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Flash Movie Review: 12 Strong

THERE WERE THESE BLACK AND yellow booklets/study guides I remember you could buy at a bookstore, which some folk a/k/a students used in lieu of reading an entire book. For example if a student was assigned the novel Moby Dick or Great Expectations, they could buy the study guide of the book. I have to say these booklets were an interesting idea because they did help in one’s ability to understand what they had read in the actual book. This would be beneficial if one had to write a book report or do an oral presentation of a novel. However to only read the bumblebee colored study guide would not give you the full richness of the story. Taking Moby Dick as an example, the description of the story in the booklet would be something like, “A fisherman is determined to catch a big fish.” The study guide would not give one the depth of each character with all the nuances and mannerisms of them. I believe they were only supposed to enhance the reading experience, not be a substitute for the novel.     NOW PERSONALLY I HAD SEVERAL of these study guides and not to sound like a “goody two shoes,” but I needed them to help me comprehend some of the passages I had read in several assigned books. Being a slow reader there were times I barely could finish a book before my book report was due. When I read a novel the imagery the author is creating appears right before my eyes. I feel as if I am right there with the characters. For me this is what I feel the reading experience should provide the reader. If an image cannot form I have a hard time connecting to the story; something every author wants to avoid. Another way of describing these study guides is to say they are the same meal as the original novel less the spices and condiments. As I was watching this action drama film based on a true story, I felt like I was missing some of the ingredients.     SOON AFTER THE ATTACK ON the World Trade Center an elite group of soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan for a secret operation. All of their military training did not prepare them for riding into a battle on horseback. Starring Chris Hemsworth (In the Heart of the Sea, Rush) as Captain Mitch Nelson, Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Take Shelter) as Hal Spencer, Michael Pena (End of Watch, American Hustle) as Sam Diller, Navid Negahban (Charlie Wilson’s War, Homeland-TV) as General Dostum and Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight, Lady Luck) as Ben Milo; the actors needed a better script. The story itself was pretty unbelievable I have to say; from that aspect I was in step with this film. The fight scenes were intense and honestly the outcomes were somewhat shocking to me. However the script went from one battle to another to the point I felt I was just watching several videos of the soldiers’ battles. I never really knew the men’s motivations let alone their connections to each other. There were only a couple of scenes where I felt an emotional connection. In a way this picture reminded me of another war film that was shown in the past year or so, that was mostly tension with little story. Now I do not want to downplay the historical aspect of this story, but the script could not lift it to the level it needed to be in urgent importance. Based on this movie I would have rather seen a documentary about the unbelievable feat these soldiers endured.

 

2 ¼ stars

 

 

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Flash Movie Review: The Shape of Water

PIZZA IS ONE OF my favorite foods; I love pizza. Except for 2 pizzas, one from an independent stand alone restaurant and one from a national chain, I have not met a pizza I did not like. For me pizza is that type of food that can be eaten at any meal and then some. Cold pizza in the morning is just as good to me as a fresh out of the wood burning oven kind for lunch or dinner. With some friends or family members I have no problem ordering one large pizza for the 2 of us since we have similar tastes in toppings; and if not, we can just ask to add or subtract the differing topping off one side of the pizza. On the other hand there are some people I go out with where they have to get their own pizza because there is nothing I like about their topping choices and they will not strip their pizza down just to a basic cheese so we can share it.     RECENTLY I WAS OUT to dinner with a friend who ordered a pizza that looked like an abomination to me. It was a chipotle pizza with sausage and ranch dressing, extra ranch dressing I might add. Yuck, it looked horrible but here is the thing; they only know I do not like those toppings because I do not make a scene. I do not grab my neck with both hands showing the universal sign for choking or start gagging just as the pizza is placed on the table. Do you know why I do not make a scene? It is because they have just as much right to love their pizza toppings as I do with my choices. I am not going to taste their pizza and get indigestion or heartburn; their pizza has no affect on my choices in pizzas or how my body interacts with it. Seriously who am I, or for that matter who is anybody, to force their personal tastes on another pizza lover. I say go ahead and dig into whatever pizza makes you happy; I am not here to judge you. I am glad you have love in your heart for pizza because our ability to love is one of our greatest assets.     IN THE MIDDLE OF the cold war during the 1960s, the United States had a secret laboratory where they had in their possession something the Soviet Union desperately wanted to get. No one knew there was someone working at the lab who was also interested in this special cargo. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth), this film festival winner starred Sally Hawkins (Never Let Me Go, Maudie) as Elisa Esposito, Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals, Midnight Special) as Richard Strickland, Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Gifted) as Zelda Fuller, Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, LBJ) as Giles and Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Steve Jobs) as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler. Everyone in the cast did an outstanding performance; Sally and Michael truly are a gift to filmdom. I was absolutely taken away into this beautiful and meaningful film. Almost every scene allowed the viewer to have an emotional response and I loved the message that I interpreted from the script. It should be obvious I was totally into this dramatic, adventure fantasy and all I ask of you is if you plan on seeing what I feel will be a multiple award nominated picture this season then go into this movie with an open heart.

 

4 stars

Flash Movie Review: Frank & Lola

LOVE, when it is expressed, can be one of the purest and strongest emotions. At least that is what it can be depending on the person. When an individual falls in love they can find themselves smiling for no apparent reason or getting giddy with excitement in anticipation of being with the source of their love. Some people love going to the circus; they get to experience a range of emotions from the varied acts on display. Other people get in touch with their sense of love when they are able to hike up a mountain trail then sit out on the edge of a precipice. Another thing love can do is steer you away from your daily routines and venture into new territory, exploring the ways 2 people can blend their individual lives into a shared common one.   HOWEVER when a person sacrifices their other emotions and rational thoughts to focus strictly on love, they then have entered the land of the extremes. In this place a person scrutinizes every action, comment and reaction from the focus of their love. In turn they react in an extreme way to the point of becoming obsessive. I was in a relationship some time ago where things started out in an easy way for us. We seemed compatible and had similar tastes in things. As the weeks went by little things started cropping up that I found odd. For example a delay in us getting together due to a prior commitment I had would produce a passive aggressive response in an attempt to make me feel guilty, hoping I would change my plans. This was a red flag for me and a cause of concern. Maybe if my ego was inflated I would have enjoyed the attention and their need to be with me; instead, it caused a disconcerting feeling inside of me. My instincts turned out to be correct. I was being turned into this desired object that they needed to feel fulfilled and complete in their life. Obsession can be a lethal road for one to travel on.   FRANK, played by Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals, Midnight Special), was falling deeper in love with Lola, played by Imogen Poots (Green Room, Need for Speed), to the point where even warning signs could not influence him. This film festival nominated drama also starred Justin Long (Drag Me to Hell, Accepted) as Keith and Michael Nyqvist (John Wick, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as Alan. It was interesting to see Michael playing a romantic lead. He is an excellent actor and in this crime mystery he was good, but I have to tell you I felt he was not the best choice for the role. The intensity he has displayed in previous movies did not translate well in this one. Set in Las Vegas and Paris, I was initially interested with the story line and thought the acting was good throughout the film. One of the reasons why I did not feel totally connected to the story was the lack of back story or depth with the Frank and Lola characters. I could see what the writer was trying to do but it did not take me where I needed to be to truly get into the story. I love movies but I did not love watching this one much.

 

2 stars

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Nocturnal Animals

THE talk I was hearing from people was this place had things “to die for” throughout the store. I decided I would check it out since the place covered one of my favorite food categories: desserts. Walking into the bakery with its fancy, carved wooden doors with stained glass panes; I immediately fell into a swoon from the overwhelming smell of baked goods. From a piping hot smell as if the ovens were exhaling cinnamon breaths to the aroma of roasted nuts wafting in the air like a low morning fog; there was too much for my eyes and nostrils to take in with one pass. The prospects looked mighty good that I had entered into a little slice of heaven. To my left was a glass case with three shelves filled with loaves of bread. Not your standard fare, these loaves had a variety of different looks to them. Some were a rich dark brown with shiny crusts while others had various seeds, nuts and fruit pieces covering their tops looking like those photos of rough terrain one would see in a friend’s photos from a national park.   AS for the cakes they literally looked like works of art. There was a cocoa frosted cake that had an abstract design made out of candy coated chocolate pieces across each side. On the top were white and chocolate ribbons that had depth to them so they looked like knotted twine. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement, especially when I came upon an entire case filled with cookies; the perfect food item in my opinion. No mess, no crumbs, no evidence of them ever being missed. After 30 minutes I made my selections and walked out of the bakery, laden with packages. Once home everything was set for me to experience these exquisite morsels of bliss. The first cookie I tried had an interesting taste; the 2nd one I tried had an unexpected flavor I did not find enjoyable. Moving on to a mini-cake I took a slice and bit into it. It was good but nothing special. My heart was sinking as my disappointment was rising.   LONG divorced from her husband Susan Morrow, played by Amy Adams (Arrival, Big Eyes), was surprised to receive a copy of his new book that was dedicated to her. The story would turn into a disturbing read for Susan. This film festival winning dramatic thriller also starred Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler, Southpaw) as Tony Hastings/Edward Sheffield and Michael Shannon (Elvis & Nixon, Midnight Special) as Bobby Andes. The three of them were perfect in their roles. Written and directed by designer and creative director Tom Ford (A Single Man), the look of this film was picture perfect. Everything was in its place and each scene looked complete with style. The script was a story within a story where I found myself more attracted to the book’s story. There was more strength in it compared to Susan’s current life; In other words I felt more life coming out of them. This film was certainly a polished piece of work that just needed a little more work below the surface.

 

2 ¾ stars

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Loving

THE first time I heard that word being hurled at me I knew it would not be the last time. What I did not know was once a person was labeled by that word, no matter what they achieved, most of their peers would still only see a f-a-t person. Around the same time I remember a classroom discussion about race. A little boy in class asked the teacher why some people’s skin was a different color. I still recall what the teacher said to us. She told the class all it meant was that person’s family, from a very long time ago, was born in a different part of the world. The closer to the equator, the darker the person’s skin would be is how she described it. This bit of information turned into a game outside of class, where students would guess where a person’s grandparents were born based on the color of the skin on a person.     NOW fast forward to high school my freshman year; we heard a rumor there was a time when girls were not allowed to wear pants in school. You can imagine how astonished we were on this bit of news. It turned out it was true; if you were female then you had to wear a skirt or dress to school. I could not understand what possible reason did the administration have for such a ridiculous rule. Past my school years when I was living in the city in my first apartment, I was walking down the street. Two guys were walking in my direction but I did not pay attention since there was a variety of shoppers on the street. Just as we were coming shoulder to shoulder the guy closest to me punched me in the face and I staggered back into a plate glass window. Either they did it for some initiation or they just did not like the way I looked. For 2 1/2 decades I had experienced actions based on looks, why was there such a preoccupation with it?    MILDRED and Richard, played by Ruth Nega (World War Z, The Samaritan) and Joel Egerton (The Gift, Black Mass), were deeply in love. Their love however was not right according to some of their neighbors. Based on a true story this dramatic biography set during the 1950s in Virginia had such an important story to tell. With Marton Csokas (The Lord of the Rings franchise, The Equalizer) as Sheriff Brooks and Nick Kroll (Adult Beginners; I Love You, Man) as Bernie Cohen, the actors were all good; however, Joel and Ruth were incredible and Ruth deserves an Oscar nomination. For this story I felt the script could have done a better job in telling the story. I wanted to know how Mildred and Richard met considering the obvious racial divide that was on display. There was a subdued nature to the telling of this story, both the written word and the directing of scenes. At the end of the film I had a mixture of feelings. On the one hand one could say we have come a long way from this story; but on the other hand, the hate I am currently seeing in the world makes it seem as if nothing has changed. Hate is the new black.

 

2 3/4 stars

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Elvis & Nixon

Photo bombing is a recent phenomenon that has seeped into our consciousness. There is a late night talk show that even has a reoccurring comedy segment that involves it. I have noticed most news show whether they are devoted to serious journalism or entertainment spend more time displaying these types of photographs. Granted I enjoy them myself when they look spontaneous and unplanned. The photo op’s I do not understand are the ones that involve celebrities that have nothing in common. I understand the historical significance of political leaders’ meeting each other, but when it is say a world leader and some reality star standing next to each; what is the point? Having been a photographer I have mentioned previously how much I enjoy looking at photograpphs. With me writing film reviews now, I especially get a kick when a movie based on a true story shows photos of the actual people at the end of the story. I feel photographs are the portals that transport us back to our feelings, memories or history of a specific time. In my wildest dreams I would never have imagined how much the art of photography has changed like it has now. Almost every single person with a cell phone takes pictures these days. The proof is on my Facebook account; I have seen more photos of food than a grocery store warehouse. Wasn’t there a periodical that was known for its amazing photos? I am sure they would have shown something from the most unusual pairing in this film: the President of the United States and the King of Rock & Roll.    SHOWING up at the gates of the White House one day was Elvis Presley, played by Michael Shannon (Midnight Special, Boardwalk Empire-TV). He had to see the President because he had something important to tell him. This film festival nominee was a surprise to me; I never heard anything about these 2 individuals meeting, let alone using their names in the same sentence. It is such a bizarre combination to me for some reason. However, it turned out to be ok because this historical comedy was so much fun to watch due to Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey (House of Cards-TV, The Usual Suspects) as President Nixon. The 2 actors were terrific in their roles. Though MIchael did not look like Elvis, his mannerisms and outfits were eye-catching. With Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four, Beastly) as Jerry and Colin Hanks (Orange County, The House Bunny) as Krogh making up part of the cast; I thought the acting was good overall. Because some scenes did not offer much detail I could not decide if parts of the story were true or not; they seemed too far-fetched to have happened. Additionally that lack of detail made a few parts of this film run slower for me. The story however remained fascinating because of the dichotomy of the two main characters. If there was no proof, such as a photo of the event taking place, I would never have believed this event.

 

3 stars

 

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Midnight Special

Being the recipient of unconditional love is one of the most extraordinary events to experience in one’s lifetime. To have a person who loves you, respects you and accepts you with all of your quirks and oddities is like always having a comforting warm hug around you. Most everybody assumes the first exposure to unconditional love comes from our parents and for the most part that is true. However I have seen examples where I had to wonder to myself why that person became a parent. This may sound harsh to some of you but I saw a parent during a team sporting event that spent the entire time yelling at their child, telling them everything they were doing wrong. It was horrifying and frankly disgusting to me. I cannot honestly say that parent loved their child unconditionally. Let me ask you what you think about a parent who informs their child they should have never become a parent; what does that say about them? In fact because they did not want to be bothered by their child they started giving them an allowance at a very early age to stay out of their hair. Unconditional love is not exclusive to one group of people; it goes for everyone. I have had discussions with friends who were in relationships with people who smoked cigarettes. Knowing they were non-smokers I asked how the two worked it out. They said an agreement was made that there would be no smoking in the house or car and they deal with it because they love their significant other. To me that is unconditional love and as I was moved by that statement I was just as moved by the unconditional love I saw in this adventure drama.   WITH the government thinking his son could be a threat and a religious group thinking he was a savior, the only thing that mattered to Roy, played by Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, The Iceman), was figuring out how to keep his special little boy safe. This film festival nominee immediately grabbed me at the beginning of its original story, which is listed as science fiction by the way. With Joel Edgerton (Black Mass, The Gift) as Lucas, Adam Driver (Frances Ha, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as Sevier and Kirsten Dunst (Spiderman franchise, Upside Down) as Sarah Tomlin; I thought the acting was wonderful, adding oomph to the already compelling script. The combination of Michael Shannon as the Dad and Jaeden Lieberher (Aloha, St. Vincent) as his son Alton was powerful enough for me to actually believe they were family. The acting took this story which was essentially a long chase scene and made the movie extra special for me. On another level the script allowed the viewer to come up with their own interpretation concerning the different factions staking out their claims. I feel if one can accept the story they will find this picture a fascinating study. This movie took me away despite falling off towards the end; but it was okay, I still loved watching this indie feeling film treat.

 

3 ¼ stars

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Freeheld

As I get older there are less things and less times I say I hate something. As a kid there were fights I had with other kids where I would say I hate them. These days I cannot imagine ever saying that to another human being. My eating habits were a big challenge for my parents when I was a child, though I still am considered a picky eater by everyone who knows me. When I was younger I would never eat tuna or broccoli; I thought they were disgusting. It wasn’t until years later that I started introducing these items back into my diet. The reason for this was due to all the articles I was reading about how good they were for you. I have come to terms with them and do not even remember how much I hated them. Hate is such a strong word that can be fueled by judgements. There are so many things that were in my hate column that now I may say, “I am uncomfortable with it or it is not to my tastes.” I think one of the most important lessons I learned was realizing I do not have to accept anything just respect it. It is like the time I was out on a date and they ordered oysters. When the appetizer came to the table I took one look at the oysters and said it looked like snot from a runny nose. It sort of killed the mood. Who was I to judge and make such a statement? And yet I see so many people making judgements against other people.    WHEN New Jersey police detective Laurel Hester, played by Julianne Moore (Seventh Son, Carrie), discovered she had cancer; she wanted her pension to go to her partner Stacie Andree, played by Ellen Page (Inception, The East). The city officials declined her request even though Laurel and Stacie were registered domestic partners. As far as Laurel was concerned this was not fair, but how could she fight them while her health was declining? This film festival winning drama was based on a true story. The cast which also included Michael Shannon (99 Homes, Man of Steel) as Dane Wells and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher, The Office-TV) as Steven Goldstein were excellent with Ellen and Michael as the standouts. They really did the best they could with the heavy handed script. I felt the writer was pushing the tough scenes to wring out every last drop of emotion out of them instead of letting the actors convey their feelings naturally. The other aspect I found troubling was the directing; scenes did not always flow from one to the other. It seemed as if I was only seeing parts of the story that in reality was a powerful one. After seeing this romantic biography I still do not understand how some people prefer making judgements instead of appreciating anyone who has the ability to love.

 

2 1/2 stars

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: 99 Homes

There are hardships that affect us on an emotional and internal level. An attack on the heart can feel as if we are experiencing it in a physical way; but once that initial punch subsides over time, the shattered pieces of one’s heart and soul remain below the surface for the most part. To the average person, the one in mourning could pass by undetected. Now there are some misfortunes that cause pain in a predominately physical way. Sure there is the emotional aspect but the physical trauma is irreversible. The loss of something related to one’s physical being such as eyesight or a limb is something that can alter a person’s life forever. Another life changer would be the change of status for one’s home. An apartment fire that throws tenants out into the cold, forced to take residence up in a shelter or if lucky a place to stay with a family member or friend, could have a long term effect on an individual. I have a friend who lost their house due to the financial crash a few years back. It was devastating for them; the house they lived in for years with the tree in back that started out as a small sapling was now gone. I drove by the place some time later only to see it looking crippled and old as a hungry wild lawn was in the middle of devouring it. It was so sad to see and I know this house was only one of millions that are in the same situation, with former inhabitants that are suffering in pain.    The worst day of Dennis Nash’s, played by Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, The Social Network), life was the day he and his family were evicted from their home by real estate broker Rick Carver, played by Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, The Iceman). That was before he accepted a job from the greedy realtor. This dramatic film festival winner was powered by two important elements: incredible acting by the cast that also included Laura Dern (Wild, The Fault in Our Stars) as Lynn Nash and Noah Lomax (Safe Haven, Playing for Keeps) as Connor Nash, along with a straightforward honest script. This story was utterly believable where I started feeling for the characters’ plight early on. I have been a fan of Michael Shannon for some years and this role was another stellar performance by him. He really has a presence that dominates on the big screen. If I have to look for any negative aspects to this film it would be a few scenes that were a bit slow. Honestly though they were no big deal compared to the positive things that were going on. I think everyone except maybe the top 5% could relate to what was taking place in this movie.

 

3 1/3 stars

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Man of Steel

Every week I would take a trip to outer space, where I would visit aliens and super heroes. I learned about ray guns, space ships and all kinds of devices that were not found on Earth. I never knew our planet was being protected by people with special powers; I wanted to grow up and be just like them. You would be surprised to find out how often Earth had been saved by these special individuals. Each Saturday morning I ate my breakfast on a little snack tray, in our living room in front of the television. The Saturday cartoon shows I watched was where I discovered all these new places and people. In this reboot of the Superman story, I felt I was back watching those morning cartoons. Henry Cavill (Stardust, Immortals) was a perfect blend of wholesomeness and angst as Clark Kent/Kal-El. I found the childhood scenes touching as we witnessed Clark being picked on by the other kids. The story focused on Clark’s struggle with feeling different but not fully understanding the reasons why. Not until a mysterious object was discovered on Earth would he then learn about his true identity. The casting in this action movie greatly helped with the weak story. Amy Adams (Enchanted, The Fighter) as Lois Lane, Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, The Iceman) as General Zod, Russell Crowe (The Next Three Days, Gladiator) as Jor-El and Diane Lane (Unfaithful, The Perfect Storm) as Martha Kent were all excellent. The sets and props were so imaginative; I got a real kick out of seeing them. Plus, I want to point out the musical score was awesome. Just like those Saturday cartoons, this film was driven by action. There were so many battles, with an over abundance of special effects; it became too much for me. As a result the story suffered because there was not enough room to develop the characters; despite the movie being 2 hours and 23 minutes long. I will say some of the fights were unbelievable; they looked like cartoons that came to life. As long as you go into the movie theater knowing this was more of a comic book/Saturday morning cartoon type of film, that was small on drama; it will entertain you. At the end of the movie I did have a craving for some sugary crunchy cereal. A brief scene that showed a small amount of blood.

 

3 stars

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