I DO NOT THINK I would ever be accused of being a game snob; at least I don’t think so. Games provide two important functions in my opinion: they activate the brain and instill a sense of pleasure and fun in the individual. When one can assemble a group of willing participants into playing a game, they should consider it an achievement. I say this because I have been a part of several game nights where there were players who made sure everyone knew they were not having fun. Or worse yet I knew this man (a friend was dating him) who was one of the worst game players I have ever encountered in my entire life. He would yell, scream and belittle any of his teammates if they were not doing what HE thought they should be doing to win the game. It was so awful to sit there and have this guy dramatically, yes dramatically, talk down to someone for making a move that did not help their team’s score. I finally told my friend I would never play with them again; gratefully she stopped dating him soon after. ON THE OTHER HAND I have played with some people who were so disinterested that you had to literally tell them what to do throughout the whole game. They would not pay attention to when it was their turn, the rules or what their teammates were doing when it was their turns; it made one wonder why they agreed to play a game in the first place. Now I do not have an issue with anyone saying they are not interested in playing something; if they want to sit it out I am fine with it. But if you agree to play a game I feel one should at least show an effort and if need be become a team player. When you have several people on one team with one person who is not engaged with everyone else, it does throw the game off. I remember when I was participating on a bowling team and one of the players made no effort in playing; I mean they would just pick up a bowling ball and throw it down the alley without any concern if they hit a pin or not. The rest of the team you could tell was not happy they had this person as a teammate. It just made for an uncomfortable time and that is not something I want to be a part of; the same could be said for either of the teams in this mystery crime comedy. THE GAME NIGHT HOSTED BY Annie and Max, played by Rachel McAdams (Spotlight, The Notebook) and Jason Bateman (Bad Words, The Family Fang), was in for a surprise when Max’ super competitive brother Brooks, played by Kyle Chandler (Manchester by the Sea, Friday Night Lights-TV), showed up and decided to take the competition up a notch with a murder mystery game. Even when there was an actual kidnapping the players continued on with the game. With Sharon Horgan (Imagine Me & You, Man Up) as Sarah and Billy Magnussen (The Big Short, Into the Woods) as Ryan, this cast was exceptionally well suited for the script. I particularly thought Jason and Rachel were perfect playing off of each other. The story seemed familiar to me, but at least there were a few good laughs in the movie. I actually liked seeing Kyle in a different type of role for himself and thought he handled it well; his fight scenes were really good. There are some twists to the plot and those who have a sibling might relate to the sibling rivalry angle. The odds are tipped in favor of having an easy, fun time watching this film.
2 ½ stars
FOR many people only fond memories resurface when they travel back to their old neighborhood. The discount store that had the best penny candies, the shoe store with the jovial shoe clerk who told the best stories, the house where one’s best friend lived; there could be many places that bring a smile to one’s face. But not everyone may have a similar experience when they go back home. There are some people who tentatively traverse the streets that are fraught with landmines of dark emotions. RECENTLY I had to travel back to my old neighborhood, the place where I grew up. The street I lived on looked the same except several houses on the block were painted in different colors. The tree in the alley next to my home, where I would climb up to hide, was no longer there; it was replaced with recently poured concrete to add parking spaces. My secret place to hide at school was in one of its parking lots; it was still there. I would wait inside until I felt everyone in the school had gone home for the day, before venturing out from it. Driving east I passed a place that was a few houses down from a relative’s place. That spot nearby was where one time I did not get to their home in time before being attacked. I continued on until the street ended at the beach. Here is where I started developing my creative side, building elaborate sand castles and forts. Alas, some of them were meant to fall once the tide came in. No matter which way one looks at it, each neighborhood has its share of good and bad memories. RETURNING home due to the death of his brother Joe, played by Kyle Chandler (The Wolf of Wall Street, Zero Dark Thirty); Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck (Out of the Furnace, The Finest Hours), was stunned to find out he was made the guardian of Joe’s son Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom, Kill the Messenger). There was a problem, Lee did not want to move back home. This film festival winning drama had some of the best acting I have seen this year. Casey, Lucas and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Blue Valentine) as Randi Chandler were so good together that my heart ached. The atmosphere for this movie was one of sadness and depression; however, the script was smartly written to allow Patrick to act like a typical high school boy. I enjoyed the scenery of the east coast and never felt the camera work was intrusive. There were a couple of spots where I found the story deflated a bit, but seriously the acting in this picture could get a few nominations this awards season. Let me reiterate this was not a happy story; but it was a moving experience, especially the way the story unfolded. Even if the distance is far, it would be worth your time to travel over to the neighborhood in this winning film.
3 2/3 stars
Somehow I did not get the class syllabus on inter-clique dating when I started high school. In fact, I was not prepared to even handle the concept of cliques. I do not recall there being any such thing in elementary school; everyone considered themselves part of a single grade. All of that changed once we entered high school as we blended in with four other elementary schools. Even if I had gotten that syllabus, it would not have made much difference because upperclassmen were quick to exert their power over us freshmen. Now that I think about it, I bet it was that exertion that quickly pushed the freshmen to scatter and seek out students who were most like themselves. It must be true when they say strength in numbers because soon there were several groups such as the jocks, the brainiacs, the nerds and the most popular all around me. In the scheme of things finding a group was not a top priority of mine; my energy was devoted to staying alive and avoid getting picked on. Those were such strange times for me, navigating through the pecking order and peer pressures all around me. It was because of those memories that I really got into the story in this smart, dramatic comedy. Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole, 21 & Over) played high school party animal Sutter Keely. A hard drinking, unambitious goof-off; Sutter had no plans in place once he finished his senior year; if he even finished his senior year. But due to a chance meeting with good girl Aimee Finecky, played by Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, Crossing Jordan-TV), Sutter’s outlook on life got shaken up in more than one way. The script created wonderful, real and honest characters. It never felt contrived or went for cheap laughs. I was already impressed with Shailene’s acting in The Descendants and was not disappointed with her in this film. She had a great screen presence that almost pushed Miles to the background when they were in the same scenes. However, to Miles’ credit, he took his character and gave it a vulnerability I had not seen him play in his other films. Another surprise in this romantic film was Kyle Chandler (Zero Dark Thirty, Friday Night Lights-TV) playing something different as Sutter’s absent father, Tommy. This was an intelligent movie that provided, what I can only assume, a true slice of high school life.
3 1/3 stars
Greed is that insidious demon that once fed will forever more be hungry. Through the years it seems as if there has been an increase in the amount of corruption and greed in the world. Living in a state that has had an over abundance of corrupt politicians, I find it absolutely despicable that the men and women who have been elected into public office have so little regard for the people who elected them. I guess having the adulation and support from the masses is not enough to support their egos. In this crime thriller corruption became a deadly business. Private investigator Billy Taggart, played by Mark Wahlberg (Ted, The Fighter) was hired by Mayor Nicholas Hostetler, played by Russell Crowe (Les Miserables, Robin Hood), to follow his wife Cathleen, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones (No Reservations, Entrapment). But when Billy discovered he was set up for a more diabolical reason, he would need his years of police training to seek out revenge. The idea behind this story was solid enough to have built an exciting, tense drama. Unfortunately the writer and director were ill equipped to make this happen. The acting was dull; Mark Wahlberg was beyond generic, having acted the same way 100 times before. There were fringe characters that popped in and out as the story tumbled into a mess. The only character I found interesting was Police Commissioner Carl Fairbanks, who was played by the underrated but always excellent actor Jeffrey Wright (Source Code, Quantum of Solace). I kept looking at my watch throughout this film; never a good sign. The only pleasure I received was from the quick ending, even with its cheesiness. I am afraid the real crime being done here was me buying a ticket to see this poorly done movie.
1 2/3 stars
An image of my sister-in-law’s deceased cat came to mind while I was thinking about this movie I had just seen. If you had met TC in the house; he was an affectionate, sweet cat. But if you saw him outside; he was a cold, stealthy killer. The reason TC came to mind was due to watching Jessica Chastain (Lawless, Take Shelter) as CIA operative Maya in this tense dramatic movie. She was a slight wisp of a woman in a male dominated arena, whose single focused determination revealed her underlying strength. I found her performance to be one of her best. Since the September 2001 attacks, Maya’s only job was to find Osama Bin Laden. Her single-mindedness would push her to the gray areas of government policy. Whether this movie’s facts were true or not, it was the job of the director to take the story and make it believable to the viewer. In the case of this riveting movie about the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Point Break) created a compelling experience. If you have read my explanation of my rating system; you know for me to award 4 stars to a movie, I have to be swept into the movie and leave my world’s reality behind. As I sat in my seat watching the movie; the sounds of crunching popcorn, the clinking of jostled ice cubes in cups of soda and the rustling of winter coats being squeezed into the back of the theater seats all turned into a hushed silence. My peripheral vision latched onto the edges of the movie screen and stretched them all the way beyond me. I had entered into Maya’s world. Because of the experience I just described, I awarded this movie 4 stars. The directing was brilliant; attaining rock solid performances from the actors. Too many to mention, I wanted to at least acknowledge a few of the competent actors such as Jason Clarke as Dan, Joel Edgerton as squadron team leader Patrick and Kyle Chandler as Joseph Bradley. Everything you have heard about this movie is true; it easily could be the frontrunner for this year’s Oscar awards. Brief scenes with blood.