BEFORE THE INNOCENT CREATURE COULD SEE the threat, I was silently sitting nearby to watch what was about to happen. The gigantic monster was deftly making its way down the wired girders. Because I could not hear anything, I assumed it was making its way in the quietest of ways. The prey was fidgeting and twirling around trying to escape once the monster came within eye sight. I was fascinated by the operation as it smoothly went like clockwork or at least that is how I perceived it. To the victim I am sure it was terrifying to see its immediate demise, once it got a sense of its predicament. Its wings were batting the air, trying to lift itself off the screen. It was no use; the enormous, dark predator descended over the prey to the point of nearly covering it from my view. I imagined there were screams of writhing pain being emitted but all I heard was silence. In my mind I was picturing the movie I had seen last week where a monster was on the brink of destroying Tokyo, Japan. The final battle pitted the monster with one that could fly in the air. What I was seeing was a re-enactment of that battle done by a fly and a spider on my window screen. AS A KID I WAS WELL VERSED with all the creatures that were trying to destroy our cities. There was Rodan, Mothra, Hedorah and Gigan to name a few. For some reason they each seemed to be attracted to Tokyo; or at least that is what I am remembering now. I never saw any of these creatures at the movie theater. Instead, they would be seen on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, television program. As a kid I was not very impressed with the special effects in the movies, but I also did not care. The monsters were never agile, always seeming to lumber and stumble their way through the scenes. At some point in time, I do not recall all the details, I discovered some of the monsters were actually men dressed up in costume; I was so disappointed at the time. It did not, however, make me stop watching these movies. There was never any deep thought put into the script. Essentially, every one of the monsters was destroying our planet whether it was their intentions or not. Some things still hold true no matter the time. AFTER A PERIOD OF PEACEFULNESS, A disruption brings out a new creature to threaten our world. The only hope is to combat this creature with another one. Could the earth withstand such a battle between these titans? This action, adventure fantasy starred Kyle Chandler (Game Night, First Man) as Mark Russell, Vera Farmiga (Captive State, The Conjuring franchise) as Dr. Emma Russell, Millie Bobby Brown (Strange Things-TV, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland-TV) as Madison Russell, Ken Watanabe (Inception, Transformers: Age of Extinction) as Dr. Ishiro and Bradley Whitford (Get Out, Saving Mr. Banks) as Dr. Rick Stanton. There were 2 glaring issues I had with this picture. Many of the fight scenes were dark in nature was one of them. The other problem was the script. I could not connect at all with this story. The script was so ridiculous and unemotional that I kept wondering if there was something worthwhile to focus on. I found many of the characters’ decisions crazy and unrealistic, especially the arc of Vera’s character. The monsters looked good which was a plus compared to those old-time films, I used to watch on television; but, this movie was not fun. I could not wait for it to be over. If this is what the film studio is going to produce these days, I hope there is a triumphant movie exec who kills the idea.
1 ½ stars
DURING MY SPACE EXPLORATIONS I DISCOVERED planets far from earth that were inhabited by peaceful beings. The inhabitants of one planet did not walk; they were able to float above the ground effortlessly. Everyone was dressed in a similar fashion with a long, flowing robe-like outer coating that refracted light to form a non-stop palette of colors. I considered their heads to be egg shaped with large dark eyes and no hair. Because they were a peaceful race, there were a couple of other species from other planets that wanted to conquer them. Due to this threat the peaceful ones, as I called them, had to build up their defenses. I was in charge of the space ships that in actuality were different writing pens I collected; however, they were able to shoot out death rays from the tips. The pocket clip part of the pen is where the captain and their crew flew the ship, so I addressed my warnings to that part of the pen. I could spend hours flying my pens through the house as they took on evil forces, defending their home planet. Sometimes I had to fly through space dust or debris which was the mist from a can of air freshener. IT WAS NOT UNTIL MY HIGHER LEARNING days that I paid more attention to space. Oh and of course Star Trek and Star Wars pushed me into that direction. To this day I enjoy science fiction/fantasy movies and books. I feel a certain connection to them because they have always presented a different reality to the dark one I was experiencing at times. Within science fiction stories it seemed as if a planet was being threatened, all the inhabitants would come together to defeat the threat. There was something about having diverse beings coming together that I found attractive. At the time, I did not realize it was what I was wishing for in my reality. Feeling like an outsider or just different growing up, the idea of an all accepting society fascinated me. I think that is why when I was a kid fantasizing about space I always had planets filled with peaceful beings. Add in the story lines from Star Trek and I was sure there was a safe haven somewhere in space. It is funny that a few of my friends to this day can tell when I am spacing out and the reasons for it. None of my fantasies however had the type of intensity that I saw in this dramatic, biographical space film. IN A RACE WITH THE SOVIET Union to achieve glory in space, the United States embarked on a radical idea that had never been done before. It would take a certain type of person to be a part of what could become an event of historical proportions. This film festival nominated movie starred Ryan Gosling (Blade Runner 2049, La La Land) as Neil Armstrong, Claire Foy (Breathe, Unsane) as Janet Armstrong, Jason Clarke (Everest, The Man with the Iron Heart) as Edward Higgins White, Kyle Chandler (Manchester by the Sea, Argo) as Deke Slayton and Pablo Schreiber (13 Hours, Den of Thieves) as Jim Lovell. The beauty of this film was the way the director allowed scenes to tell the story without dialog; some of the film shots were beautiful. Now add in the acting skills, especially form Ryan and Claire, and I for the most part was taken away by the story. There have been a variety of space films but for some reason I found the intensity of this one to be tangible. Everything felt authentic and real. Though my imagination made traveling to space an easy process, I got on board for this historical event, space story.
3 1/2 stars
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.