IT WAS A DOG AND A FALCON that steered me towards wanting to be an animal doctor. The dog was a relative’s pet and she was the first animal adopted into my extended family. She was a sweetheart who was always happy to see me. Anytime I was visiting my relative, I would always take the dog out for walks. She had a red colored ball that she absolutely loved to fetch, that I would spend nearly all my time throwing for her. This may sound odd; but whenever I was with her, I felt at peace. Yes, I know how that must sound but I was at my calmest when I was with her. She was the origin for my love of animals. I also think the comfort I had around her made me more receptive when it came to other animals. One of my summer camp counselors was a falconer. One day he brought a falcon with him. Where some kids were hesitant and shied away from the falcon, I only wanted to get closer and pet him. When he spread his wings out to their full length, I thought for a moment I was in the wild. He looked magnificent while perched on my counselor’s arm, wings wide and head turning to look at all of us kids. THOSE TWO ANIMALS STARTED MY JOURNEY in studying to be a veterinarian. Though I did not get to the finish line, I never lost my love of animals. When I transitioned to a different major I wondered what would have happened if I had never encountered my relative’s dog or the falcon; one single event in time and a whole life can get steered down a particular path that had not been in your conscious prior. I remember a man I used to work with in a warehouse who wanted to be a fashion designer. Seeing his mother create her own outfits started him down his path. From having her teach him how to sew, to going to fashion school to getting a job at a fabric wholesaler where I met him; everyday he would come to work wearing something he had sewn himself. With row upon row filled with bolts of fabric, he felt he was working in heaven. I asked him once if there was anything else, he had wanted to be when he was growing up and he said yes. But after seeing what his mother could do with a needle and thread, he was hooked (pun intended). I admired his determination, just as I admired the determination of the main character in this biographical, dramatic family film. GROWING UP IN A COAL MINING town meant there were only 2 choices high school students had waiting for them by the time they graduated; either earn an athletic scholarship to go to college or work in the coal mines. For Homer Hickam, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Stronger, Donnie Darko), those choices were waiting for him until he looked up into the sky and saw something that no one had ever seen before. With Chris Cooper (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Adaptation) as John Hickam, Laura Dern (Marriage Story, Little Women) as Miss Riley, Chris Owen (The Mist, American Pie franchise) as Quentin and William Lee Scott (The Butterfly Effect, Pearl Harbor) as Roy Lee; this film festival winner based on a true story had an inspiring story that was wonderfully told through its script. Even at such an early age, Jake already was displaying his formidable acting skills. The whole cast was terrific and with the story set in the 1950s, there was an overall good homey feeling throughout this movie. Despite the predictability that was built into the story, I found this entertaining picture touching and inspirational. It also proved it only takes one event to change one’s life.
3 ½ stars
THE FIRST TIME I ENCOUNTERED SOMEONE affected by a divorce was a boy in 5th grade. He and his mother had recently moved to the neighborhood after her divorce. If someone had asked me if I noticed anything different because this boy’s parents were divorced, I would have said not one thing. His mother worked which was no different than many of the other mothers who had a job outside the home. I do not recall any time when this classmate could not attend a school function or activity due to a missing parent or affordability; he was like any other student. It was not until 7th grade before there was another student who had parents that were divorced. Now during this time there were kids in school who had one out of both parents who had to be away from home for extended periods of time, either for work or the military. There would be times when the parent remaining at home would get help from a family member or neighbor; but it was not like that would make any kind of difference. The only time where it would ever make a difference, if you even want to call it that, was when there was a gender specific event like a father/daughter dance or a field trip where parents were needed to chaperone. So, an uncle or older cousin would fill in for the dance and some relative would handle being a chaperone; it was easily workable. HAVING HAD SUCH EXPERIENCES WHILE GROWING UP, made the realization there was another option couples employed when they no longer wanted to be together much more difficult for me to rationalize. In fact, even today when I hear someone say they are staying together for the kids’ sake, I have to cringe. In my experiences I have not once seen where that option does anyone any good. I knew a family where the parents were doing this and all it accomplished was their kids having to go into therapy to deal with the craziness, they wound up experiencing, during what was a toxic environment. One parent started using the kids to deliver messages to their spouse; besides, trying to sway the kids’ opinion about the other parent into negative thoughts. It was sad to see the manipulation that was taking place in that household. Even worse was when I heard through a second party that one parent told one of their children, they were the cause for the breakdown in their marriage. To me that was criminal to say to a child. Because of my experiences; I intently watched this comedic, dramatic romance to see what was happening with the couple’s marriage. MARRIAGE REQUIRES AN ABILITY IN BEING able to give and take; it appeared Charlie and Nicole, played by Adam Driver (Star Wars franchise, The Dead Don’t Die) and Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit, Lost in Translation), thought they were good at it. With Laura Dern (Certain Women, J.T. Leroy) as Nora Fanshaw, Alan Alda (Bridge of Spies, The Four Seasons) as Bert Spitz and Julie Hagerty (A Master Builder, Airplane franchise) as Sandra; this film festival winner’s cast was brilliant. I enjoyed each actor and the words they spoke. The story may appear to have a theme that is common to many other films; however, this script came across fresh and new to me. Adam and Scarlett were so good that I thought their characters were actual, real people. The dialog was authentic which only added to the realness of the characters. If I have any criticism, I think some viewers might find the beginning of the story sedated. Like a marriage, it can take a little work to get into it; but once you are, it can turn into a valuable lesson.
3 ½ stars
UNFILTERED, loudmouth, bad, rude and outrageous are some of the words that have described a person who speaks their mind. Personally, I have been associated with a couple of these descriptions. Honestly I cannot remember when I started speaking my mind; I want to say it started after high school. Seeing people being “two faced” where they would be friendly and kind to someone, then behind their back they would say nasty stuff about the person upset me. Obviously it made me wonder what was being said behind my back. The other thing that used to bother me was seeing people afraid to state their feelings. I firmly believe no one has the right to tell another person how they should feel; each one of us should be able to talk freely about our feelings without any feedback unless we asked for it. What will turn me off quicker than a light switch is when someone tells me how I “should” feel. Really?? If I sit here and think about it I want to say this “how I should feel” phrase may have contributed to me expressing my thoughts and feelings without holding anything back. NOW with everything I just said there is one other element I want to introduce into this conversation and that is sensitivity. Looking back I now realize my honesty at times may have been too intense for some people. Though I was being truthful, the individual may have not been ready to hear what I was telling them. Just because you tell someone they are in a co-dependent relationship for example does not mean they will accept the news if they are not ready. It took me a long time to soften what I was saying so the words would not be heard so harshly. I attribute this to maturity. If someone asks me what I think about a situation I will tell them, but be sensitive to their feelings. This is something the main character could have used in this dramatic comedy. WILSON, played by Woody Harrelson (Now You See Me franchise, No Country for Old Men), said exactly what was on his mind. Maybe that is why he lived alone. Based on the graphic novel this film also starred Judy Greer (Jurassic World, Ant-Man) as Shelly, Laura Dern (The Founder, Certain Women) as Pippi, Shaun Brown (Female Fight Club, The Great Indoors-TV) as Laptop Man and Isabella Amara (The Boss, Middle School: The Worst Years of my Life) as Claire. The only actors that stood out for me were Woody and Laura; they gave this script a good shot, but I found the story uneven. It did not take long for me to lose interest as the scenes seemed to repeat themselves as Woody’s mouth continued to get reactions from a rotating cast of characters. I think there could have been places of opportunity where the writers could have given the characters more emotions to act out. By the time something of substance took place I did not care anymore. Listening to this annoying character Wilson throughout the film annoyed me after awhile. In the real world I would not allow myself to be around such a person. I have to be brutally honest here; do not waste your money on seeing this movie.
1 ¾ stars
THEY had me at the word chocolate. Friends were telling me about this new food product at the store; wait, they were raving about it as they kept saying I had to try it. So the next time I went to the grocery store I found this product and brought it home. I decided to forgo my chocolate ice cream for dessert so I could have this potentially tasty new treat. Opening the bag I stuck my hand inside and withdrew what I hoped would become a staple in my approved foods repertoire. MY first bite was met with a textured crunchy surface. The chocolate taste at this point was diminutive. As I started chewing my taste buds were met with a stronger, darker chocolate which I always enjoy. However there also was another taste in the mixture that I could only describe as man-made or artificial. It was not pleasant and turned me off. But how was this possible; my friends were gaga over this product, convinced I would love it. I sat and wondered if there was something wrong with me; maybe my prior meal screwed up my taste buds. So I decided to try another piece after I rinsed my mouth with a swig of fresh water. The second piece had the same effect on me; I did not like this new product at all. Because I am a bit crazy when it comes to chocolate I decided to bring the bag with me to a get together the next day to see how others would react to tasting this item. Let me fast forward to the end of this story; it turned out a majority of the people did not care for the item, though several thought it was excellent. I cannot say this validated my feelings about this chocolate creation; but I just wanted to know why my friends from yesterday liked it so much. Well I felt the same way about this dramatic film; I just did not get it. THREE women each in their own way are looking for a way to connect in the vastness of Montana. This film festival winner starred Laura Dern (The Fault in Our Stars, Blue Velvet) as Laura Wells, Kristen Stewart (Still Alice, Clouds of Sils Maria) as Beth Travis and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Shutter Island) as Gina Lewis. My favorite segment was the one with Laura Dern. I honestly did not understand the accolades this film had been receiving. Yes it was beautifully filmed; the acting was good, but I did not find this entertaining. Because of the positive buzz around this film I actually went back to see it again, thinking I must have missed something. After a 2nd time I still can say I did not care for this picture. It was slow and though things happened throughout the movie they mostly were done in a too subtle way. I even asked the usher afterward about the movie since many critics had praised it and do you know what he said? He said most people walking out complained about the movie being boring and dull. So there you have it; maybe you will see something I did not.
There are hardships that affect us on an emotional and internal level. An attack on the heart can feel as if we are experiencing it in a physical way; but once that initial punch subsides over time, the shattered pieces of one’s heart and soul remain below the surface for the most part. To the average person, the one in mourning could pass by undetected. Now there are some misfortunes that cause pain in a predominately physical way. Sure there is the emotional aspect but the physical trauma is irreversible. The loss of something related to one’s physical being such as eyesight or a limb is something that can alter a person’s life forever. Another life changer would be the change of status for one’s home. An apartment fire that throws tenants out into the cold, forced to take residence up in a shelter or if lucky a place to stay with a family member or friend, could have a long term effect on an individual. I have a friend who lost their house due to the financial crash a few years back. It was devastating for them; the house they lived in for years with the tree in back that started out as a small sapling was now gone. I drove by the place some time later only to see it looking crippled and old as a hungry wild lawn was in the middle of devouring it. It was so sad to see and I know this house was only one of millions that are in the same situation, with former inhabitants that are suffering in pain. The worst day of Dennis Nash’s, played by Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, The Social Network), life was the day he and his family were evicted from their home by real estate broker Rick Carver, played by Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, The Iceman). That was before he accepted a job from the greedy realtor. This dramatic film festival winner was powered by two important elements: incredible acting by the cast that also included Laura Dern (Wild, The Fault in Our Stars) as Lynn Nash and Noah Lomax (Safe Haven, Playing for Keeps) as Connor Nash, along with a straightforward honest script. This story was utterly believable where I started feeling for the characters’ plight early on. I have been a fan of Michael Shannon for some years and this role was another stellar performance by him. He really has a presence that dominates on the big screen. If I have to look for any negative aspects to this film it would be a few scenes that were a bit slow. Honestly though they were no big deal compared to the positive things that were going on. I think everyone except maybe the top 5% could relate to what was taking place in this movie.
3 1/3 stars
It may start as a single tear that slipped out of the eye, leaving a trail of moist sadness. As time trudges on its unsteady path, the sadness builds up into waves that defy tidal logic, washing over you again and again. There are some people who do not experience grief in the same way. For them it feels like a sore throat that only reminds them of the pain when they swallow. And then there is a group of individuals who believe they remain in control; however, memories trip them up when they hear a certain song or maybe the taste of a favorite food. Death is the quilt formed by a person’s life experiences that never stops growing until the time it comes to wrap itself around you in one final loving embrace. I have seen how a person’s imminent death affects all the people around them. There is a heaviness in the air as it squeezes itself into the lives of friends and family. I can see where some people feel like they are suffocating and the only thing they want to do is to check out of life for a while. DEVASTATED by a recent tragedy Cheryl Strayed, played by Reese Witherspoon (Mud, Walk the Line), chose to deal with it by escaping from the life she was living. Her way of escaping was to undertake a 1,100 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. Based on a true story this dramatic biography led me into its story due to Reese. This may sound odd, but seeing her play this character made me realize she was an adult woman. With her past roles I always had the sense she was a little girl playing dress up. In this picture she had a rawness and grittiness that seemed to have been formed from her personal life choices; I had never experienced this from her before. There was a dual beauty about this film. The first was the gorgeous scenic shots that popped up throughout the story. The other beauty was the way the cast blended together in a consistent show of strength, dominated by Laura Dern (The Fault in Our Stars, We Don’t Live Here Anymore) as Bobbi and Thomas Sadoski (John Wick, Loser) as Paul. For me this film had a story that was out of the realm of my thought processes. I enjoy hikes that are easy to manage that do not take a lot of thought; it is one of the ways I get to take a break from myself. What Cheryl did went way beyond anything I could have imagined for myself. It was astounding to see what Cheryl needed to do for herself.
3 1/4 stars
At the time no one had heard the term politically correct. I grew to dislike team sports from my physical education classes in elementary and high school. Those classes had nothing to do with health I discovered once I was in college. Except for twice a year where we were tested to see how many sit-ups and chin-ups we could do, the majority of the time was spent being picked for a team and being told we had to try and crush the other team. There were a couple of gym teachers who could have been on the “before” posters regarding the benefits of exercising. One in particular always had the stench of cigarette smoke wafting out of his pores. He was the most inappropriate person to be a teacher. When teams were formed he would give us a pep talk, telling us we had to slaughter and beat our opponents. There could only be one winner and one loser; he would verbally abuse the players during the game. I did not want to be a part of those classes, so I focused on individual sports activities outside of school. COMPLETELY opposite from my high school instructor was the teacher in this dramatic sports film inspired by a true story. Jim Caviezel (The Thin Red Line, Person of Interest-TV) played the inspirational teacher and football coach Bob Ladouceur. Working with his team, the De La Salle High School Spartons, Coach Ladouceur along with his assistant Coach Terry Eidson, played by Michael Chiklis (Fantastic Four franchise, The Shield-TV), led the players to an unheard of record-breaking streak of 151 wins. This movie had the perfect story to tell for both the sports and non-sports minded viewer. For someone who does not follow football, I knew their winning streak was unheard of with any professional sports team. The game scenes were actually exciting throughout the film. What was a total disservice to the story was the horrible script; it was dull, lifeless and filled with cliches that were meant to move the viewer. The cast which also included Laura Dern (The Fault in Our Stars, The Master) as Bev Ladouceur, Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games, Lone Survivor) as Chris Ryan and Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption, Starship Trooper) as Chris Ryan all did a decent job of acting with their characters. How the writers took what was an incredible story and put out this poor version was beyond me; especially when they showed clips of the actual people at the end of the film. Even I wanted to be part of that team, not the one depicted in this film.
1 3/4 stars
It started out as a simple cough, nothing more. The advice given was to push fluids and rest. The cough got deeper, sounding as if it was trying to peel layers of lung up like faded paint chips. Everything that tried to suppress it only seemed to make it stronger. The color of their skin began to fade into the atmosphere around them and their facial expressions softened. Those little creases at the edges of their mouth got shallower and shallower as the eyes sunk further back into their skull. Besides hearing about it in the news, I have heard about people in a relationship who leave it when their significant other becomes ill. It is hard to imagine anything lower in a human being in my opinion. To love someone for life comes with a lot of responsibilities, it takes work; but the rewards enrich and color our experiences with added shades of hues from the palette of life. Unconditional means not subject to any conditions. The only way I know how to love someone is unconditionally. In this romantic drama decide for yourself if the love you see was an unconditional one. Shailene Woodley (The Spectacular Now, Divergent) played Hazel, a teenager whose only close friend was an oxygen tank due to her illness. Wanting to just live an ordinary life, Hazel felt stuck in a support group where she met Gus, played by Ansel Elgort (Divergent, Carrie). Her with her tank and him with his prosthetic leg, they made an odd couple. The major reason this film worked was the chemistry between Shailene and Ansel. Having played brother and sister in their recent movie Divergent, they were outstanding; I believed every word uttered by the two of them. What accentuated their roles was having Laura Dern (Wild at Heart, Tenderness) and Sam Trammell (Autumn in New York, True Blood-TV) play Hazel’s parents Frannie and Michael. Only recently being aware of the acting from Nat Wolf, he was quite good as Gus’ best friend Isaac. There was no getting around the fact the story was a tearjerker. I have not read the book but part of the script seemed to have an extra layer of melodrama, some of it predictable. On the other hand if you know how I rate the films I review, this movie allowed me to enter into the lives of Hazel and Gus, leaving my life behind. I cried like everyone else in the theater and despite my few minor gripes, I loved this film unconditionally.
3 1/2 stars