THE TWO DID NOT KNOW EACH OTHER. They grew up in different cities and on the surface did not seem to have any similarities. I only knew of them because they were in one of my writing classes in college. The class was rather intense, where we were expected to turn in writing assignments on a weekly basis. Every Wednesday the professor would randomly choose a few students to read their papers out loud, so the class could have a discussion and critique session on the students’ works. After several weeks it became apparent to me and most of the class that these 2 students were focused on writing horror stories. As some of you might know, I am not a fan of movies that show a lot of bloody gore. As you might expect the same holds true for fiction stories. As the semester continued these two fans of horror started competing with each other; nothing overt, but each week their stories got gorier and gorier. It was as if they were in a battle to see who would be the “king of horror” as far as I could tell. I had a hard time listening to them when either one was chosen to read their stories to the class. I NEVER FOUND OUT WHAT WAS the impetus that drove those two students to compete against each other. Honestly, I have always had a hard time trying to figure out why people want to compete. This may be one of the reasons why I was never very good in several sport activities. I do not have that driving force inside of me to dominate and beat another person, just so I can be considered the best. The only person I am in competition with is myself. Overcoming one set of circumstances to get to where I am at today has been a fight every day. The way I look at it is this: my old self battles the new me, trying to push me back down to what I used to be. Hopefully I am making sense to you; but let me tell you, this struggle between the old and new me has been a major force that has pushed me to heights I thought I would never achieve in this lifetime. With my thinking I wonder if humans in general are predisposed to competing. I think the term is, “Survival of the fitness.” Another phrase I have heard is, “Only the strong will survive.” Is this a genetic thing? I do not know, but this historical drama will show you how fierce competition can be. RETURNING TO HER HOME IN SCOTLAND after her husband had died; Mary Stuart, played by Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird, The Lovely Bones), believed she could lead her people as their queen. The main issue concerning her belief was the fact there was already a queen on the throne from the House of Tudor and her name was Elizabeth I, played by Margot Robbie (I, Tonya; Suicide Squad). This biographical film also starred Jack Lowden (Dunkirk, Tommy’s Honour) as Henry Darnley, James McArdle (The Chamber, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as James, Earl of Moray and David Tennant (Bad Samaritan, Doctor Who-TV) as John Knox. This picture was all about the acting and I thought both Saoirse and Margot were wonderful. Because of them I stayed engaged with this story that I believe took a lot of liberty with actual history. Those who enjoy history might like this picture more than non-history lovers. There were some scenes that were farfetched and almost a distraction. It was a shame because I think the writers might have been competing with the Game of Thrones series when they were writing this script.
2 ½ stars
IT WAS THE FIRST time I was invited to such an event and it would be my last. I was invited to an ice skating birthday party many years ago. The party was being held at an indoor ice skating rink that had a party room that my friend’s parents decorated with balloons and signs. I had never gone ice skating before so I was excited to try it out. After lacing up the skates, on wobbly legs I made my way to the rink, grabbing any solid object for balance on my way. Stepping on the ice I remained at the side with my hand on the short wall that surrounded the rink. I had seen ice skaters on TV and thought it was easy to stand on a thin steel blade but I was wrong. Every time I let go of the wall and tried to skate I fell down. I do not think I ever made it around the rink once without my skates slipping out from underneath me, either falling face first on the ice or on my backside. THOUGH THERE WAS STILL time to skate before we were having cake, I got off the ice and sat on a bench where there was carpeting. I would not say I was sad, maybe frustrated; since there were people on the ice who made it look effortless. There were a few individuals who would skate face forward then suddenly do a hop so they could skate going backwards. I still remember one girl who was given a wide space around her because she was doing these incredible fast spins, where she simply looked like a blur or did spinning jumps in the air that captivated me. These few people almost looked like the skaters I would watch at the Olympics and other ice skating competitions. Sitting there looking at my discarded skates, I wondered if it was possible to get a second blade on each boot. I just felt if I had more blades to balance on I could make my way around the rink. And do you know what the funny part is to this story? I remember seeing Tonya Harding on television when she did something that no other female skater had done before and no one I saw at that rink was like her. FROM A YOUNG AGE Tonya, played by Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, The Wolf of Wall Street), stood out from the other ice skaters; her mother LaVona Golden, played by Allison Janney (Hairspray, The Hours), stood out even more. Based on true events this film festival winning, biographical drama has to be seen to be believed. Allison was totally outrageous in the role and I see award nominations piling up for her. Margot was a perfect fit for this character; it was a smart choice on her part that will make her even more bankable as they say. With Sebastian Stan (Captain America franchise, The Covenant) as Jeff Gillooly, Paul Walter Hauser (Kingdom-TV, Super Troopers 2) as Shawn and Julianne Nicholson (Black Mass, August: Osage County) as Diane Rawlinson; I cannot remember how long it has been since I sat in a movie theater laughing out loud. The script beautifully blended outrageous moments with tragic undertones. The story when it happened was so bizarre to begin with, I enjoyed seeing the behind the scenes stuff in this movie even if it was not true. One thing I knew for certain was the judgmental views officials had about Tonya. No matter which way one chooses to view Tonya in this picture, the fact remains she did something astounding. You will have to decide what it was she did.
3 ½ stars
Maybe if it was the only thing I had known I would feel different about it. But I have compared items and know the difference. I do not want to come off as being a snob; I have actually matched up name brand products to their generic versions and there are times where the two are not the same. For example I have bought both a name brand and generic version of raisins. Taste wise there was not much difference; however, there was with the size of the generic one. They were smaller and not as plump. Normally this would be no big deal but they don’t look as good when used for baking. Another example is yogurt; now here there was a major contrast. The generic brand I tried never got smooth after stirring it; soft clumps of congealed yogurt remained in the container, yuck. Now there are items that I think are the same whether they are a store’s brand or name brand. I know that many times the same manufacturer is making both kinds. When I look at the nutritional label for both brands of vitamins they are identical; as far as I can tell the only difference is the price. The same results apply to spices; I cannot tell the difference from the ones I have compared. You may be sitting there and wondering why I am talking about this topic for today’s movie review. I was thinking about it right after this film was done playing. You see I was questioning myself to see if I would have the same initial feeling about this film if I had never seen the superhero movies from that other studio that produces them. Read ahead if you wish to see my answer. AMANDA Waller, played by Viola Davis (The Help, Doubt), was the tough boss of a top secret government program. She had to be because her program involved the worst of the worst imprisoned super villains. This action adventure movie was a massive introduction to the characters from the DC comic world. Starring Will Smith (Concussion, Men in Black franchise) as Deadshot, Margot Robbie (The Legend of Tarzan, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Harley Quinn and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club, Mr. Nobody) as the Joker; the 1st half of the film was devoted to us meeting these characters. There were several others but I prefer not wasting space on listing them. The breakout star to this picture was Margot Robbie; as far as I was concerned she had the best lines and the most interesting character. I knew about Jared Leto’s acting style of remaining in character even when he is not being filmed, but the poorly written script turned his performance into a mediocre blandness. This film would satisfy the tween segment with all the fights and destruction. As for creating an entertaining movie experience this movie lacked in key areas like humor, character development and visual effects. The story never felt cohesive to me, which could be attributed to poor editing and directing. I am sad to say compared to other superhero movies this one was a generic one. An extra scene in the middle of the ending credits.
1 3/4 stars
Two events stand out in my mind as pivotal moments that changed the course of my life’s path. The first was seeing the movie Tarzan the Ape Man with Johnny Weissmuller on television; the second was reading the book Doctor Doolittle. I already was an animal lover, enjoying the local zoos and relatives’ pets; but this book and movie sealed my affection for all animals. Seeing Tarzan’s companion Cheetah (did not know it was the name of a big cat breed at the time) the chimpanzee was extra special because I had a hand me down stuffed chimpanzee; the 2 of us would watch any of the Tarzan films whenever they were being aired on TV. When I saw the original Doctor Doolittle movie I was absorbed into it because here I had read the book and now I was seeing the doctor and his animals come to life, so to speak. Ever since then I have been fortunate to have a variety of animals around me. I do not judge but when someone tells me they do not even like dogs or cats, I tend to wonder if something happened to them earlier in life that swayed them away from animals. Looking into the eyes of a dog with their unconditional love, I do not understand how someone could resist such love. I can still remember when people would ask me why I wanted to become a veterinarian; I would tell them it is because animals never hurt me. It would be easier for me to give a shot to a human being than it would for an animal. I have to tell you I was hoping none of the animals would be hurt in this action adventure film. LIVING a comfortable life in England John Clayton, played by Alexander Skarsgard (What Maisie Knew, True Blood-TV), the Lord of Greystoke was persuaded to return to the Congo for what he thought were humanitarian reasons. John who was known as Tarzan would need the help of some old friends to survive what was in store for him. Joining Alexander in this big budget film were the actors Christoph Waltz (Spectre, Carnage) as Leon Rom, Margot Robbie (Focus, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) as Jane Clayton and Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight, The Avengers franchise) as George Washington Williams. I thought Alexander and Margot were perfect for the roles and wished they would have had more scenes together. I know Alexander is a capable actor but I do not think the script and the director helped him for this role. As for Christoph and Samuel, I just want to say they have to stop; stop doing the same kind of characters they have done in previous films. Samuel was a distraction as were the flashback scenes throughout the picture. The script was an odd mix of different story lines that weighed down the pace of the film; I was bored in a few spots. As for the CGI effects they were not as spectacular as I would have expected for a Tarzan film. By the end of this film not only was I missing not seeing Cheetah, but also missing a good story.
1 ¾ stars
The older people are getting the more I have noticed they incorporate an escape plan into their world. If I do a quick count I believe a majority of the people I know have some kind of activity they can escape to, withdrawing from the realities of their day. Off the top of my head I know individuals who do scrap booking, knitting, jigsaw puzzles and reading books just to name a few. I, if you have not noticed, do movies to escape the pressures that come up in my daily life. Films offer me the fastest way to leave the present moment and be whisked into the alternative world of a movie. Even a poorly done movie that I have given a 1 1/2 star rating will partially transport me away; however, the better the film the more I will be drawn into it. If you have read my description for what merits a 4 star rating, you know the movie has to completely remove me from the theater and allow me to become part of the story; where I do not see the actors playing out their roles only the actual characters. Personally I feel everyone should have some kind of activity that allows them to disconnect from their everyday routines. I do not know about you but it seems the older I get more things become challenging for me. A simple activity like driving a car has become harder due to so many distracted drivers, besides the endless construction projects that constantly close roads and lanes. It is no wonder a person feels stuck in their life and just wants to escape to somewhere or something else. With that in mind, I was surprised to see what the main character chose to do in this comedy. JOURNALIST Kim Baker, played by Tina Fey (Sisters, Muppets Most Wanted), felt she was stuck; her life was going nowhere. That is until an opportunity came up for her to take an assignment in Afghanistan. Based on a true story this war comedy had a well rounded cast that included Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, About Time) as Tanya Vanderpoel, Martin Freeman (The Hobbit franchise, Hot Fuzz) as Iain MacKelpie and Alfred Molina (An Education, Chocolat) as Massoud Sadiq. There were parts of this film I enjoyed, but the more the story unfolded the more I lost sense of it. For some reason I started to disbelieve the scenes because they seemed so outrageous or maybe more accurately they lost the emotion of the action. I did not find much humor in this picture; it slowly became ridiculous to me. It is a shame because the idea of the real Kim Baker taking on this assignment is extraordinary; I just wished this script would have come across more real. Part of the blame would have to go to the director. I never once felt I was watching the actual characters, only seeing the actors playing them. This film did not provide me a total escape.
2 1/4 stars
When it comes to starting a conversation with a stranger I am the last one to begin. In fact, depending on the circumstances I try to deter them from uttering anything my way. In an elevator there is not enough time for a conversation to start up usually; but on a plane, I tend to carry a sense of dread along with my carry-on bag until I find out who is sitting next to me. When I am on a plane I do not want to be coerced into a conversation; I want to sit in my seat reading the magazines from my knapsack. Please do not judge me but there have been times where I pretended to have laryngitis just so I would not have to talk to my seat mate. Now here is the interesting part about everything I just said. If some type of crisis occurs while I am among a group of people, I am right into the conversation along with everyone else around me. When I was waiting to board a flight as an earthquake struck, you better believe I was chatting up a storm with the strangers around me. Gratefully I have never been stuck in an elevator, but I cannot image standing there in silence while others are trying to figure out what they should do. I do not know if it is a comfort level or trust issue thing regarding my wariness to engage in a conversation with a stranger. It certainly was something I thought about as I watched this mysterious drama. RESIGNED to the belief she was the only person left alive on earth Ann Burden, played by Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, About Time), was stunned when she came upon a stranger named John Loomis, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Kinky Boots), who was sick from radiation exposure. What was the right thing to do? This science fiction film had a simple apocalyptic story that was beautifully filmed. The only other actor in the cast was Chris Pine (Star Trek franchise, Unstoppable) as Caleb and I have to tell you I thoroughly enjoyed all three of them. Margot was unrecognizable to me at first; I felt she was the stand out of the group with her wonderful portrayal. The acting, the stunning landscapes and fluid editing kept me constantly engaged in the story. I do have to tell you the slow pacing may weigh a person down from fully enjoying this interesting film festival nominee. Also, I hesitate to list this as a science fiction picture though it is classified as such because except for the premise, there really was nothing sci-fi about it in my opinion. As far a I was concerned I was watching a series of events that contained several curious possibilities to ponder. Even after the movie I was still wondering how I would react if I were in any one of the character’s situation.
2 1/2 stars
I became more aware of my wallet’s whereabouts after my aunt yelled an expletive at a man who had his hand in her purse. She had taken the subway to go downtown. When she got off at her stop and was waiting to step onto the escalator to take her up to street level, she felt a tug on her purse that she had slung on her shoulder. Turning to look down at her purse she saw a man who had his hand in it, looking for her wallet. With no time for thinking, she immediately yelled out in her sternest voice, “What the #%&@ do you think you are doing?” The man was so stunned he withdrew his hand and took off down the station to the exit on the opposite side of the platform. Once I heard what happened to her I started becoming more aware of my surroundings. No matter where I went I would periodically check to make sure my wallet was still in my back pocket. Now granted all I had in my wallet was a couple of pictures and my week’s allowance; but the idea that someone would stick their hand in my pocket to steal my wallet made me angry. After seeing this comedic drama I now am more paranoid. WILL Smith (After Earth, I Am Legend) played lifelong con artist Nicky. Admiring the gutsy moves Jess, played by Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, About Time), tried to pull on him; Nicky agreed to teach her some of his tricks. However, just as one of his biggest jobs was about to play out, could Nicky really trust her. This crime story had a variety of twists in it; some were predictable, others were surprises. I will say the story did not seem that much different from others I had seen before. The clear standouts for me were Margot Robbie and Gerald McRaney (The A-Team, Major Dad-TV) as Owens. Also, Adrian Martinez (American Hustle, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) as Farhad and Rodrigo Santoro (The Last Stand, 300 Franchise) as Garriga gave good performances. I understood this was supposed to be Will’s vehicle back to box office gold after his flop After Earth; but I have to tell you I did not think his performance was anything new. He seemed to be playing himself more than his character to tell you the truth. There were a couple of times where I thought the story dragged. To be fair one of my favorite movies was The Sting, so for me this film did not have any sophisticated nuances in the script. The worst part of this is I now have a bigger fear of getting my pockets picked than I had before.
2 1/4 stars