FROM ALL MY YEARS OF TEACHING I feel I am intuitive when it comes to judging people’s attitudes. Maybe instead of attitudes I should say impressions because standing in front of a class I am able to see the members’ eyes. With me facing them while I teach, I can usually tell when a member is feeling annoyed with another member. Another thing I see is when a member is judging someone else because it is quite noticeable to me. There was a club I used to teach at that had a cliental that was predominantly single people. I soon became surprised with the catty comments I would hear, and the dirty looks members would shoot at other participants in the class. If someone was in class who did not appear to be physically fit, more than likely they would cause the members around them to get a look of disdain on their faces. A prime example was a guy who was large in stature; he was over 6 feet tall and well over 200 pounds. He had some tone to him and from participating in my classes, he built up his aerobic capacity to the point where he could get thru the whole class. ONE DAY A MAN CAME INTO THE aerobic studio to participate in my class. I took him to be a weightlifter because he was extremely cut with prominent muscles sticking out from his torso and limbs. You should have seen the face of this weightlifter when the big member came in and stood near him. It was obvious to me he was judging the guy, thinking this large person would not be able to handle the class. Boy, was he wrong because not only did the larger member plow thru my workout regiment, he finished it. The weightlifter had to stop frequently to catch his breath. I had to assume he spent most time at the health club lifting weights instead of doing something with aerobics. The larger member had no clue that this guy standing near him had judged him solely on his looks, assuming there was no way he could do aerobics. I would be lying if I did not tell you I was amused by the weightlifter’s look of disbelief towards the larger man. It really goes to show you that one should never judge someone solely on their looks; because there are times where your assumptions could get you in trouble. Proof can be found in this dramatic, crime thriller. HAVING NOTHING IN COMMON EXCEPT THEY each lost their husband; a group of widows were forced to work together to survive the fallout from their husbands’ actions. Starring Viola Davis (Fences, The Help) as Veronica, Michelle Rodriguez (Fast & Furious franchise, Lost-TV) as Linda, Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby, Guardians of the Galaxy franchise) as Alice, Liam Neeson (The Commuter, Taken franchise) as Harry Rawlings and Colin Farrell (The Beguiled, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as Jack Mulligan; if nothing else, just watching these women act was a privilege. Viola was outstanding, and I was surprised with Elizabeth’s performance. The story had twists and turns in it, though it took some time before things started to pick up and move the story forward. I thought there were a few predictable scenes, but the wonderful direction kept things exciting for me. Filmed in Chicago, I was aware how scenes went from beauty to being gritty and back; adding to the texture of the script. There have been other crime heist films made before, but I was thoroughly brought into these females’ plights and stayed with them for the entire trip. Please do not solely judge this movie by its marketing; there is more here than meets the eye.
3 ¼ stars
WHAT I AM ABOUT TO tell you is not written in any rule books. It is observational, helpful guidelines I have made over the years while riding trains in different cities. There is something about trains that has always attracted me. They are not as fast as planes but sitting back and literally seeing the countryside pass by is a thrill for me. I remember on one vacation a friend had told me to make sure I sat on the left side of the train car for a better view on a scenic train ride through the mountains and they were absolutely right. This train was geared more towards tourists so all the train cars were clean inside and out. On public transportation systems I have sat in seats where the windows were smeared with something I preferred not knowing what it could be; so make a note to yourself, you never want to lean your head against the window even if you should happen to doze off. When you are sitting in a train car where there is an agitated passenger talking nonsense it is best to exit the train car and go to another one. IF YOU ARE CURIOUS to learn about the local cuisine of a new city, I suggest you never sit next to a passenger who is eating. Chances are you will have crumbs or liquids spilled on you; it is best to sit across from the person if you want to ask about the food balanced on their lap. I have walked onto some train cars where there was such a strong stench of stale food that I immediately turned around and found a different car. On one trip I was sitting in my seat trying to listen to the conductor calling out each train stop. After some time I found the conductor to ask him how much longer to the stop I needed. They looked at me with concern as they told me I missed my stop and I better stay with him for the rest of the trip, until he could put me on another train to take me back to where I needed to belong. It was an odd exchange at the time but I soon realized what the conductor was implying as the neighborhood we were traveling through was changing. From what I have told you now, do you want to take a chance by riding on the train in this dramatic, crime drama? BY RIDING THE SAME train to work every day Michael MacCauley, played Liam Neeson (Run All Night, The Grey), was familiar with most of the passengers in his train car. However when the stranger Joanna, played by Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, Orphan), sat next to him she struck up a conversation that would change his life. Along with Liam and Vera the cast included Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring franchise, The Phantom of the Opera) as Alex Murphy, Sam Neill (Tommy’s Honour, The Piano) as Captain Hawthorne and Jonathan Banks (Gremlins, Breaking Bed) as Walt. As this passenger train rolled down the tracks the story and script got loonier and loonier. Liam played the exact same character he has portrayed in most of his recent films. The beginning of the story interested me but soon scenes were becoming farfetched and not making much sense. I did not connect to any of the characters. In a way this film was a cross between Liam’s Taken film franchise with Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. One would have been better off to have taken a different train all together.
1 ¾ stars
THERE was a soft knock at my door. If I had music playing instead of studying for a test I would not have heard it. Upon opening the door I saw a woman standing with a canvas bag filled with pamphlets sitting by her feet. I asked her if I could help her though I was cautious since I was living in off campus housing; we never had strangers in the building. She asked me if I wanted to be saved today. I simply stared at her because I had never been asked such a question. Asking her what I was being saved from she leaned down to take one of the pamphlets out of her book and started to tell me about her religion. Because I was studying for a test I did not let her go on long before asking her how did she determine such a thing for me, that possibly my religion was taking care of me. She paused while maintaining her slight smile before telling me I should consider her faith because it was the only way for me. THIS was my first time having someone trying to convert me from my faith. At the time I was offended, namely because she was not acknowledging my faith. I finally had to ask her what right she had to make assumptions about my faith and spirituality from our short conversation. Having grown up in a diverse neighborhood, my friends and I were always going to each other’s religious holiday celebrations. Houses in my neighborhood would have either Christmas trees displayed in their windows or menorahs, while others displayed nothing. Maybe I grew up in a bubble but there were never any issues about one’s religion being wrong compared to someone else. I think that non-judgmental environment I grew up in made watching this dramatic film festival winning movie more shocking for me. TRAVELING from Portugal to Japan to find their lost mentor 17th century Jesuit priests Rodrigues and Garrpe, played by Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, 99 Homes) and Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Midnight Special) were not safe once they landed on foreign soil. Written and directed by Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed), I understand it took Martin years to get this story filmed. With Liam Neeson (Taken franchise, Run All Night) as Ferreira and Tadanobu Asano (Thor franchise, Ichi the Killer) as the interpreter, the story covered deeper subject matter than the usual heavily marketed movie studios’ films. This story was quite thought provoking where I am still processing the scenes I witnessed. I say witness because there were scenes that were tough to watch with their violence, while others presented interesting discussion. The acting was excellent and some scenes were close to brilliant. One issue I had with the film was the length of it; I found the running time of 2 hours and 41 minutes too long. At one point I felt I was going from one torture scene to another. If I heard correctly the movie was originally over an hour longer; I cannot imagine sitting that long for this story. Putting that aside this film did present a forum to discuss human nature and religious issues. I do not know if this movie would cause one to convert but it could possibly change your views on the power of films.
3 ½ stars
I have learned never agree or add my opinion to someone who is in the middle of a rant about someone close to them. Let them carry on with their derogatory remarks, their name calling and variety of colorful adjectives; unless you know the history those two share, it will be better to be the thoughtful supportive friend. Time after time I have seen where the individual says whatever they want about the person; but when someone else utters a disparaging word they will scold them, telling them not to talk that way about their friend or relative. In a way it is sort of comical to me. Though I have to tell you, the thing that really gets me is when newscasters are reporting on a suspected criminal and they interview a relative of the suspect. More times than not the relative will say something positive about the suspect, like he was a good boy or she always got good grades in school. First of all what does that have to do with the crime? I hope this does not sound judgmental but I cannot imagine what it must feel like for a parent who has a child that brings them heartbreak or trouble. Even when that is the situation, there still is some truth to that saying, “Blood is thicker than water.” Liam Neeson (The Grey, Taken franchise) played Jimmy Conlon, an infamous mob hit-man. When his estranged son Mike, played by Joel Kinnaman (Safe House, RoboCop), was targeted by childhood friend and mob boss Shawn Maguire’s, played by Ed Harris (The Abyss, Snowpiercer); son Danny, played by Boyd Holbrook (A Walk Among the Tombstones, Gone Girl); Jimmy had no choice but to protect his son. This action, crime drama had some well done chases and fight scenes. There was one particular chase scene that was intense and well orchestrated with excitement and thrills. Liam was not too different from his past tough guy with killer skill roles, though he was a little more broken with this character. To be honest I felt it has really run its course; it is time for Liam to do something different. Besides Liam the other heavyweight in this film was Ed’s character. I so wished the writers would have given the two more screen time together because it would have made this a better film. After a while I started to get bored with the same things happening over and over again. If the script had been stronger this could have helped Liam avoid what has now become another of his movies that had a disappointing opening box office weekend. There were scenes with violence and blood in them.
I am always available to hear a good story from someone. There is an art to telling a story. Essential components would be an attention grabbing opening, buildup on an emotional level, personal connection and a solid conclusion. If the story is a humorous one then there needs to be a good punchline. Unfortunately there are some people who should never tell a story. I know, I know; I feel bad for even saying that but if you listened to this person I know tell a story, you would see how they can suck the life out of any tale. The thing that is frustrating to me is their topics are actually interesting or funny. However, they not only have to explain every detail, they get hung up on trying to think of a perfect word to convey an action. You would be standing there shifting your weight from one foot to the other as they tried to think of the word they wanted to use, letting the momentum of their story fade to a crawl. By the end of the story, after they repeated several parts and explained the obvious parts to death, all you wanted to do was run away from them. This is how I felt as I sat through this 3rd film of the movie franchise. ACCUSED of a murder he did not commit Bryan Mills, played by Liam Neeson (A Walk Among the Tombstones, Non-Stop), became a wanted man. He would need his special skills to stay one step ahead of the authorities while he tried to figure out who was the murderer. Let me first say I totally appreciated the fact that Liam was keeping the aging action hero genre alive; I had no qualms with him or his performance. However, this story did not offer anything new for me. With the uneven directing I found the film editing absolutely annoying. I could not figure out who was throwing what punches because the scenes were horribly choppy. Besides returning characters Lenore St. John, played by Franke Janssen (X-Men franchise, The Chameleon) and Kim Mills, played by Maggie Grace (Lockout, Lost-TV); the addition of Franck Dotzier, played by Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Phone Booth) was a good choice. I only wished there had been more screen time between him and Liam. As for the plot I found it quite weak which only added to the messiness of this film. If one is in the mood for a good crime film, this one was not as exciting as the first one. The only thing I felt was taken during this movie was my time and money; I cannot recommend listening to this lame story. There were violent scenes with blood.
1 2/3 stars
It is important to have a comfortable setting. Location is a priority for some while comfort is a necessity for others. Once you are in your perfect place a calmness comes over you like an old comfy sweater; all that is left is for the movie to begin. The opening scene rolls onto the screen and there is a twinge of excitement as you are prepared to be taken on a journey by the film’s story. A short time passed and that hopeful, emotional expectation dimmed as it took its last breath of light and you realized something was not right. You were reacting to the film, there was something familiar about it. There was a moment where you quickly wondered if you had seen the film before and had spaced out about it. As it turned out you did not see the picture before, but the film studio just used the same formula that was successful for the main star in a prior movie. This left you feeling unsatisfied to the point of feeling cheated. It was like craving your favorite chocolate wafer sandwich cookie only to find the grocery store was out and only had a cheap knockoff–it was not the same. TOUGH, fearless, confident and tall; this seemed the niche Liam Neeson (A Million Ways to Die in the West, Non-Stop) was gravitating to as he played private investigator Matt Scudder. When drug trafficker Kenny Kristo, played by Dan Stevens (The Fifth Estate, Downton Abbey-TV), asked the private investigator to find the men who killed his wife, Matt initially refused. It wasn’t until he heard how the wife died that he agreed to take on the case. I found this crime drama to be for the most part standard fare. It came across as a formulaic vehicle for Liam to go through the motions, having done this type of role a few times already. There was the “bad guys” who in this case had a real ick factor; the young streetwise innocent TJ, played by Brian “Astro” Bradley (Earth to Echo, The X Factor-TV) and a script that tried to have Liam deliver lines that would become iconic sayings for the movie goer. At least I was not completely bored thanks to the several scenes that were well directed to deliver tense excitement. The first time Liam took on the role of a middle-aged tough guy it was different and fresh. The second time it lost some of it luster and was not as exciting to watch. By now all I wanted to say to Liam was, “It is enough already.” If this is the first time you are seeing a Liam Neeson film then you might enjoy this movie; if not, then you may feel as if you had seen this all before. There were scenes of violence and blood.
They live in my head and do everything I tell them to do. Some of them may have started out as real people like my very 1st friend who lived in the same apartment building where I was born. We were preschool age, but I still remember when we shared a box of colored dog biscuits, thinking they were just extra hard cookies. Over the years that memory was manipulated to fit into a story I was working on for college. I have many fictional characters that reside in my mind, ready to be employed for an article, a story or even just a mental exercise to keep my imagination active. This is the life of a writer or at least of me. Having a dominant right sided brain, my life has always traveled along the perimeter between reality and fantasy. It was a world I was always attracted to because of its ability to be both a crowded and lonely place at the same time. The world inside a writer’s mind can be as present and alive as our daily lives. Liam Neeson (Non-Stop, The Grey) played Michael, an author who traveled to Paris to work on a new book and be with his mistress Anna, played by Olivia Wilde (Rush, In Time). During the same time there were two other stories taking place in this romantic drama. In New York City Julia and Rick, played by Mila Kunis (Black Swan, Ted) and James Franco (This is the End, Palo Alto), were in a bitter custody battle after their son was injured. The third story took place in Rome where Adrien Brody (King Kong, The Pianist) was Scott, a businessman of knockoff designer wear who got involved with a troubled woman who was desperately trying to get her daughter back before being forced into prostitution. The acting was alive and engaging in all three stories, though I found the Mila and James story the strongest. With attractive settings the overall look to this film was pleasing to me; however, it only went so far before the weight of the lumbering script dulled the viewing experience. Written and directed by Paul Haggis (Crash, In the Valley of Elah) I found the stories repetitive. It really felt like the drama went to a certain level and remained there with no variance. I was able to follow all three stories as their scenes switched back and forth between them and figured out relatively early what was going to happen. By the end of the film I did not feel completely satisfied. The concept of peering into a writer’s mind was an excellent idea; in my mind, I would have done a major rewrite of the script.
There are so many times I hear people say life is easier now, but I am not 100% convinced of it. I remember reading Generation Zs do not know how to fold up a map since they only grew up with GPS devices; some only know how to tell time from a digital display. Does this make life easier? When you expand the length of time, sure I can see where some things are easier now then decades or centuries ago. When the United States still had frontiers, there was a reason why people referred to the areas as the Wild West. Back then you would have to protect yourself from wild animals; now it is more likely it will be from humans. There was more farmland back then; people would work the land and grow their own food, eating healthier. Now you can simply take your pre-wrapped meal from the freezer to the microwave oven and have hot food in 6 minutes. The differences between the two time periods were ripe for creating a comedy which Seth MacFarlane (Tooth Fairy, Ted) tried to do in this humorous western. Besides being the writer and director of this film, Seth took on his first starring role playing Albert the sheep farmer. After being threatened to a dual with pistols and getting dumped by his girlfriend Louise, played by Amanda Seyfried (Mama Mia, Red Riding Hood), Albert was willing to take advice from the mysterious Anna, played by Charlize Theron (Prometheus, The Italian Job). The only problem was Louise already started seeing Foy, played by Neil Patrick Harris (The Smurfs franchise, How I Met Your Mother-TV). I wish I could have figured out how Seth went from writing the comedy Ted to creating this farce. Where I found Ted to be wickedly funny, this movie was a bust. I only found a few sporadic scenes humorous since the majority of the jokes were either lame or cheap shots. It would be easy to compare this film to Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles but there is a big difference. Mel’s comedy was a trendsetting funny spoof that understood its purpose. Seth’s picture was just a series of gags that had a certain predictability to them. The chosen cast certainly had the talent to make this a fun time but I found things were dull and lifeless. However, it was a kick to see the actors who made cameo roles. I had no idea it would be so hard to write a funny story about a period of time from our past. There was an extra scene after the credits.
1 3/4 stars
My face was pressed against the glass window as I saw the airplane being pushed away from its accordion pleated, collapsable walkway. There was an emptiness inside of me as my visiting family members were flying back home. I imagined them settling into their seats and wondered if any of them were looking out of the jet’s windows back at me. Once the plane taxied out of sight I turned and headed out of the gate area. Walking through the terminal I noticed the massive flow of arriving and departing human beings streaming everywhere. One of my little mind games I played when I was a kid was to make up stories about the different people who were walking past me. With the amount of people that travel through an airport, it is an ideal venue to play this game. Where this was an innocent creative outlook for me, back when one could accompany their guests all the way to their gate, these days a majority of people play this game but for totally different reasons. The writers and director used people’s stereotyping and fears to add a charged dimension to this action thriller. Liam Neeson (The A-Team, Kinsey) played former policeman turned air marshal Bill Marks. During a transatlantic flight Bill received a text message demanding $150 million dollars be transferred to an offshore bank account; otherwise, one passenger every 20 minutes would be killed. Added to the mystery was the fact that the bank account was opened in the name of Bill Marks. Liam gave it his all, committing himself to the role and doing a great job as a broken, alcoholic air marshal. If you think this sounds familiar you would be right; it reminded me of Denzel Washington in the movie Flight. The difference however was Denzel’s film made sense; this one had several implausible scenes that defied logic. Putting that aside, I will say there were some tight, tense scenes that kept the viewer guessing on who was the real villain. Personally, I thought the villain was not strong enough. Among the cast was the terrific Julianne Moore (Carrie, Hannibal) as frequent flyer Jen Summers. I found it surprising that relative newcomer, Oscar nominee and winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) had such a small role as flight attendant Gwen. She had maybe a paragraph’s worth of dialog; I can only assume this film was made before 12 Years a Slave. Rounding out the main characters was Michelle Dockery (Hanna, Downton Abbey-TV) as flight attendant Nancy. I have to hand it to Liam; at his age to still be an action hero and maneuver through the aisles of an airplane, he would be the main reason to see this thriller.
2 2/3 stars
It does not come with batteries nor does it need to run with any other power source. What I am referring to is our imagination and creativity. From the back porch of the 3rd floor apartment I grew up in, I could see to the end of the block. Each backyard was a different kingdom in my fantasy world. Taking empty plastic dishwasher bottles with their push-up tops, I would fill them up with water and they would become bombs I would use to protect my castle. When I had to go on a fact-finding mission, I would use the back alleys covered with gravel to cover my tracks. During these missions I would hold out a ballpoint pen at arm’s length, turning it into a spaceship that was protecting me from any enemy missiles. I could spend hours outside coming up with several activities that were fueled by my imagination; some incorporated my friends while others had to be done secretly by me. The creativity coming out of the writers’ imagination for this animated action comedy reminded me so much of my childhood. I believe everyone could relate to something in this fun film. Chris Pratt (Her, Wanted) voiced happy-go-lucky Emmet Brickowoski who loved everything he did in his structured life. One day an unusual misstep brought him in contact with Wyldstyle, voiced by Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games franchise, People Like Us), who mistakenly believed he was the chosen one to save the world from the evil Lord Business, voiced by Will Ferrell (Stranger Than Fiction, Step Brothers). The kaleidoscopic explosion of colors, rapid fire comments and crazy scenes kept me on my toes; in fact, I feel I need to see this movie again because I felt I was missing some of the details. I understand the cast did their recordings together instead of the usual way of each actor being by themselves in the recording booth. It made a difference in my opinion; there was a stronger fluidity to the verbal exchanges. Will Arnett (Blades of Glory, Arrested Development-TV) as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, Taken franchise) as Bad Cop/Good Cop and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, Now You See Me) as Vitruvius were just a few of the voices that stood out for me. There was so much that was good about this film that I do not feel I even have to tell you about the minor stuff. The bottom line for me was this movie took a familiar product and with a big dose of imagination provided me the opportunity to have a fun time while recalling some fond memories from my youth.
3 1/4 stars