HIS SMILE STOOD OUT prominently underneath his ruddy, bulbous cheeks. Usually quick with a hello unless he was preoccupied, he was a social person who spent a lot of time out of the house. When our paths would cross he would provide a greeting but added nothing further unless I offered a comment or question. Not that there was bad blood between us, I was just a school friend of his little brother. There was a long period of time where I never saw him around the house, when I was over there to see my friend. I just figured he was keeping busy. It must have been a couple of years, I honestly cannot remember, until I saw the brother again. He looked the same except thinner and the redness he always had in his cheeks had spread further across his face like a stain. There was something different about him but I could not figure out the difference. It seemed as if his smile had faded into his face and his once bright green eyes were shielded with lowered, awning sized eyelids now. NO ONE TALKED ABOUT it but the war had changed him. He was one of the first veterans I met from a current conflict. My friend told me his brother never talked about his time in the army. If you had never met the brother before you would not question his behavior; he did not do anything that seemed out of the norm. Prior to becoming friends with the veteran’s brother, my only exposure to changed behavior was from abuse and bullying survivors. I did notice a change with some business employees and executives; but their altered behavior was usually short term or less dramatic. From my experiences I have seen what happens when a person keeps their feelings/emotions bottled up inside of them. They really never stay permanently locked away; they can come out in a variety of ways. For me my outlet was food and though the consuming of food can lead to harmful results, I am grateful I got through compared to what I experienced with others. By watching this film festival winning movie you will see what I am talking about. RETURNING FROM IRAQ, a group of veterans try to fit back into the life they had left behind. Just as the war had tested them, so did this process of returning home. Inspired by a true story this biographical drama starred Miles Teller (War Dogs, Only the Brave) as Adam Schumann, Haley Bennett (The Equalizer, The Girl on the Train) as Saskia Schumann, Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider, Red Dog) as Alea, Amy Schumer (Trainwreck, Snatched) as Amanda Doster and Joe Cole (Green Room, Secret in Their Eyes) as Billy Waller; this was an actor driven story. I thought the cast did an amazing job; keeping in mind with my limited experience around veterans, I felt I was watching an honest portrayal. There were several intense scenes as the story cut back and forth from current times to past military operations. The letdown for me was the screen adaptation of the book this film was based on. Scenes that obviously could be filled with deep emotions were kept to a lesser level. In other words, I felt the characters could have been given more intensity considering the situation. With my attention captivated by this film I felt I got a better understanding about the life waiting home for some veterans.
IDEALLY IT SHOULD BE in balance within one’s life, but that is not always the case. And truthfully sometimes the circumstances are out of the person’s control. Trying to find the balance between one’s work and personal life takes determined strength with a bit of finesse. I have mentioned before how my work load dominates my personal life; from the day job to teaching to writing film reviews, there is a part of me that feels like I have missed out on many things. However, I do realize I am fortunate in the circle of friends around me who understand my crazy schedule as I try to negotiate time to get together with each of them. Others may not be as fortunate. There is an acquaintance of mine that is in sales. It is difficult to get a hold of him because day and night he is usually with clients; making plans to get together is almost impossible. NOW IT OCCURS TO me that I might have been prejudiced against certain occupations. I noticed when a “workaholic” was involved with a worthy cause; I would cut them some slack if they were not always available for family and friends. However if the person worked for a large for profit corporation, I was not so forgiving. Honestly from watching this film I have been thinking about this lopsided thinking when it comes to whether I perceive the business is doing something good or not for the planet. Who am I to assume the person who works 60-80 hours a week to help the homeless is a better person, than the state employee who puts in double shifts to help plow the city streets after a snowstorm? They each are important in their own way; no matter what the job entails the employee plays a vital part in the success of the employer. The one thing I am curious about is how people wind up in their jobs. I wonder if they always wanted to be let us say a window washer or actuary; or did the individual follow in a parent’s footsteps or just fell into the job. These were the type of questions I had when I watched this dramatic, biographical movie. IT TAKES A CERTAIN type of person to fight a forest fire and Eric Marsh, played by Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice, Old Boy), believed he knew what was needed. He just had to prove it to the people in charge. Based on a true story the cast also included Miles Teller (War Dogs, That Awkward Moment) as Brendan McDonough, Jeff Bridges (True Grit, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) as Duane Steinbink, Jennifer Connelly (Blood Diamond, A Beautiful Mind) as Amanda Marsh and Taylor Kitsch (Lone Survivor, Battleship) as Christopher MacKenzie. Having not seen or experienced what forest firefighters do, there were aspects of this story that were amazing. The acting was excellent; the standouts for me were Jennifer, Miles and Josh. For such an incredible story I had a challenging time with the script. The story would go from thrilling, nerve wracking scenes to snippets of a personal nature. What was presented regarding the plight of these types of firefighters, I had wished more time was spent on building up the characters’ personal stories. I felt I was only getting a partial piece of the puzzle so to speak. This movie about the Granite Mountain Hotshots deserves stars just on the story alone; as for the entertainment value of this picture it left me slightly cool.
2 ¾ stars
AFTER so many years teaching in the health industry you would think there is nothing left to surprise me these days. It is not often I encounter a long distance runner but when I do I still am fascinated by the person’s dedication/determination. Personally there is no way I would let my feet pound pavement that long. And if that is not enough reason to avoid running, the individuals who run outside in winter simply baffle me. There was one person I spoke with who ran every day no matter what the weather was outside. They had to get new running shoes every three months. I asked one time what they got out of running every day and they said it was peace of mind. If there was one day they could not run, they felt oft-kilter the entire day. On a certain level I had to admire the person’s drive. DO you know how you can see traits in other people that you do not recognize in yourself? Regarding my film reviews, everyone who knows me knows I have to be at the movies over the weekend. When talking to a friend about getting together I cannot tell you how many times I have said I need to see a movie first. The response I get from them is this, “You do know you do not HAVE to go; you choose to go.” I usually say it is my job because that is how I look at writing reviews; the best job by the way. The way my mind is wired this is something that I have to do. Some of you might remember when I first started posting reviews my goal was to write one review a day for 365 days and I achieved that goal. Afterwards I posted comments that going forward there would be times where I would miss posting a review; there was no need to worry. I dialed back to find balance once again in my life. It is funny how I realized I am no different than a marathon runner; we both have the drive and determination. It has given me a whole new appreciation for anyone who single mindedly has a need to achieve something. BASED on a true story world champion boxer Vinny Pazienza, played by Miles Teller (War Dogs, Fantastic Four), did something no one believed he could every do. Evidently no one knew the drive Vinny had to achieve his goal. This dramatic sport story worked because of its amazing cast. Besides Miles there was Aaron Eckhart (Sully, My All American) as Rooney and Katey Sagal (Married with Children-TV, Sons of Anarchy-TV) as Louise who were both on par with Miles. I was not familiar with this biographical story but I have to say it truly was incredible. What was missing for me was more detail in the script. We all have seen boxing movies and this one had a basic floor plan that was a bit predictable. I would have appreciated more details into Vinny’s life and family life. As it stood, the movie was interesting though there were scenes that had blood and violence in them. As I mentioned earlier it was the acting that made this film and with seeing this story, one has to admire this boxer’s determination.
2 ¾ stars
How annoying is it when you get a new item and it isn’t what you expected or does not work? When it comes to food products our feelings are usually based on the item’s taste; I understand since I have tried some items touting their new great flavor, only to get a nasty taste in my mouth. This type of stuff I either give away or toss into the garbage. The rules are different when the products are not food based. I may have mentioned I bought a new computer. After the store transferred my old information to the new one, along with adding some new programs, I excitedly brought the computer home and turned it on. Everything about it was great until I left it for a moment. When I came back to continue my work the computer would not wake up from its sleep mode. To say I was annoyed would be putting it mildly. I did get it fixed but it is stuff like this that ticks me off. Just a couple of weeks ago it was reported that a department store would no longer carry their line of Egyptian cotton bed sheets. And do you know why? It turns out the company that was making the sheets for the store was not using Egyptian cotton. Can you believe it? The thing that amazes me is the audacity some of these manufacturers have in thinking they are “pulling the wool” over the eyes of their customers. And who really is affected by these actions? It is the consumers who wind up on the losing end. I know the example I gave here is just one of many that take place around the world. CHILDHOOD friends Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, played by Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street, True Story) and Miles Teller (Fantastic Four, The Spectacular Now), found themselves taking on the bigger players in the defense field when they landed a $300 million contract from the Pentagon. The question was how were they going to fulfill it? Based on a true story this comedic drama also starred Ana de Armas (Exposed, The Boarding School-TV) as Iz and Bradley Cooper (Burnt, American Snipe) as Henry Girard. Along with all the other actors in this war film, this still was Jonah’s and Miles’ show. Their acting and chemistry was strong, though I felt Jonah was starting to be typecast with this type of character. The steady pacing kept the story going forward and I have to say even while I was watching this picture I still could not believe some of the things that were taking place. I think that is part of the attraction of this film; viewers will sit in disbelief by the outrageousness of some events. This will make up for the script that did not offer much depth to the characters along with having a little weakness towards the end. In spite of these things the story was so startling that I think it would grab the viewer to stay engaged with it.
One of the quickest ways to bond with another human being is to share an event together. Whether it is an occurrence filled with celebration or tragedy, there is something about being a part of the same occasion that cuts through the preliminary chitchat and creates a quicker path to friendship or possibly something more. One of the first health clubs that hired me to teach aerobics had an all female staff. I always assumed I was hired because of my teaching skills and style, hoping that I did not get the job because I was a novelty. It was a year later when another man was hired on staff. The two of us quickly bonded, sitting near each other during staff meetings and traveling together to fitness conventions. Now do not get me wrong, this was in no shape a battle of the sexes type of thing or a testosterone competition; we just happened to have a similar mindset towards teaching, with the same type of humor. And do you want to know something; we have remained friends all these years. I could share other examples of how people bond but the events may cause you to become sad and I would rather we all try to stay upbeat with tonight’s movie review of this science fiction, action adventure film. TELEPORTED to a distant world, the four space travelers returned to earth changed in unusual ways. They would have to learn to work together to overcome their differences if they wanted to save the world from an evil force. Having gone to this viewing with no prior knowledge of the film, my shock and confusion about what I was watching was a surprise to me. With competent actors Miles Teller (Whiplash, That Awkward Moment) as Reed Richards, Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, That Awkward Moment) as Johnny Storm, Kate Mara (127 Hours, Shooter) as Sue Storm and Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, King Kong) as Ben Grimm, I was stunned at how poorly they came across on the big screen. The reason started with the script and anyone else involved with this film who was not familiar with what it took to make a superhero movie. The first half of the fim was utterly boring; with no action, no humor or fun surprises. I could not remember a recent time where an entire cast looked like they were sleepwalking through the picture. As for the evil aspect to the story, it was simply dull and did not provide any thrills. The fact that there was no extra scene at the end of the credits spoke volumes about how poorly managed this project was from beginning to end. On the plus side a group of us stopped in the theater lobby after the movie to talk about our similar negative reactions to this super dud.
1 1/2 stars
I want my labels to tell me what is in my can of soup or box of cereal. Placing a label on a human being does not do anything for me. Yet so many people like to label individuals as if giving them one makes it easier to categorize them in some imaginary file cabinet. There are some people who believe they are the label given them. I have mentioned previously how in elementary school a teacher told me I would amount to nothing if I wanted to be a writer. From the moment she said that I started to change the way I thought about myself and began focusing on science courses only. In daily conversations I am part of or just hear in passing, people are referring to other folk as stupid, fat or drama queen to name a few. I bristle at such comments; it is people simply making judgements. The other reason I do not like such terms is due to my strong dislike for stereotyping. Having been a victim of it on a variety of levels, I am more comfortable with people who perceive themselves as individuals instead of being part of a group. When you think about it, isn’t it a narrow view to think of oneself as being a part of a group? AFTER being responsible for the collapse of the government; Tris and Four, played by Shailene Woodley (The Fault in Our Stars, White Bird in a Blizzard) and Theo James (The Inbetweeners Movie, Underworld: Awakening) needed a safe place to hide from government leader Jeanine, played by Kate Winslet (Labor Day, Revolutionary Road). The hunt for the couple and others like them was intense because Jeanine believed one of the fugitives was the key for her to solidify power under her domain. This adventure science fiction thriller is the 2nd in the series of films based on the popular books. If you did not see the first movie you may have a problem following this one at first. Out of the cast which included newcomer Naomi Watts (The Impossible, St. Vincent) as Evelyn, I thought Shailene and Miles Teller (Whiplash, The Spectacular Now) as Peter were the standouts. I have to say Miles has exceptional timing while Shailene is totally believable. Visually the story was stimulating but I wished the script would have been stronger. Everything seemed to play out on the same level with little variance in emotional depth; keeping in mind I have not read the books. Some scenes did not fit in well with the story’s direction; I wondered if they were meant to be rest stops between the acton scenes. I am not going to label this film by saying I was slightly disappointed; but, I would have appreciated if the writers had spent more time learning about each major character.
2 3/4 stars
Praise, what child does not want to hear it for something they did? From sliding down the big boys’ and girls’ slide to showing off their finished crayon coloring of their family’s house; giving approval is a vital element in a child’s development. Having recently been at a playground with two 4 year olds, I could see how my approving comments encouraged them to explore and figure out how to play with the assorted activities that were laid out around them. Praise from one’s family goes only so far as we grow up. Once children are of school age, one hopes they have teachers who can encourage and support any gifts or talents they see within their students. In my schooling the teachers I had went from one extreme to the other in regards to offering praise and encouragement. From starting out with a 7th grade teacher who told me I would amount to nothing if I continued believing I could be a writer to a college professor who pushed me to produce a written story for class each week; I can tell you with certainty that encouragement gave me the confidence I was lacking for so many years prior. PERFECTION was expected from each student in music instructor Fletcher’s, played by J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man franchise, The Closer-TV), jazz orchestra. All Andrew, played by Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now, Divergent), ever dreamed of was to be one of the great drummers of his time. His hopes jumped up after a chance meeting when Fletcher walked into the school’s practice room where Andrew was drumming. As high as Andrew’s hopes soared, they came crashing down around him on his first day practicing with the orchestra; Fletcher would not want it any other way. As intense as I found the movie Fury to be, this film festival winner had a similar type of intensity in it own way. First of all the acting was simply brilliant by J.K. and Miles; their scenes together were filled with deep, dark, raw emotion. All I will say is I felt their pain. The biggest surprise for me had to do with the writer and director Damien Chazelle (Grand Piano, The Last Exorcism Part II). Based on his film credits I would never have imagined he could create such an amazing piece of work here. Watching this musical drama was like doing a mini marathon; a constant pace filled with brief rest stops and continuous challenges. For me the terrific soundtrack was an added bonus that finished off this film perfectly. By the end of the movie I knew this would be an Oscar contender at next year’s Academy Awards.
You know the exact moment when your friendship began to evolve. It was when you asked your friend about making plans to do something and they began their reply with the words, “Let me check with…” There was no malice, boastfulness or arrogance on your friend’s part; they were just telling you there was someone in their life who reached a new level of importance. This does not take anything away from your status with them, but understand your friend is now part of a couple. Now I will say I am aware of the division that sometimes forms between couples and singles like a sheer curtain rustling in front of an open window on a breezy day. I have been told that there are times where an even number of guests is more desirable for some than odd. Except for riding an amusement park ride, I never really understood why some people would think that way. You can see how a dating relationship may affect a friendship in this romantic comedy. Zac Efron (The Lucky One, 17 Again), Miles Teller (The Spectacular Now, Rabbit Hole) and Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station, Hardball) played best friends Jason, Daniel and Mikey. When Mikey’s girlfriend Vera, played by Jessica Lucas (Cloverfield, She’s the Man), told him she was breaking up with him, his two best friends promised they would stand by him and show him the ropes to being single again. I have to tell you after sitting through this film I was so thankful I did not have friends like these people. They were crude and immature for the most part or should I say at least their dialog was from the predictable script. The story seemed so formulaic; the three friends could be broken down to the smooth talking pretty one, the smart-alecky joker and the sensitive one. I will let you guess which one matches to which description. The only characters that seemed somewhat believable to me were Mikey and Chelsea, played by Mackenzie Davis (Smashed, Breathe In). If I had not seen the movie trailer to this film I might have been less bored than I was sitting in the movie theater. I did not find it a real portrayal of friends and the different things they were getting themselves involved in. Maybe this was due to my lack of having any friends who acted like these guys. For that I consider myself lucky and am grateful for it.
1 3/4 stars
Somehow I did not get the class syllabus on inter-clique dating when I started high school. In fact, I was not prepared to even handle the concept of cliques. I do not recall there being any such thing in elementary school; everyone considered themselves part of a single grade. All of that changed once we entered high school as we blended in with four other elementary schools. Even if I had gotten that syllabus, it would not have made much difference because upperclassmen were quick to exert their power over us freshmen. Now that I think about it, I bet it was that exertion that quickly pushed the freshmen to scatter and seek out students who were most like themselves. It must be true when they say strength in numbers because soon there were several groups such as the jocks, the brainiacs, the nerds and the most popular all around me. In the scheme of things finding a group was not a top priority of mine; my energy was devoted to staying alive and avoid getting picked on. Those were such strange times for me, navigating through the pecking order and peer pressures all around me. It was because of those memories that I really got into the story in this smart, dramatic comedy. Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole, 21 & Over) played high school party animal Sutter Keely. A hard drinking, unambitious goof-off; Sutter had no plans in place once he finished his senior year; if he even finished his senior year. But due to a chance meeting with good girl Aimee Finecky, played by Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, Crossing Jordan-TV), Sutter’s outlook on life got shaken up in more than one way. The script created wonderful, real and honest characters. It never felt contrived or went for cheap laughs. I was already impressed with Shailene’s acting in The Descendants and was not disappointed with her in this film. She had a great screen presence that almost pushed Miles to the background when they were in the same scenes. However, to Miles’ credit, he took his character and gave it a vulnerability I had not seen him play in his other films. Another surprise in this romantic film was Kyle Chandler (Zero Dark Thirty, Friday Night Lights-TV) playing something different as Sutter’s absent father, Tommy. This was an intelligent movie that provided, what I can only assume, a true slice of high school life.
3 1/3 stars
Growing up in a state where 21 years of age was the legal limit for buying alcoholic beverages, my friends had a better appreciation of me going to college out of state. The reason being the university was in a state where 18 was the legal drinking age. You would have thought I would have taken advantage of the situation, but it only took one time of me getting drunk that ended my drinking with visiting friends. The dumbest thing I did was skip breakfast and lunch the day after because I was hung over. Those who know me know I never miss a meal. What I do not understand is when I was drunk that one time I did not have the desire to take off my clothes in public or dance on top of cars. Why then would I care to watch someone else act out in a drunken state? So I could review this movie for you. Known for writing The Hangover and Wedding Crashers, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore chose to make their directorial debut with this story. Straight A college student Jeff Chang, played by Justin Chon (Twilight franchise, Hang Loose) had one of the most important meetings of his life set up the morning after his 21st birthday. His father Dr. Chang, played by Francois Chau (Lost-TV, Rescue Dawn) would be picking him up promptly, first thing in the morning. Unplanned was the surprise visit from Jeff’s two best friends Miller and Casey, played by Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole, Project X) and Skylar Astin (Pitch Perfect, Taking Woodstock). Pleading with Jeff to let them take him out for one drink, Miller and Casey promised they would bring him right back. I do not have to say anything else; that is how predictable the story was in this sordid film. Honestly, there was nothing creative except for a couple of stupid stunts as the trio went on a drinking binge. Maybe I did not get the memo on what was required to view this movie–a six pack of beer, not that I am encouraging anyone to drink. My advice is to save your money and go rent the movie Animal House instead.
1 2/3 stars