people prefer making judgements instead of appreciating anyone who has the ability to love.
2 1/2 stars
With their arms stretched to their maximum length, they are yelling out the names of the celebrities walking past them. Though they are not close enough to touch; just a turn of the head, a slight nod, a smile or the ultimate acknowledgement–a wave of the hand, will make the bond between them complete. However, that connection is only in the spectator’s mind. Now you would think with my love of movies i would be right in the middle of that crowd, jostling my way to the front to catch the eye of a movie star, but you would be wrong. I absolutely want to be at the event, but do not see celebrities as demigods walking the planet. They are humans with bodies that function the same and are similar to anyone else. The rise in people’s fascination with celebrity/reality stars is something I find very odd. I do not understand why anyone would care about the mundane occurrences of essentially a stranger’s life. The thing that I find the most offensive are these “stars” who feel they need to bestow upon us their advice on what or how we should live our lives. Sorry but in my book just because someone has money doesn’t give them the right to tell me what I should or should not be doing. You cannot equate wealth with intelligence. In fact, there are many celebrities or wannabes who are filled with ugliness inside. FROM all appearances Dr. Stafford and Christina Weiss, played by John Cusak (The Raven, High Fidelity) and Olivia Williams (An Education, Seventh Son), looked like a successful couple. With him being a best selling author and her managing the acting career of their son Benje, played by Evan Bird (Chained, The Killing-TV), it would be hard to imagine they had any problems. This film festival wining drama directed by David Cronenberg (Cosmopolis, A History of Violence) had an incredible cast that also included Mia Wasikowska (Jane Eyre, Alice in Wonderland) as Agatha and Julianne Moore (Still Alice, Non-Stop) playing Havana Segrand which she won at Cannes for best actress. The story showed how deep ugliness grows even in some of the most recognizable celebrities. I enjoyed the way the scenes moved from one character’s plight to another. Though the acting was wonderful there were parts of the film that did not gel for me. It almost felt as if there was not enough drive with the characters, becoming similar to caricatures. The writers seemed to have worked harder to show the ugliness in the characters than their history. I felt disconnected at times, similar to when I see celebrities in the news doing dumb things. There were a couple of brief scenes with blood in them.
2 1/2 stars