IT WAS NOT THE RIDES THAT interested me at carnivals and local amusement parts; it was the games of chance. When I was younger, I would save up my allowance for these games. I was convinced I could win prizes and boy did I love looking at all the prizes. There was a game where I would have to throw rubber rings at a table full of empty bottles and try to get the ring to land on the bottle’s neck. Each toss I would see my ring bounce from one bottle to the next while I secretly wished for it to land on a bottle instead of dropping down between them. The prizes, big fluffy stuffed animals, were on a shelf that went around the top of the entire booth. There was another game that was or like a game called Skeeball, where one had to roll a ball down a lane that curved up at the end to propel the ball hopefully into one of the holes on the backboard. Each hole was labelled with a number; the higher the number the bigger the prize. With every roll of the ball I would make adjustments, hoping I would get the ball into the center hole to receive the biggest prize. OUT OF ALL THE GAMES AT A carnival, one of my favorites was the slot car racing one. It was because I had my very own race car model. There was a model store in the neighborhood where me and a cousin would race our cars on the elaborate race track that was set up in the middle of the store. Unfortunately, I could not use my race car at the carnival games (imagine that); however, it did not matter because I loved racing cars. I cannot tell you how much money I spent at those games and rarely did I ever win a race. Seeing the winner of the race receive a cool prize from off the shelf would only make me more determined to play the race again. My cousin was the same way because we felt with all of our experience there was no reason why we could not crush the competition. Thinking back on it I would hate to think how much money I spent on those games; little did I know they were designed to thwart the participant from winning. However, once I saw what I could win I did not think about how much I was spending to get that prize. The same was true for the head of the Ford Motor company in this biographical, dramatic action film. AFTER HEARING THE DISPARAGING COMMENTS THE chairman of Ferrari made about his company Henry Ford II, played by Tracy Letts (Lady Bird, The Post), was determined to build a car that would beat Ferrari’s car at France’s Le Mans race. It did not matter how much it would cost him. With Matt Damon (The Martian, The Departed) as Carroll Shelby, Christian Bale (Vice, The Big Shot) as Ken Miles, Jon Bernthal (The Accountant, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Lee Iacocca and Caitriona Balfe (Escape Plan, Outlander-TV) as Mollie Miles; this was an exciting film to watch. I am not fond of watching car races, but I would see this picture again. The acting was outstanding, matching the well-done script that captured the 1960s perfectly. I found the racing scenes thrilling and felt at times I was sitting in the race cars. For being such a long movie, I rarely noticed the time going by because the script and action kept me engaged with the story. Whether the story was accurate in this movie, it did not matter because I found it to be a logical progression of events and feelings. Compared to the money I used to spend at those carnival games, buying a ticket to see this film made me feel like a winner.
IT APPEARS TO ME when people are reaching a certain age they start going through their home to get rid of stuff. I have recently noticed this due to a few friends, who started doing this very thing recently. They are rummaging through their closets, drawers and basements pulling out a variety of items, from unused tools to shoes that were never taken out of their original packaging. I know this because they are sending me photos showing their stuff piled up, waiting to be donated, recycled or thrown away. In fact a friend of mine who runs an antique/thrift shop was telling me how the store has always gotten items from estate sales or people who are clearing out the homes of their deceased relatives. However now he noticed more and more people are bringing in their own items, telling him they no longer need it or they are downsizing. WHEN THE TIME COMES for me to reorganize my house I know I will have a lot of items to donate or give away. Like so many people I am an acquirer (a kinder way of saying I like to shop). There was a period of time where I bought into the mindset that the person with the most stuff wins. Because I have the space when I bought, let us say, a new pair of pants or shoes, I did not bother getting rid of a similar item from my closet. I think I do this because I have this constant thought that at some point in time I will need that item for whatever reason. Slacks that are too big for me hang in the attic in case I put on weight or have a dinner guest that spills on their pants and needs to wear something while their stained slacks are in the wash. Maybe a better way of explaining this desire for stuff is to look at the way electronic items and children’s toys are marketed these days. Now when a new thing comes out it suddenly becomes a big event, drawing in and making people believe they would be better off with the new item. Need takes a back seat to desire. Let us face it, who wants to feel like they are being left behind as everyone else is jumping on the shopping bandwagon for new stuff. This film festival winning dramatic comedy has something to say about it. FINDING IT HARDER TO make ends meet Audrey and Paul Safranek, played by Kristen Wiig (Ghostbusters, Masterminds) and Matt Damon (The Martian, The Great Wall), agree to become part of the new trend of downsizing oneself to 5” tall and live like a millionaire. However being small doesn’t mean one will have smaller issues to deal with. With Christoph Waltz (Tulip Fever, Big Eyes) as Dusan Mirkovic, Hong Chau (Inherent Vice, Treme-TV) as Ngoc Lan Tran and Rolf Lassgard (A Man Called Ove, After the Wedding) as Dr. Jorgen Asbjornsen; this story caught my attention right from the start. The first part was both fun and curious; but then other story lines came in and none of them ever became fully developed for me. I found it an odd mix that made me lose interest, though I enjoyed the visual contrasts. The story presented was a social satire that could have led to some interesting conversation afterwards, but instead what was in my head was clutter I wanted to clear out.
IT STARTED WITH THREE friends who decided to get together for dinner and a movie. They had been friends for years so pretty much knew each others’ tastes regarding food and films. Once the date was found that fit into everyone’s schedule the three friends could figure out where to meet. It was during this brief time when one of the friends asked if they could bring a friend of theirs; the other friends had met the person a few times already so they were fine with including another person into their movie night. A few days later this new addition into the group asked if their cousin could join. The friends could not say no, so starting out with a group of three grew now to five. By the time everyone was getting together there were a total of seven people in attendance. Things were going to get interesting with that many people now involved in the decision process. WHERE THE THREE ORIGINAL friends could quickly pick a restaurant to fit the taste preferences for all of them, these additional people torpedoed that certainty. One person did not like Chinese food, another would not eat Mexican cuisine, one person did not want to spend “too much” money on food; the decision process turned into a mess. Emails, calls and texts were going back and forth nixing one suggestion while negotiating another. It took days to decide on a restaurant that would suit everyone’s demands and even that restaurant was agreed to begrudgingly by a couple of the individuals. One of the three original friends had little patience for someone who agrees to do something then spends the whole time being sour about being there. Chances were good this scenario could happen at the restaurant; I agree because I have been in this very situation myself. Things rarely go well when there are multiple people who each have strong opinions on what should take place. It seems the writers of this dramatic, crime mystery were suffering the same fate. A QUIET SUBURBAN NEIGHBORHOOD reels out of control when a loan shark comes to collect a debt and a black family moves in. With Matt Damon (Inside Job, The Great Wall) as Gardner, Julianne Moore (Maggie’s Plan, Still Alice) as Rose/Margaret, Noah Jupe (The Night Manager, Wonder) as Nicky, Glenn Fleshler (A Most Violent Year, Boardwalk Empire-TV) as Sloan and Oscar Isaac (The Promise, Drive) as Bud Cooper; I overall enjoyed the entire cast and each of their characters. Add in the perfect sets and costumes and this film looked like it was going to be a winner. I was so wrong and I feel the reason was due to the script. There were too many storylines; one could be considered a drama, the other a comedy and another one of a more mysterious nature. As I was getting into the action of one, the scene would change and go to a different subject. All this did was make me lose interest in what was happening on the screen. If I had not liked the actors I think it would have been true boredom to sit there. It really was a shame because each story line could have easily been separated into its own movie. I could see each of them being a good and engaging story that I would want to see. Sadly this was just a mess but on the bright side if you are out with a group of friends, I think you would all agree to give this one a pass.
1 ¾ stars
It was time; the house he grew up in was standing empty. He had moved up a level and now was part of the older generation within the family. His childhood home sat on a quiet street, though back then it was not the case. The house was home base for all of his friends to come over and hang out. With a jungle gym and swings, there was always something to do on a lazy summer day. But now as he walked up the front stairs there was only the echo of memories from his youth. Once inside the house he saw some of the same furnishings that were part of his childhood. There was the old wooden rocking chair where his mother would rock him to sleep in her lap. The paintings on the wall, which were used by him to create stories to amuse his parents, now hung crookedly as if they were exhausted from all the years they had been hanging up by only nails in the wall. Anything he wanted in the house he had already received from his parents while they were alive; he was there now to make the house presentable for sale. On each visit he focused on one room and today’s visit meant he was going to work in the attic. After passing through a series of dusty cobwebs he found the light switch to add extra light to the light coming in from the muted windows. It was just before lunchtime, while going through a pile of files; he found a document he had never seen in his entire life. It was a birth certificate for a male baby born on the same date of his birth, but the baby had a different name. He sat directly down on the floor, shocked by the document in his hands; he had a twin brother. News of this kind has a way of altering one’s perceptions about their life; look what it did to the main character in this action thriller. AFTER being off the grid for so long CIA special agent Jason Bourne, played by Matt Damon (The Martian, The Departed), had to have a good reason to resurface and make his presence known. This sequel’s forte was the action scenes; they were fast and intense. With Tommy Lee Jones (The Homesman, Lincoln) as CIA director Robert Dewey, Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl, A Royal Affair) as Heather Lee and Vince Cassel (Black Swan, Irreversible) as the Asset; the acting from Tommy and Alicia stood out for me. Credit however has to be given to an older Matt for pulling off his character again after all this time. I thought the idea for the story was interesting and would have provided suspenseful entertainment. However, the script was not strong enough to support the story. The movie was more like a series of chase scenes broken up by a series of flashbacks. In addition, I found some scenes lacked enough information to make sense out of them. Though I did not remember details about the previous films I do not think it contributed to my feelings about this picture.
2 ¼ stars
I always want to be respectful of people’s feelings, even when I know with pain and discomfort it is all about perspective. Someone complaining about a nasty paper cut is something I can understand and sympathize along with the person. However, compared to someone having a limb amputated due to disease, the paper cut appears pretty minor; it is all about perspective. Last week was a challenging time for me. I am still a novice when it comes to doing things that are computer related and I had 2 online courses that had to be completed by October 1st. Without formal training on how to navigate the website, I felt lost as I struggled to find my way to taking and completing the courses. In fact on one site, every time after I logged in and clicked on the course title I was brought back to the login screen. Even trying it on a different computer and operating system ended with the same results; it was absolutely frustrating as I had to work with the site’s help desk as the clock was ticking. At the same time my day job was getting busier as we approached month end, so my mind was being heavily taxed to say the least. And if that was not enough I thought a birthday gift I had ordered online was missing as the birthdate was fast approaching. By the time Friday end of work rolled around it took all my energy just to go park the car and buy my theater ticket to see this dramatic adventure film. Right from the start my problems quickly disappeared as I saw what the main character had to endure in his situation. ABANDONED and left for dead astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon (Interstellar, Saving Private Ryan), realized he had to find a way to contact NASA and his crew before his food and supplies would run out. Mars was not going to be helpful in his endeavor. From director Ridley Scott (American Gangster, Black Hawk Down), this science fiction film was extra special because of its cast, which included Jessica Chastain (Mama, A Most Violent Year) as Melissa Lewis and Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber franchise, Looper) as Teddy Sanders; everyone was outstanding with their characters. The other reason I was transported to Mars was due to the script; special effects took a back seat as I realized I was getting an abundance of technological jargon, but Matt made everything seem believable to me. Nothing seemed frivolous; I felt Ridley used a deft touch in letting the tension and drama play off of each other. There were some scenes where I was sitting on the edge of my seat in nervous anticipation and in the next moment I was sitting back as my eyes teared up. This picture absolutely took me away to a different place, besides adding a new perspective to this year’s batch of Oscar worthy movies. One brief scene showed blood in it.
Carefully with a crayon I would outline the picture in the coloring book, using a heavy hand. Once done I would shade in the different segments of the page. This was the way I created art when I was little. The first time I was taken to an art museum I was amazed by the artwork. Up until that time I was only familiar with paint by number paintings. It was not until I matured that I realized art was an expression or application of a human’s creative skills. Art pieces can move us to tears, laughter or reflection besides being a mirror to our souls. To this day I find it unsettling when a room has no art in it. I first became aware of the historical theft of famous masterpieces during World War II in the startling documentary, “The Rape of Europa” which I reviewed here some time ago. The idea of systematically stealing the world’s art treasures from museums, churches, even people’s homes was something I could barely comprehend. Whether you enjoy art or not; you would have to agree it plays an important part in a society’s culture. This dramatic action film was based on Robert M. Edsel’s book about a small group of artisans who were chosen to track down and retrieve stolen masterpieces, that were being amassed in Germany during World War II. George Clooney (Gravity, Up in the Air) wrote, directed and starred in this film. Playing Frank Stokes, it was his responsibility to bring together art experts and craftsmen from around the world, who would have to survive basic training before they could start their mission in Europe. Among the members he chose were Matt Damon (Elysium, The Departed) as James Granger, John Goodman (Argo, Inside Llewyn Davis) as Walter Garfield and Bill Murray (Moonrise Kingdom, Lost in Translation) as Richard Campbell. Now with a cast like this one would have to wonder if the movie was a drama or a comedy and this was one of my main issues with the story. The screenplay was dreadful; I did not understand why there were cheap bits of humor placed in what could have been a tense exciting film. Casting Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, Hanna) as Claire only proved that she was a better actor than the rest of the cast. I am afraid George Clooney took a light hand in creating this loose and confused movie. It really did not do justice to the actual people who saved the artwork and in turn saved a piece of our humanity. A couple of scenes had blood in them.
There was something about the piano that attracted me to it. I did not play with musical toys as a baby, but I had two aunts who each had a piano in their home. Whenever we would visit these relatives invariably I would be found sitting at the piano, pressing the keys in different patterns. I never pounded on the keys; in my mind I thought I was actually playing a song, though I could not read a single note of music. What fascinated me was the infinite combinations I could create with all those keys at my fingertips. It was later when I realized other musical instruments had the ability to create the same combinations, but it did not have the same flourish like a pianist. I remember one of the first concerts I attended had a pianist front and center. The way his fingers rippled across the keys, creating sounds as soft as a cat’s purr to booming roars of harmonic fireworks; I wanted to play the piano just like him. For eight years I took piano lessons so I have an appreciation for any skilled musician. If you add outlandish outfits and lavish sets, you will have the star of this biographical drama. Michael Douglas (Falling Down, Wonder Boys) was amazing with his performance playing Liberace. The story was based on the autobiographical book written by Scott Thorson, who had a tumultuous relationship with the entertainer. Though Michael Douglas won an Emmy for his performance, Matt Damon (Elysium, Promised Land) as Scott was equally as impressive with his acting in this Emmy winning movie. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Side Effects, Magic Mike), there was a steady layout of scenes. It was during the quiet scenes where the story really shinned. To balance out the weighted dramatic parts, Rob Lowe (Wayne’s World, The West Wing-TV) as Dr. Jack Startz and Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Trading Places) as manager Seymour Heller handled the comedic elements. One of the biggest surprises for me was finding out who played Liberace’s mother Frances. I am not going to mention her name in this review and I hope you do not try to find out before seeing her in this film. With the understanding we are seeing the life of Liberace through Scott’s eyes; this still was a glimpse behind the flash of rhinestones and sequins only to find a dark, troubled life from a different era.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
Depending on my mood, I can usually find a movie to fulfill my needs. When I want to sit back and check out from reality, a fantasy or science fiction film is the perfect choice. To learn more about a subject, whether it is of historical or current value, I seek out a documentary. I find this to be one of the major attributes about movies; the incredible variety they offer us. There are times, however, when a film can take me by total surprise and this action filled science fiction movie was one of them. Expecting to just see a dramatic fantasy, this movie was relevant to me on a personal level. Having recently spent 2 days with a family member in a hospital emergency room and at doctor visits, I was exposed to the harsh realities of being sick. Witnessing the monumental processing and procedures placed on patients and staff, I sat and wondered how things would be if one did not have insurance or on the other hand, one had an all encompassing insurance policy. I cannot tell you the shock I had as I watched the emergency room nurses handle everything that came through their doors. My family member was fortunate to have a private space where the doctors were able to look him over; unlike the poor woman who was laid out on a gurney in the middle of the hallway. Set in the year 2154, this stunning film was about a society that was split into 2 classes. The poor and disadvantaged citizens lived on a bleak, exhausted earth while the wealthy lived on a space station called Elysium; a place that had eliminated sickness and crime. Matt Damon (Promised Land, The Adjustment Bureau) played factory worker Max. When a fatal accident left Max with only days to live; he agreed to take on a risky mission that could not only save his life, but could change the fate of the entire planet. Matt was a solid workhorse in this role, helped by the wild hardware implanted in his body. The movie’s special effects and sets were so naturally beautiful, I got lost in the realness of them. There was such detail to every shot that it made the story’s weaknesses stand out even more. I did not feel emotionally attached to any of the characters. Sadly Jodie Foster’s (Panic Room, Contact) character Delacourt Rhodes was odd to me. Why she had an accent was beyond me; I did not find her character had any depth. The strongest screen presence came from Sharlto Copley (District 9, The A-Team) as undercover agent Kruger. I could see where writer and director Neill Blomkamp (District 9) was going with this movie about the haves and have-nots; it was a valiant effort. Depending on your mood when you view this film, you will either take a trip to Elysium or sit and wish things were going better for you. A few scenes had blood in them.
2 3/4 stars
I would have been angrier if I had seen this documentary a few years ago. Having survived the global financial crisis of 2008, I know I am one of the lucky ones. Seeing co-workers being let go, consoling friends who lost their homes to foreclosure, worrying about uninsured family members with health issues; I do not recall ever being so overwhelmed with all the negative news. Every generation grows up with the expectation to have an easier life than the previous group. For the very first time in modern history that is no longer the case. Because the wealthiest group of people make up only a small percentage of the population, the average citizen may not have an understanding of derivatives or credit default swaps; I certainly have no need to pay attention to such things. However, I do know what the words greed, selfish and power hungry mean. This Oscar winning film presented the crisis in laymen’s terms without choosing political sides. Not that I now understand the financial markets any better, but at least I can see how people’s thirst for money and power nearly brought down the world economy. The hardest part was seeing how these people barely suffered the consequences of their actions. Director and writer Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight) did an incredible job piecing together the events that led up to the financial meltdown of 2008. Matt Damon (Promised Land, Contagion) was the narrator, taking us through charts and interviews with politicians, economists, professors and former chairmen to name a few. Now you may think this all sounds like it would be dry and boring to watch; it was not the case. I credit the style of questioning that was done. Interviewees were either asked straightforward questions or requested to comment on their past speeches and published articles. I will say there were times I liked seeing some of these individuals squirm when their past conclusions or actions ran contrary to current facts. There is nothing I can do to change the past; I can only use history as a teaching tool as I try to live each day in a responsible way. It was a shame other people did not have the same idea.
4 stars — DVD
I resent it when I am treated like a number or statistic by a large corporation. What happened where the corporate world felt it was not important to offer a personal touch when dealing with customers? At least that has been my experience. This point was driven home by the bank that had my mortgage. When I decided to refinance with them, I never imagined I would spend the following 6 months in corporate hell. From denying my application due to a mistake they made, to giving me three different dollar amounts I would need at closing; the only way I could get someone to listen to me was to show up at one of the bank’s branches and let my dark side out, making a scene. This is not my usual modus operandi but I felt no respect from them. The premise for this movie was set up in a somewhat similar way: large energy company pitted against a small town. Matt Damon (We Bought a Zoo, The Adjustment Bureau) played Steve Butler, the company’s representative whose job was to buy up the drilling rights from the town’s homeowners. Joining him was his partner Sue Thomason, played beautifully by Frances McDormand (Almost Famous, Moonrise Kingdom). What the energy company expected to be an easy job was met with resistance from science teacher Frank Yates, played by Hal Holbrook (Lincoln, Into the Wild) and environmentalist Dustin Noble, played by John Krasinski (It’s Complicated, Big Miracle). With Matt and John having written the screenplay, I was hoping for a deeper developed story that provided more insight to both sides. Instead this movie was only a generic version of the proverbial David and Goliath story. The character of Alice, played by Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married, Your Sister’s Sister), rang false to me and changed the dynamics of the story, leading it to a poor ending. This film could have been better if they went with an edgier story; which would have made for a serious, dramatic movie.
2 1/3 stars