WHEN I was little all I wanted was to have a common, average full name; something like John Smith or Robert Jones. I was the only one in my elementary school to have my first name, though there were a couple of boys who had names similar to mine. Teachers never asked a Jeffrey or Deborah to repeat their names but with certain teachers I had to repeat mine a 2nd time so they were sure they heard correctly. Thinking back now I am not sure why it was important for me to want a different name unless it was to be less noticed. It was not like my name was hard to spell or even pronounce. AS we graduated out of elementary school we were joined with students from other schools. There was one boy who had the same last name as a local food company and he was picked on because of it. I remember sitting and imagining if he was getting teased for a food product what would happen to a student who had the same last name of an infamous person from history; such as Churchill, Hemingway or Mussolini? Interestingly I knew a couple of people who were connected to famous individuals but no one knew because they did not have the same last name. There was one friend who was able to trace his family history back 6 centuries. He showed me a couple of artifacts that had been handed down generation to generation; it really blew my mind since my knowledge of my family’s history only goes back approximately a couple of hundred years. Tracing a family’s history can be eye opening, both for the relatives or bystanders. The reason I say this is because there is a famous family business headquartered in my city. The descendants have lived around here for years and a friend of mine is the accountant for a couple of them. Just from a couple of stories told to me, this family has some messed up genes in their gene pool. But they do not as far as I know have an ancestor like the one in this fantasy adventure. CAL Lynch, played by Michael Fassbender (The Light Between Oceans, Steve Jobs), was surprised to discover he had an ancestor named Aguilar who was an assassin. Cal was more surprised when he met him. This action film based on a video game had a heavy hitting cast joining Michael. There was Marion Cotillard (Allied, Rust and Bone) as Sofia, Jeremy Irons (The Man in the Iron Mask, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) as Rikkin and Brendan Gleeson (Suffragette, Troy) as Joseph Lynch. With such a good cast it was a shame the nonsensical script was so poor. It was a patchwork of fights, romance, history; it jumped from one to the other. I enjoyed the exterior shots and I did not mind the story, but this film was barely coherent. The actors tried their best I believe; however, I was bored through parts of the picture. Maybe the video game is fun to play but this was not a film one needs to pay full price to see. In my opinion this was a movie studio and family dysfunction.
1 2/3 stars
Where some departments are inviting and welcoming to fellow employees, there are others that are structured like secured fortresses to keep away all outsiders. Working in an office means you acquire a pseudo family, quirks and all. I have worked for a few companies and I have found the larger ones mirror the globe. Depending on the department managers, it can feel like you are traveling to a different country when entering their fiefdoms, where employees never mingle with those from a different department. I worked for an individual who treated all the employees as if they were his personal assistants, from washing his car to picking up his laundry; I could not wait to get out of there. Luckily I have worked at places where all the employees in the department felt like family. We would always celebrate each other’s birthdays and be there for each other during the sad occasions. Like any family there would be disagreements and spats; but when you think about it, most employees are together 8 hours a day. For some that can be more time together than with one’s own blood relatives. I will say one of the negatives to having a family environment at the workplace is when one employee’s work is dependent on another employee. It can be hard to separate the lines between employee and pseudo family member. SANDRA, played by Marion Cotillard (Inception, The Immigrant), discovered her boss offered her fellow employees a choice to either keep her as an employee or receive a cash bonus upon her termination. With her husband Manu, played by Fabrizio Rongione (The Kid with a Bike, Rosetta), pushing her to fight for her job, Sandra would have to confront each of her fellow workers to ask them to vote for her to stay on the job. This Oscar nominated and film festival winning drama was an interesting viewing experience. The movie started out slow; at first I was not sure what was going on since it seemed as if the story had started in the middle. Gratefully Marion was outstanding in the role so I was able to stay interested. With her acting I could easily feel her pain and discomfort as she went from employee to employee. Written and directed by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (The Kid with the Bike, L’Enfant), I found the story’s idea compelling. There was however a few slow parts in the film and one scene in particular did not ring true for me. If this makes sense, this picture was more of a cerebral experience since there was not much action. The thing that rang true about the script was the way the employees interacted with each other. French was spoken with English subtitles.
I wish it was not the case but I cast a cynical eye towards a kind gesture from a stranger these days. Where I first noticed a change had taken place over me was when I used to travel to Georgia. People were saying thank you for the simplest things, besides opening doors for each other. I realized I had not seen such actions for a long time. Then there were incidents I witnessed that began altering my perceptions. I used to know someone who was always eager to share their recipes with anyone who asked for them, but would leave out one small item from the list of ingredients. During my daily commute I cannot remember the last time someone slowed down to let me pull into traffic or merge into another lane due to construction. It seems as if people are becoming more isolated and protective of their surroundings. I partially understand it because of all the news that gets reported on Ponzi schemes, fake charities and internet scams. Last summer I answered the knock at my front door and there was a high schooler who was selling discounted subscriptions for the local newspapers. Yep, you are right; I gave him $20.00 but never saw a single newspaper. Life is hard and I would say it is partially due to the modern world we live in; however, one only has to look at history to see it is not a modern phenomenon. You could also see a horrifying example in this Cannes Film Festival nominated drama. Set in the early 1920s Ewa Cybulska and her sister Magda, played by Marion Cotillard (Contagion, The Dark Knight Rises) and Angela Sarafyan (Paranoia, Love Hurts), traveled from Poland to America to start a new life. During processing at Ellis Island Magda was quarantined, leaving Ewa to fend for herself on the streets of New York City. She had to rely on the kindness of strangers and Bruno Weiss, played by Joaquin Phoenix (Her, Walk the Line), was eager to welcome and help her. Marion Cotillard was made to do this romantic mystery movie. Her eyes alone could have done all the talking for her, she was mesmerizing. The story was filled with many opportunities to create a powerful piece; however, it never gelled for me. I did not believe Joaquin’s character, finding his performance odd. It really was a shame because the sets and scenes were beautifully appointed. Jeremy Renner (American Hustle, The Town) was a welcomed addition to the story playing the magician Emil. I wish I could offer a kind gesture to this film by giving it a higher rating but truthfully it does not warrant it.
2 2/3 stars
There is a wide chasm between dependency and codependency. As my mother entered the world of Alzheimer’s disease, she had to depend on my father’s instructions for the simplest of tasks. Then there was a couple I knew where the husband continually cheated on his wife. She always took him back; she felt she deserved it due to low self-esteem. This would be an example of codependency. As the story unfolded in this dramatic movie, I could not clearly say if the two main characters were dependent on each other or not. One person was emotionally handicapped while the other was physically. Former kick-boxer Alain van Versch, played by Matthias Schoenaerts (Black Book, Bullhead), with his son Sam, played by newcomer Armand Verdure, moved from Belgium to his sister’s house in Antibes France. Having taken a job as a bouncer at a nightclub, he met Stephanie who was too drunk to drive home. Alain drove her home and left her his phone number. From that one act of kindness, their lives would begin traveling on a parallel course, each one seeking to fulfill a need. Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises, Big Fish) was incredible playing whale handler Stephanie. She already has received nominations for her acting in this role. Matthias’ character was the perfect blend of a good heart masked over by brute strength. I would not say the relationship between Alain and Stephanie was a traditional love story. To the credit of the director and writers, I felt they brought out the beauty of the film by not making a standard love story. The screenplay went to a much deeper level as we observed two damaged individuals trying to make their way in life. My only criticism was the ending felt a little too neat and tidy, compared to the rest of the movie. With several brilliantly filmed scenes; this dark, emotionally charged film left me pondering the fine line between codependency and dependency. Brief scenes of blood and violence. French with English subtitles.
3 1/3 stars
A storyteller takes something ordinary and makes it interesting. With an added twist of words the mundane can be transformed into an extraordinary tale. Before I even began my schooling, I was exposed to a master storyteller–my father. Out of the entire family, my dad was the person who provided tall tales and comic relief for everyone. Anyone who was within ear shot would be drawn into my father’s fabrications. As a salesman, he covered the entire city and always found fodder for his next anecodote. The story of my dad stopping by to surprise my mother and me at the grocery store was completely transformed when he retold it. He would say he went into the store and found me crying at the service desk, separated from my mother. When the service manager asked him who he was, my dad said he was my father. The manager turned and asked me if that was my dad and all I could cry for was my mother, never acknowledging my father. It was these tall tales I grew up with and why this touching movie resonated with me. Albert Finney (Erin Brockovich, Annie) was the colorful character Ed Bloom. After being diagnosed with cancer; his estranged son Will, played by Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, Watchmen), returned home to reconcile with his dad and find out the truth behind the wild stories he had heard growing up. Told in flashbacks the younger Ed Bloom was portrayed by Ewan McGregor (The Impossible, Beginners). Director Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Planet of the Apes) surprised me with this touching, imaginative story. The entire cast blended together so well, that I had no trouble going from fanciful stories to current reality. Jessica Lange was wonderful as she played Ed’s grounded wife Sandra. It was fun to see a younger Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Reservoir Dogs), Danny DeVito (Batman Returns, Twins), Marion Cotillard (Inception, Contagion) and Helena Bonham Carter (Les Miserables, Harry Potter franchise) make up part of the ensemble. This charming movie is being turned into a Broadway play. I believe it will easily transfer to the big stage and do quite well for this simple reason: if you cannot exaggerate the story, then it just isn’t worth telling.
3 1/3 stars — DVD