HE WALKED OUT ONTO THE STAGE and told us at one time we were his enemy. Well, I was not expecting that as the introduction to my college history class. The lecture hall was full of students; this was one course that was in high demand because of its professor. If I had not read his bio, I would still know what part of the world he came from based on his heavy accent. To tell you the truth it added authenticity to his lectures, I believed. He continued his introduction by explaining how he was forced to enlist in the army, to help in his country’s war against us. Though they ultimately lost the war, he claimed no one learned from it; people are stupid and will repeat history over again. There was dead silence all around as his last words lightly echoed through the hall. Until people stop hating, he proclaimed, they will never learn and help their society advance. He went on to talk about his experiences during the war, giving us insight into his countrymen’s perceptions and interpretations of known events. It was fascinating to me as I listened to a different version of the history I had been taught in school. For the first day of class, this professor was already stretching our minds. THE TOPICS THIS PROFESSOR DISCUSSED IN his lectures many years ago still rang true for me as I was watching this biographical drama. The subjects that were being discussed back in the 1960s seemed just as current as what is taking place presently around us. I do not know if I can describe it, but it made this historical story resonate within me. History does repeat itself; the arguments that took place decades ago are still an issue today. Everyone has experienced some form of prejudice, I believe. For me, the attacks on me were based on a variety of things from weight to religion to the type of music I listened to, if you can believe that. I consider all of it, whether it is race, origin of birth, or some other aspect of a person; fundamentally hatred. People are afraid to learn; they would rather hang on to their prejudices that were instilled in them. I say instilled because hate is not something we are born with; it is taught to us. Watching this film and seeing what is taking place currently in the world only shows you we still have a lot of work to do. UNEXPECTANTLY BEING THRUST INTO THE PRESIDENCY, Lyndon B. Johnson, played by Bryan Cranston (The Upside, Last Flag Flying), wanted to do what was right for the country. Unfortunately, there were many senators who did not share his idea of what was right. With Anthony Mackie (The Adjustment Bureau, Captain America franchise) as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Melissa Leo (The Fighter, The Equalizer franchise) as Lady Bird Johnson, Frank Langella (The Box, Robot & Frank) as Senator Richard Russell and Bradley Whitford (The Last Full Measure, Get Out) as Senator Hubert Humphrey; this film festival winner had Bryan giving a tour de force performance as Lyndon. And with Lady Bird by his side, I did not recognize Melissa Leo; she did an amazing job of acting also. So many people think of Lyndon as the Viet Nam president, but he was so much more. I thought the script was excellent as it played a cat and mouse game between several of the government officials. Everyone in the cast was excellent and with the script I felt the writers and cast really brought history to life in this picture. Adapted from the Tony award winning Broadway play, I was thrilled to have been able to watch this piece of history come to life. Now if we can just learn from it.
3 ½ stars
SIR ISAAC NEWTON’S THIRD LAW states: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I would add: And some of the reactions come with consequences. As I thought about the next sentence I was going to write, I want to preface it by saying I am embarrassed. However, upon further consideration I decided I am not going to be embarrassed; I am simply stating how I feel about certain things. So here goes; I take pleasure in seeing someone getting their just dues. For example, a driver who cuts me off and speeds away, getting stopped by a police officer who gives the driver a speeding ticket. Or I love at the supermarket when a shopper starts walking faster to get ahead of me in line to check out and winds up getting stuck by the shopper in front of them who needs a price check on an item. Because they ran ahead of me I went to a different line and wound up getting checked out before them. It is little things like this that makes me believe in karma. My only hope is that those selfish individuals learn from their actions; but from how many times I still witness such behavior, I do not think the lesson gets taught. ONE OF MY ALL TIME FAVORITE stories is about a friend of mine who took such rude behavior to the next level. He was a big, brawny guy who could appear imposing to people. In a parking lot if a driver sneaked into a parking spot he was waiting for, he would pull right up behind the driver and park his car to block them into the spot. The driver would jump out to yell until they got a look at him. He on the other hand would calmly stare and tell them because they took the spot he was obviously waiting for, they could now sit and wait for him to finish his shopping. Or they could apologize, get back into their car, and he would move to let them out to go find a different parking place. Every person my friend did this to always chose the apology option. I wish I had the guts to do such a thing; but since I do not come across as a “tough” guy, I must take satisfaction in believing a rude person will get their “just desserts.” In the meantime, I at least can take pleasure in seeing justice being done in this action, crime thriller. WHEN A TRAGEDY STRIKES CLOSE to home Robert McCall, played by Denzel Washington (Fences, The Magnificent Seven), comes out of his quiet existence to contact his old partner Dave York, played by Pedro Pascal (The Great Wall, The Adjustment Bureau). Problem is, Dave thought Robert was dead. This film festival nominee also starred Ashton Sanders (Moonlight, Straight Outta Compton) as Miles Whittaker, Bill Pullman (Lake Placid, Independence Day franchise) as Brian Plummer and Orson Bean (Being John Malkovich, Innerspace) as Sam Rubinstein. As far as I was concerned this movie did exactly what I expected it to do; it was a good people vs bad people story. Denzel was excellent as Robert which was the first time he ever reprised a character. If you have not seen the previous film or television show this picture is based on, it is okay. The story was simple and to the point. I thought the action scenes were terrific, especially one that took place in a car sharing ride. Though the script was predictable, I was surprised by the twist in it. If you are so inclined in watching justice being served, this is the film to watch as Denzel delivers it.
2 ½ stars
Go ahead call me paranoid, I have been called worse; but I try to do as little as possible any personal business on the internet. When I am forced to purchase an item online and the site asks me if I want to save my charge card information I always decline the offer. I am sure I mentioned this before but I do not have an ATM card; I have heard so many horror stories about people having their identity stolen that I do not need to have that easy of an access to my bank. This week the news reported a major hacking of a popular web site; what was it, up to 50 million people may have had their information stolen? I do not want to tempt fate but I have had 3 incidents where my credit card information was stolen. One of those times it was the restaurant waitress serving us who took down my credit card info and tried to make a purchase with it. Fortunately the issuing banks caught each of the incidents immediately and closed my account. On one of this site’s social media outlets I have been reading about a follower who had their personal information stolen and now the thief has been reaching out to all of the victim’s contacts for money. The impersonator wrote their banking information was hacked so the bank froze the account, asking the contacts if they could float some money until everything gets resolved. Can you believe this?!?! So feel free to call me old fashioned or behind the times; I would rather have peace of mind instead of fighting to get my stolen identity back. This dramatic action biography did nothing to calm me down. DISCOVERING where the government was searching for information Edward Snowden, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Walk, Don Jon), decided he could no longer be part of the process. Based on the book “The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man,” this movie was co-written and directed by Oliver Stone (Natural Born Killers, Any Given Sunday). Joseph did a fantastic job of acting in this role, but he was not alone. There was Shailene Woodley (The Fault in our Stars, Divergent franchise) as Lindsay Mills, Zachary Quinto (Star Trek franchise, Margin Call) as Glen Greenwald, Melissa Leo (Prisoners, The Fighter) as Laura Poitras and Tom Wilkinson (Belle, Michael Clayton) as Ewen MacAskill. There were times during this picture where I thought the story was powerful and tense. As I alluded to earlier, I was stunned seeing some of the surveillance techniques that were depicted in several scenes. Though the acting was wonderful, I felt the script was scattered in parts. There were scenes of Edward in the military, scenes with Lindsay and current scenes that made the flow of the story a bit jagged. I felt the story itself was substantial; it was the main drive in grabbing my attention. Without getting into the politics of Edward’s actions; based on the story that was presented here, I left the theater feeling like I was entertained. Yet I was more scared than when I first arrived to see this film.
2 ¾ stars
As you may know I am not a major fan of the horror film genre. Part of the reason has to do with the characters that are employed for the story. I do not find zombies, mutants, vampires or any other such fictional beings to be inherently frightening. Sure their actions may make me squirm in my seat; however, I find reality can be scarier than fiction. When riding public transportation I no longer have my cell phone or MP3 player visible. When there is snow and ice on the road I am scared of aggressive drivers who cut in front or tailgate me, making no allowances for winter conditions. There is another group of people that truly frighten me. Individuals with fanatical, extreme views make me uncomfortable. I have witnessed their hateful actions. As far as they are concerned if you do not follow their beliefs then you are damned. For me this is scarier than any horror movie I have seen until now. In this film festival winning movie, writer and director Kevin Smith (Clerks franchise, Chasing Amy) put his own spin in creating this horror tale. After setting up an online date to meet Sara, played by Melissa Leo (Prisoners, The Fighter); friends Travis, Jarod and Billy Ray, played by Michael Angarano (Almost Famous, Sky High), Kyle Gallner (Jennifer’s Body, Beautiful Creatures) and Nicholas Braun (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Watch), headed out to meet her for a good time. The boys did not know Sara was part of a radical fundamentalist group that was on the radar of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. This action thriller surprised me with the way it took something that could have easily been in the news and twisted it to a bigger extreme. Besides having the very capable Melissa Leo easily handling her character, I felt the movie received a boost by the presence of John Goodman (Argo, Inside Llewyn Davis) as federal agent Joseph Keenan. If you believe people could not be so extreme with their beliefs then you might not enjoy this action thriller. I found the story credible and could see it taking place, though maybe not to the level it reached; at least I hope so. As a complete film I found a few parts that did not make much sense; maybe it was trying to be satirical and I was not sure. For the fact this was a different take on the horror genre, it kept my interest even with several bloody scenes. Putting the idea for this story in proper perspective, one only has to take a look at our history of the past several decades. I cannot think of any recent horror film that would be scarier than encountering some of the characters in this bloody movie.
2 1/4 stars — DVD
The further technology advances the less personal it becomes is something everyone has heard. From what I have seen I believe it is true. For example, I have noticed a change in people’s reactions to amber alerts. Though everyone still acknowledges such news with sympathy, the feelings do not last long. Driving on the highways it is not uncommon to see an amber alert posted on the electronic signs hanging over the road. For myself, I will take note of the car’s description listed in the message but once I exit the highway the memory fades. With the immediate bombardment of news we get on a daily basis, the significance of each story bleeds into the next until all of it becomes this obscure sea of information that floats outside of us. That is not the case when it comes to this intense crime mystery movie; it brings the story down to a personal level. Hugh Jackman (X-Men franchise, The Prestige) in one of his best roles played Keller Dover, the father of a missing daughter. With his wife Grace, played by Maria Bello (Towelhead, Secret Window) suffering over the loss and Detective Loki’s, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Zodiac, End of Watch), perceived inability to arrest a suspect; Keller would take matters into his own hands, doing whatever it would take to find his daughter. I was totally taken by Hugh’s wide-ranging performance; he was incredible. It was funny, at first I did not understand Jake’s character because I thought the acting was odd from him. But then slowly I began to grasp what Jake was doing and found his interpretation to be quite powerful. It was a different type of character for him and I felt he nailed it. Viola Davis (Won’t Back Down, The Help) as Nancy Birch and Melissa Leo (Frozen River, The Fighter) as Holly Jones were outstanding; Viola does suffering better than almost any other actress I know. The story was not simple; in fact, I feel I need to see this film again to really make some connections I thought I was missing due to some twists. This was a tough, emotional, in your face movie filled with raw emotions, prepare yourself. It is one thing to hear or read about a crime; it is another to see it unfold in front of your eyes. There were several scenes of violence with blood.
3 1/2 stars
Around the globe there are iconic structures that mean something to a variety of individuals. From the Grand Canyon to the Eiffel Tower, their fame becomes part of our memories, whether we have seen them with our own eyes or not. The first time I saw the White House I was standing outside of it as a peaceful rally was taking place. Suddenly there was a whirling sound that increased in tempo. The president’s helicopter rose above the White House and began to head towards us. I remember the helicopter moving higher above our heads as if it was floating on the breeze from our waving hands. With this memory I already had an investment in this action film. Transferred to a different department job after a tragic accident; secret service agent Mike Banning’s, played by Gerard Butler (Law Abiding Citizen, Playing for Keeps), training kicked in when the White House came under attack. If it meant taking a bullet; Mike’s conditioning prepared him to do so in order to protect the president. The cast had a roster of fine actors to tackle the task of portraying powerful political figures. Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole, Thank You for Smoking) as President Benjamin Asher, Morgan Freeman (Invictus, Million Dollar Baby) as Speaker Trumbull and Melissa Leo (The Fighter, Frozen River) as Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan to name a few. Gerard was no-nonsense in his character; he handled his wisecracks as well as his killings. What bothered me was a majority of the fight scenes were cloaked in shadows, making it hard to see the action. Granted this would be an advantage for those who cannot watch bloody violence. The thing I found most annoying was the soundtrack. It was made of cloying dramatic musical swells that took tension away from the scenes. The story was standard good guy/bad guy fare with a couple of surprises and a few unrealistic notions. All the movie needed was the opportunity for the President to say at some point, “Not in my house!” Scenes filled with graphic blood and violence.
2 1/2 stars
When a loved one that was part of your life is no longer there, the unconscious breath becomes a daily chore. The echo of your heartbeat has stopped reverberating in the soft walls of your mind. Each following day, the weight of your body remains rooted in your legs, forcing them to struggle whenever you are in an upright position. Your pristine eyes that were clear and bright, only record blurred moist images now. I have been there and I am sure many of you have been too. That is why I could understand the couple’s pain regarding their loss in this dramatic movie. Married couple Lois and Douglas “Doug” Riley, played by Melissa Leo (The Fighter, Frozen River) and James Gandolfini (Killing Them Softly, The Sopranos-TV), were only going through the motions each and every day after the death of their daughter. The two were not really living anymore. On a business trip to New Orleans, Doug decided he was going to stay after meeting young stripper Allison alias Mallory, played by Kristen Stewart (Twilight franchise, The Runaways). By discovering what he was missing, could Doug begin to live again? Creating such broken characters and then letting James and Melissa delve into them, made for a powerful performance. I could feel how their pain was keeping them stagnant. Though I am not a fan of Kristen’s acting, I will say her style of performing lent itself to making her character believable for me. At times I had to wonder if some of the trio’s acting was being ad libbed because it came across as natural conversation. This Sundance Film Festival nominee was a surprise find for me. I did not have to understand how Doug and Lois dealt with their loss; I just wanted to be there for them. Strong language.
3 stars — DVD
How far would you go, using desparate measures, if you knew you only had a short time, before you could lose everything? As bitter as the winter season, with hope becoming as frosted as the St. Lawrence River, Ray Eddy, played by Melissa Leo (21 Grams, The Fighter), has no choice in her decision: become a smuggler of illegal immigrants. As the title of the movie implies, she does this by driving over the St. Lawrence River when frozen, bringing the hidden immigrants in from Canada through the Mohawk reservation, which reaches into Quebec from New York. When one hears about crossing the border, most people think of the southern border of the United States with Mexico. It was fascinating to have the location in a small northern town instead. Melissa’s raw presentation was incredible. One could feel the despair coming out of her. It was an amazing performance worth watching. Even Trooper Finnerty, played by Michael O’Keefe (Michael Clayton, Too Big to Fail) can sense her turmoil, though he is bound to uphold the law. A bitter, cold observation of a woman in crisis, this movie has to be seen–even if it means you have to wear a sweater to do so.
3 1/2 stars — DVD