SHE INVITED ME OVER TO BE her taste-tester. A home cooked meal was always a treat, so I eagerly accepted the invitation. We had been friends for years; so, I was comfortable with her cooking for me, having had many dinners over at her place before. I insisted on bringing dessert. When I arrived, as soon as she opened the front door, I smelt a warm, homey aroma wafting in the air. Walking inside, I saw she had a bowl of guacamole and chips set out on her coffee table. This was an extra treat for me. We sat and caught up on each one’s life while munching on the food. At some point she asked me what I thought of the corn chips; I said they were fine. She said they were a new brand and she loved their freshness and taste. Honestly, they may have been; but, nothing to the point where I noticed a big enough difference that made them stand out for me. We were close to finishing off the guacamole when a bell sounded off. She said that was the timer, letting her know the food was done in the oven. Asking me to give her a couple of minutes, she got up and went into the kitchen, telling me to take a seat at the dining room table. THE FOOD SHE BROUGHT OUT LOOKED amazing; I could not wait to dig in and start eating it. She poured herself a glass of wine, knowing I did not like the taste of alcohol; I stuck to water for the evening. We each helped ourselves to the food she had set out on the table. It was as good as it looked; I could not have been happier. During the meal she brought up the subject of how she found many of the products that went into the meal. She knew I was teaching myself how to cook, I listened to her describe each product that she used for the meal; in fact, she had excused herself a couple of times to go into the kitchen and bring out some of the ingredients, so I could see for myself. Something rang odd about the whole situation, but I could not put my finger on it at the time. It was not until she insisted, I taste one ingredient, even pouring a little bit onto my plate, that I asked her what was going on. She told me she joined a food club and was positive I would like it; all I had to do was sign up online and pay a monthly membership fee. The whole purpose of me coming over was for her to get me to sign up under her name, so she could get points. I was angry she was not upfront about it before inviting me over. My anger was similar to one of the main characters’ feelings in this dramatic film. IT WAS AN UNUSUAL REQUEST; BUT Isabel, played by Michelle Williams (The Greatest Showman, All the Money in the World), knew she would have to do it if the orphanage was to receive the one-million-dollar donation. She just wanted it to be a quick, short trip to New York; however, there was more to the request waiting for her once she arrived. This dramatic film also starred Julianne Moore (Gloria Bell, Still Alice) as Theresa, Billy Crudup (Big Fish, Jackie) as Oscar, Abby Quinn (Landline, Radium Girls) as Grace and Alex Esola (The Young Pope-TV, Dangerous Lessons-TV Movie) as Jonathan. The strongest asset this movie had was the acting skills from the main cast. Michelle made her character extra special due to her nuanced and thoughtful performance; I could not stop watching her on the screen. Julianne was excellent but the writers and possible director did not provide her with enough emotional punch. The story was predictable and at times unrealistic to me; however, the acting kept me interested in the story. I did however find the story confusing because it did not know whether to be a mystery drama or a tearjerker. This movie could have been a powerful piece if the script had been better, which I believe would have upped the actors’ chances to be considered for an acting award this season. Instead, I felt manipulated and disappointed that this story did not match the quality of the actors.
2 ¼ stars
IN SOME CULTURES, THE TERM TWO-SPIRIT is used to describe individuals who participate in a traditional third-gender ceremonial role in some of their customs. Before I learned this definition, I used it in the same way I used Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to describe a person I perceived to be two-faced or moody. The person that comes to mind first when I think about this type of duality is a former boss of mine, when I worked in retail. To the shoppers that came into our store he was a charming, jovial gentleman. He would spend as much time as needed to make a sale, all the while complimenting more female customers than male. I did stock for the store, so was out in front numerous times to add product to the shelves. Without even looking at him I could tell what hand gestures he was using simply by the tone in his voice; it was this sickly-sweet drawl that went to a higher register. This is what I saw out front; but as soon as he walked into the back warehouse, he was a ranting mean man. It was nothing for him to call one of his employees stupid or dumb. If he did not like the way you were packing a box for shipment, he would yell and push you aside and ask someone else to take over. If only the people in the store could have seen him. HE WAS ONLY ONE OUT OF a slew of people I have encountered in my life who showed two opposite sides to themselves. It is funny; since I believe we are born with both good and evil inside of us, you would think I would be immune to these contrasts in behavior. But you would be wrong because I feel humans have free choice to decide if they want to be good or bad. There are some individuals who thrive on negativity and have no issue displaying it, even if it comes out in a mean-spirited way. I do not have to look any further than my high school years. It was there that I can honestly say I saw some evil people. The entire time I was exposed to that craziness I kept wondering why those individuals chose to be that way, to be mean and hurtful. At the time I wasn’t aware abusers usually have been the victim to an abuser; not that it would have made anything better for me. What I would like to know is how people who have this good vs evil turmoil inside come to terms with it. This was one of the things I thought about as I sat and watched this action, science fiction film. HIS LIFE GOING IN A DOWNWARD spiral Eddie Brock, played by Tom Hardy (Child 44, Mad Max: Fury Road), was willing to take a chance by sneaking into a top-secret laboratory. It was there he picked up something nasty. This horror movie also starred Michelle Williams (I Feel Pretty, The Greatest Showman) as Anne Weying, Riz Ahmed (Four Lions, Nightcrawler) as Carlton Drake, Jenny Slate (Gifted, Obvious Child) as Dr. Dora Skirth and Scott Haze (Midnight Special, Thank You for Your Service) as Security Chief Roland Treece. Not being familiar with this comic book character I had no idea what to expect from this story. Tom was excellent in the role, giving it his all; however, the script did not know whether to be a comedy, a horror or an action movie. It felt like the writers were trying to create something like Deadpool, but this was not done as well. I thought the story jumped around too much and I disliked the change of heart in one of the characters. Too bad the story and script were not more concise because the action scenes were exciting and some of the humor scored. How ironic to have a conflicted character playing in a conflicted story in a conflicted movie. There was an extra scene in the middle of the credits besides a trailer for a new animated Spider-Man movie.
WHEN IS ENOUGH, SIMPLY enough? One of my business subscriptions sends a supplemental edition focused on real estate, that I always glance through to check out the photo spreads of high end residences. I am amazed by the amount of money, I assume, that must have been spent on these places. Sure I understand it cost more to buy a place that is on the higher floors of a building or has a coastal/mountain view; but some of the upgrades I have seen border on the ridiculous in my opinion. Seriously, how important is it to have an extra long sofa covered in an elaborate, expensive fabric or bathroom fixtures that are gold plated; do they really make a difference in one’s comfort and hygiene? I find it ridiculous just because a person is wealthy; they feel they need to show off their wealth. You would not believe some of the places that are highlighted in my subscription. The fact they are even being put on display tells me something about the owners, unless they are trying to sell their property. JUST BECAUSE SOMEONE HAS a vast amount of money does not make them smarter or more thoughtful in my opinion. I have noticed some people who are rich feel they are entitled, more important than anyone else around them. I knew this person who was quite successful; having started out in humble beginnings, they overcame the obstacles before them and amassed a sizable fortune. For all their hard work they deserved it and I had no issue with their success. However, the more money they made the more they would voice their opinions on everyone else’s daily life; whether it was personal or business problems it did not matter. They would expound on all the things they felt everyone else “should” be doing to better themselves. I do not know about you but I took offense at their behavior. Having money does not give a person a license to dictate to others about how they should be living their lives. If you want to see what I am talking about then feel free to watch the powerful performances in this biographical, crime drama. WHEN KIDNAPERS CONTACTED GAIL Harris, played by Michelle Williams (The Greatest Showman, Blue Valentine), about her son; the ransom amount was way beyond her means, but not for her ex-father-in-law J. Paul Getty, played by Christopher Plummer (The Insider, The Man Who Invented Christmas). However Mr. Getty was not one to part easily with his money and Gail did not have the time to negotiate a price on her son’s life. With Mark Wahlberg (Deepwater Horizon, Daddy’s Home franchise) as Fletcher Chase, Charlie Plummer (King Jack, Lean on Pete) as John Paul Getty III and Romain Duris (Heartbreaker, The Beat That My Heart Skipped) as Cinquanta; the acting by Michelle and Christopher was outstanding. I will say Mark was somewhat better in this role, but he still came across as the same type of character that he has done in previous movies. Set in Rome during the 1970s, this story inspired by true events kept my interest as it weaved its way through some harsh and tense moments to despair. The pursuit scenes were well done to the point where I was feeling a sense of dread waiting for the outcomes. My only issue with this film was the lack of connection between some of the characters, making some of the scenes feel disjointed. The story really was amazing and reminded me of a phrase I have used in the past when someone was being cheap: you never see an armored car following a hearse to the cemetery.
THE AROMA OF ELEPHANT dung was one of the strongest memories I took away from the circus. I only went to the circus once when I was around 6 years old. To get to our seats we had to walk down a long aisle where the floor was covered in sawdust. Once we were seated I was able to see three rings set up in the arena, with the middle one much larger than the other two. I was excited to be there because all I wanted to see were the tigers. To start the show a tall man dressed in a tuxedo with a top hat walked into a single spotlight that then followed him to the large ring; his amplified voice reverberated throughout the massive arena. From one end of the arena several spotlights pierced the dark and lit up a parade of elephants walking in single file as they made their way around the arena. As they passed where I was seated one of the elephants defecated. Because it happened at the far edge of the arena none of the circus performers noticed what happened, so it remained there for the entire show. MAYBE THAT IS WHY I never wanted to go to the circus after that time. The only type of circuses I will go to today are the ones that are animal free. Even if that elephant had not altered my feelings about the circus I would not go to a circus that used animals for entertainment. For the type of circus events I have attended I get to see humans doing unhuman things; this is the way I describe it, because the performers are doing such spectacular things they almost look as if they are not of earth. There is one particular company that travels around the world, pitching a massive tent in an open space, where the performers are dressed in a variety of costumes and makeup. This is my favorite event to see because at one time I can witness people from all different walks of life, from all different parts of the world, come together and create something magical. I do not know how someone could say anything negative about such an environment. OUT OF WORK AFTER the company he worked at went bankrupt Phineas Taylor Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman (Pan, Logan), had an idea. It was an idea that sounded crazy but he did not care what people said, he was willing to take the chance. This musical, dramatic biography also starred Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea, My Week with Marilyn) as Charity Barnum, Zac Efron (Baywatch, Dirty Grandpa) as Phillip Carlyle, Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming, K.C. Undercover-TV) as Anne Wheeler and Rebecca Ferguson (The Girl on the Train, Despite the Falling Snow) as Jenny Lind. The look of this film was wonderful; I thought the sets and costumes were a perfect fit. As for the music written by the same writers who did La La Land, I thought it was much better in this picture; I can actually remember a few of the songs. Sadly despite the decent acting the script failed this film. You got these big, beautiful song and dance numbers connected with a weak script that lacked emotion. I felt a disconnect between the drama of the singing with the acting parts. There was such a timely message to the story that I wished would have been explored more in hopes of connecting everyone together. I would not say this circus movie reminded me of the smelly circus I went to as a kid, but this film could have used a bit of air freshener to make it a better show.
2 ¼ stars
THE DINING ROOM TABLE was all set for the arrival of the dinner guests. Covering the table was a handmade table cloth from a relative now deceased. Each place setting had a plate, bowl, glass and silverware; all were recently purchased. In the middle of the table was a candelabra that was handed down through at least a couple of generations in the family. Made of silver the candlestick holder was tarnished; in fact, no matter how much work was put in to polish it the silver never regained its former luster. There were arms that came out from the center fluted column; each arm had a holder at the end that looked like an upside down, silver foiled candy piece. Also on the table was a salad bowl that looked like a white, plastic helmet. This too came from a deceased relative. The host remembered when he was a small child, seeing the plastic bowl out for big family dinners. There was one more thing on the dining room table that had memories attached to it, a small ornamental metal cup that was only used on religious holidays. At least that was what the host was told when the cup was handed down. WHEN I AM A guest in someone’s house, I find myself looking around the room for, what I call artifacts. You know things that look old or maybe I should say look like they have a story. Whether it is framed pictures, ceramic statues or pretty much any object in the place; I always want to hear what the story is behind the thing. You see I feel the people in our lives, both alive and deceased, help mold us into what each of us will become. Plus I enjoy having in my possession items that were handed down from generation to generation. In the previous paragraph imagine how many people would be sitting around the dining room table who had come into contact with the candelabra, salad bowl or metal cup; the connections between everyone would be tremendous. And for that reason this is why I was fascinated with the story in this film festival winning dramatic mystery. THOUGH BORN DECADES APART young Rose and Ben, played by newcomer Millicent Simmonds and Oakes Fegley (Pete’s Dragon, This is Where I Leave You), each wished to find where they belonged. Their journey would lead them to unexpected connections. Based on the book I was fascinated with the story and the dual story lines in this movie. The two young actors in the cast were joined by Julianne Moore (Suburbicon, Maggie’s Plan) as Lillian Mayhew, Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea, My Week with Marilyn) as Elaine and Tom Noonan (Heat, Last Action Hero) as Walter. Visually I felt more interested in Rose’s story, but that probably was due to the decade in which it took place. With an easy soundtrack and interesting scenes I felt engaged with the story. However I thought the directing could have been smoother and the characters could have been given more depth to them. It took me a while to warm up to each character because at first they came across in a monotone way, sort of one dimensional. As the picture progressed and I got more invested into the characters, I felt less slowness which had almost bordered on boredom. There was a payoff for me by the conclusion of the story. When the movie ended I felt as if I had made a connection to several scenes that linger to this day like a family memory.
2 ¾ stars
FOR many people only fond memories resurface when they travel back to their old neighborhood. The discount store that had the best penny candies, the shoe store with the jovial shoe clerk who told the best stories, the house where one’s best friend lived; there could be many places that bring a smile to one’s face. But not everyone may have a similar experience when they go back home. There are some people who tentatively traverse the streets that are fraught with landmines of dark emotions. RECENTLY I had to travel back to my old neighborhood, the place where I grew up. The street I lived on looked the same except several houses on the block were painted in different colors. The tree in the alley next to my home, where I would climb up to hide, was no longer there; it was replaced with recently poured concrete to add parking spaces. My secret place to hide at school was in one of its parking lots; it was still there. I would wait inside until I felt everyone in the school had gone home for the day, before venturing out from it. Driving east I passed a place that was a few houses down from a relative’s place. That spot nearby was where one time I did not get to their home in time before being attacked. I continued on until the street ended at the beach. Here is where I started developing my creative side, building elaborate sand castles and forts. Alas, some of them were meant to fall once the tide came in. No matter which way one looks at it, each neighborhood has its share of good and bad memories. RETURNING home due to the death of his brother Joe, played by Kyle Chandler (The Wolf of Wall Street, Zero Dark Thirty); Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck (Out of the Furnace, The Finest Hours), was stunned to find out he was made the guardian of Joe’s son Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom, Kill the Messenger). There was a problem, Lee did not want to move back home. This film festival winning drama had some of the best acting I have seen this year. Casey, Lucas and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Blue Valentine) as Randi Chandler were so good together that my heart ached. The atmosphere for this movie was one of sadness and depression; however, the script was smartly written to allow Patrick to act like a typical high school boy. I enjoyed the scenery of the east coast and never felt the camera work was intrusive. There were a couple of spots where I found the story deflated a bit, but seriously the acting in this picture could get a few nominations this awards season. Let me reiterate this was not a happy story; but it was a moving experience, especially the way the story unfolded. Even if the distance is far, it would be worth your time to travel over to the neighborhood in this winning film.
3 2/3 stars
THEY had me at the word chocolate. Friends were telling me about this new food product at the store; wait, they were raving about it as they kept saying I had to try it. So the next time I went to the grocery store I found this product and brought it home. I decided to forgo my chocolate ice cream for dessert so I could have this potentially tasty new treat. Opening the bag I stuck my hand inside and withdrew what I hoped would become a staple in my approved foods repertoire. MY first bite was met with a textured crunchy surface. The chocolate taste at this point was diminutive. As I started chewing my taste buds were met with a stronger, darker chocolate which I always enjoy. However there also was another taste in the mixture that I could only describe as man-made or artificial. It was not pleasant and turned me off. But how was this possible; my friends were gaga over this product, convinced I would love it. I sat and wondered if there was something wrong with me; maybe my prior meal screwed up my taste buds. So I decided to try another piece after I rinsed my mouth with a swig of fresh water. The second piece had the same effect on me; I did not like this new product at all. Because I am a bit crazy when it comes to chocolate I decided to bring the bag with me to a get together the next day to see how others would react to tasting this item. Let me fast forward to the end of this story; it turned out a majority of the people did not care for the item, though several thought it was excellent. I cannot say this validated my feelings about this chocolate creation; but I just wanted to know why my friends from yesterday liked it so much. Well I felt the same way about this dramatic film; I just did not get it. THREE women each in their own way are looking for a way to connect in the vastness of Montana. This film festival winner starred Laura Dern (The Fault in Our Stars, Blue Velvet) as Laura Wells, Kristen Stewart (Still Alice, Clouds of Sils Maria) as Beth Travis and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Shutter Island) as Gina Lewis. My favorite segment was the one with Laura Dern. I honestly did not understand the accolades this film had been receiving. Yes it was beautifully filmed; the acting was good, but I did not find this entertaining. Because of the positive buzz around this film I actually went back to see it again, thinking I must have missed something. After a 2nd time I still can say I did not care for this picture. It was slow and though things happened throughout the movie they mostly were done in a too subtle way. I even asked the usher afterward about the movie since many critics had praised it and do you know what he said? He said most people walking out complained about the movie being boring and dull. So there you have it; maybe you will see something I did not.
The prequel really came to the forefront with the Star Wars franchise. I find it to be a valid form to use in the art of making movies. For me it feels like seeing an old friend from college who is now in a love relationship and getting to hear how the two of them met. Excited to see this prequel to the classic film The Wizard of Oz, the movie studio certainly has been marketing it from a ton of commercials to the movie theater employees wearing promotional T-shirts. James Franco (127 Hours, Howl) played carnie magician Oscar Diggs who was swept up into a storm that took him far away from Kansas. Finding himself in a strange land called Oz he encountered Theodora, played by Mila Kunis (Black Swan, Ted), a witch who believed he was the wizard that the prophecy said would come to save her people. James’ acting in this role was proof that his stint as the wooden host of the Oscar telecasts was not a fluke. Joining him in the awful acting department was Mila and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Blue Valentine) as the witch Glinda. The only acting worth talking about came from Rachel Weisz (The Bourne Legacy, The Deep Blue Sea) as Evanora; computer graphic China Girl, voiced by Joey King (Ramona and Beezus, Crazy Stupid Love) and flying monkey Finley, voiced by Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs-TV). There were some beautiful and magical scenes, but then there would be flat scenes that were poorly designed. My favorite part of the movie was the last 20-25 minutes that had a cool, creative flair. The script was badly written, not providing depth to the characters which made James Franco’s character extra annoying. Not only was I disappointed by the end of the movie, I felt I had gotten stuck in Oz’ deadly poppy field.
2 1/3 stars
Is there such a thing as love at first sight or is it something else? Though I have never experienced it; I have come close, referring to it as love at first infatuation. That time where you see a person and immediately feel comfortable around them, quickly finding a common rhythm. When the two of you start a relationship, the key in maintaining it is communication. I would also add the ability not to let expectations trip you up, while continuing to learn and grow with your partner. This is why I found this dramatic movie to be the real deal when it came to charting the course of a couple’s relationship through the years. Dean and Cindy, played by Ryan Gosling (Drive, Half Nelson) and Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn, Take This Waltz) met and fell in love. The story was told with the assistance of flashbacks, going between the current state of their relationship to the start of their courtship. As we watched scenes from different parts of their lives, we became privy to their expectations and emotional baggage. Ryan, who I find to be a gifted actor, gave another fine performance as the emotionally damaged Dean. Pairing him with Michelle was a brilliant move, for she handled her role with a rich texturing as we witnessed the bloom of their love wilting. I am not sure I would have given the movie the NC-17 rating it received; because to me, the director only captured the real rawness of a couple’s lovemaking while being out of synch. This well done film showed how easy it was to fall in love. The challenge came in how well that love could be maintained.
3 1/4 stars — DVD