VISITING A TOWN OUT OF STATE, I was walking down a cobblestone road while gazing into various shop windows. I was surprised by the number of shops devoted to witches. Granted most of them appeared to be geared towards tourists, with trinkets and baubles filling up their display windows. There was one store that was devoted to magic wands, nothing else. How were they making a living, I thought. I could not help wondering what the residents thought of all, what I considered to be, this gimmickry. What I really would have loved to have known was what the former residents from the late 1600s would have thought if they could have seen all the establishments, signs and statues devoted to witches and witchcraft. The reason being back in the late 1600s people were burned at the stake for being considered witches in this area. Talk about going from one extreme to the other. Maybe I am a bit nerdy to think of these things, but I have always been fascinated with the wide changes that occur in perceptions/reality. Whether it an inanimate object or human being, it does not matter to me. And honestly, I think many of you would be surprised to learn about some of them. NEAR WHERE I GREW UP AS A kid, there used to be a garbage dump. Pretty much it was a non-descript place with tall fences around it. The village leaders decided to create a hill from the trash. Now the place is a destination stop for anyone who wants to go sledding or tobogganing. Except for the older residents no one would have a clue that underneath the grassy turf the entire hill was made from garbage. I get the same kick out of discovering what some celebrities did for a living before they were discovered. For example, James Bond’s Pierce Brosnan was a professional fire eater at a circus. Christopher Lee the actor worked for the intelligence service. And Danny DeVito was a hairdresser for corpses. I am sure some people would think my career path has some extremes in it and maybe it does, but nothing that would match the few examples I listed here. Another aspect I enjoy about the wide differences found in life is when a movie uses an historical figure in the early stages of their life. For example, the writer Herman Melville was a harpooner on a whaling ship, then in his last decades he was a customs inspector. My curiosity in this subject of contrasts/differences led me to view this crime, horror mystery film. AFTER A CADET WAS FOUND DEAD, West Point Academy hired a detective to solve the mystery quickly in order to protect the image of the academy. Appearances were quite important. With Christian Bale (The Fighter, American Hustle) as Augustus Landor, Harry Melling (Harry Potter franchise, The Old Guard) as Cadet Edgar Allan Poe, Simon McBurney (The Last King of Scotland, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as Captain Hitchcock, Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner, Secrets & Lies) as Superintendent Thayer and Fred Hechinger (News of the World, The Woman in the Window) as Cadet Randolph Ballinger; this picture had a wonderful atmospheric look to it. With Christian and Harry blending perfectly with their characters, I was drawn into the story that was a slow burn. Everything was well placed and thought out; however, things took a turn that threw me for a loop. I did not care for how the story finished up. It seemed rushed and not as believable as the rest of the movie. Luckily, the cast kept me engaged through this rough spot; but I still found the ending odd. However, I still got a kick out of watching Edgar Allan Poe before he became famous. There were several scenes that had blood on display.
2 ½ stars
OUT OF THE CLASSROOM WINDOW I SAW two boys fighting. I was working on homework in study hall, but I kept looking up at the two fighters. They appeared to be from an upper grade because I never saw either of them in any of my classes. As was typical, at least at the schools I attended, there were several other students hovering near the two boys to watch them fight. As far as I could tell it seemed like the two were evenly matched. They were exchanging punches and kicks equally. At some point as I was watching them one of the boys tripped on something and fell backwards. As he hit the ground the other boy pounced on top of him and showered him with body and face blows. The poor boy did not have a chance to regain himself and fend off his assailant. It wasn’t until the fallen boy’s face started bleeding that the other boy got up off him and started to walk away, but only after giving the defeated boy one last kick in the stomach. The boy on the ground curled up into a fetal position and laid there as an instructor was running up to him. I TRIED GOING BACK TO MY STUDIES, but the images of the two boys fighting would not fade from my memory. As they replayed in my mind, I remembered the one boy tripping and it occurred to me if he had not fallen the outcome might have turned out differently. It might have been a pebble, stick or some litter that caused him to trip. I thought of all the lucky breaks he could have gotten, he wound up getting one case of bad luck that sealed his fate. Up until that point, I never thought about how luck plays a part in a fight. Maybe because of the video games I used to play, where everything was in a more controlled environment, it made me think skill was the only important factor in a battle. I started looking at the fights I had been in and wondered how big of a factor did luck play in my losses. Since I was mostly on the receiving end, I cannot remember all the details. However, I remember one fight where 3 boys were chasing and throwing stones at me. They had been chasing me for three blocks when suddenly we were all getting drenched in a downpour. For some reason they broke off their pursuit and I made my way home through back alleys. I can see that was a lucky break for me just as I can now see how luck played in the historical battle in this dramatic action film. AFTER THE SURPRISE ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR, the United States Navy was left exposed to an ultimate defeat. So many things needed to be in place if the US government wanted any chance of pushing back Japan’s Imperial Navy. With Ed Skrein (If Beale Street Could Talk, Alita: Battle Angel) as Dick Best, Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring franchise, The Phantom of the Opera) as Edwin Layton, Woody Harrelson (Shock and Awe, Natural Born Killers) as Chester W. Nimitz, Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, Dracula Untold) as Wade McClusky and Mandy Moore (A Walk to Remember, This is Us-TV) as Ann Best; this movie had a lot to live up to because of the well-known true events this story was based on. I thought the CGI effects were excellent, providing an extra thrill to the aerial fight scenes. The story itself is incredible; but sadly, the script was a big letdown for me. I found the dialog cheesy, filled with rah-rah moments by characters trying to build up morale. The acting did not register with me as anything great, but that might have more to do with the script lacking any depth or emotion for the actors to play on. What bad luck for this picture to get a deficient script for such a world changing battle.
EVERY day starts with him coming outside to begin his squirrel watch. He stands still in the middle of the backyard with his head tilted upwards, scanning the tree branches for any movement. If something even twitches for a brief moment, a plethora of barking takes place as my neighbor’s dog begins racing around the tree trunk, daring the animal to take a step down towards him. Having recently celebrated his 2nd birthday this dog is actually a big hunk of crazy love. Anytime I come out of my garage and he is in the yard, he squats down on the ground like an ancient sphinx, waiting in anticipation for me to call out his name. You see he will not run up to my fence until I call him. Now here is his secret; he is being trained to be a search and rescue dog. His owner, my neighbor, told me about one of the exercises he performs with the dog. At the facility’s swimming pool, my neighbor pretends he is drowning. The dog is released and jumps into the pool, swims over to the man, grabs a hold of any piece of clothing or a limb in his mouth and begins pushing or pulling the man to the edge of the pool. SOME of the other stories my neighbor has told me have been extraordinary. There is such a bond between this man and his dog that is quite noticeable. When both are in the backyard, the man will do exercises with the dog; some are with verbal cues while others are done only with different hand gestures. It amazes me that within the span of 2 years, if even that, this dog has achieved so much with his owner. As I said before just looking at him running around and barking his head off in the backyard, you would think the dog is a hyper bundle of energy. I would love to see him on one of the search and rescue missions, just to see how he focuses on the task. Until then I will be satisfied watching the dog in this film based on a true story. WITH nowhere to go in her hometown Megan Leavey, played by Kate Mara (The Martian, 127 Hours), enlisted in the army. Assigned to cleanup duty at the dog pound that housed one of the most aggressive dogs, Megan would have to confront her fears. This biographical war drama also starred Tom Felton (Harry Potter franchise, A United Kingdom) as Andrew Dean, Common (Selma, Now You See Me) as Gunny Martin, Geraldine James (Sherlock Holmes franchise, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as Dr. Turbeville and Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods, Scent of a Woman) as Bob. The script was kept simple; there was not much surprising about the story. However, the script with the directing created an engaging story filled with bits of drama, tension, tears and joy. The actual story is incredible; though I felt things were kept more subdued overall in this movie. I think it would be hard for someone not to enjoy watching this picture. For me I honestly never gave much thought to the role dogs play in the military; my only encounter on this type of level would be in the security lines at the airport or city events. When a friend asked me if they might cry watching this film, I asked them if they planned on bringing any facial tissues.
I have known for a long time I could never live in a condominium. I would be the resident everyone would talk about after any of the condo board meetings. You see, I know if I voted differently than the majority I would be upset if I lost. Not for things that have to do with maintaining the buildings, but for items that do not interest me. Having a friend who was a board member for his condominium association, the stories he told me about the heated discussions, back stabbing and yelling only confirmed my decision never to live in such a dwelling. When too many people have a say in the decision process I have found it always to be filled with unhappy participants. If you do not believe me just get a group of say 6 to 8 people together and ask them where they want to go to eat out dinner. In my experiences I have never had a group all say the same place or cuisine. Now there is the “care factor” of your group; some individuals have a definite response and will only eat at certain places. Then there are others who go for the socializing aspect; the food is secondary for them. I have been part of both sides, being the dominant one on where we should all eat besides being on the not caring where we wind up side. The point is if no one can agree or make a decision then someone has to step up and lead the group to, under the circumstances, the best decision possible. It can be a hard decision but someone has to do it, just like in this military drama. COLONEL Katherine Powell, played by Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold, Trumbo), suddenly had an opportunity open up that she had been waiting on for 6 years. If she was the only one who needed to make a decision she was ready. This film festival nominee was a tense thriller. Besides Helen the cast also had Aaron Paul (Triple 9, Need for Speed) as Steve Watts and Alan Rickman (Harry Potter franchise, Nobel Son) as Lt. General Frank Benson. The story fascinated me because of its relevancy and the logistics that were involved in creating the action. Without a question, Helen was terrific as usual and though I enjoyed seeing Alan, part of his performance reminded me of his Harry Potter character. Another reason why this film worked was due to the questions it presented in the decision process. If there is any truth to this story I am totally amazed with how many people are needed to be involved in the decision process. The type of action on display in this war picture is something I have seen before; however, my perceptions of it being similar to playing a video game are no longer true. All this time I thought getting people together to go out to dinner was a challenge; little did I know it pales in comparison to the decisions that had to be made in this movie.
It can be frustrating when you know something is right but someone else does not believe you. We were driving on a stretch of road that was quite familiar to me, since it was part of my daily commute to work. I knew it so well that I could tell you where every pothole was on the road. For those of you not familiar with potholes, think of them as piranha that are swimming through the pavement, hungry for your car’s tires. So I told my friend who was driving to be careful as we were coming up to a treacherous part of the road. They insisted they knew what they were doing and told me I did not need to worry. I tried again, explaining how I took this road every day and knew where to avoid the potholes. By now you probably know what happened; they drove into a pothole that blew out one of the car’s front tires. Part of me wanted to say, “I told you so;” however, I kept quiet as they were cussing the entire time it took them to take off the flat tire and put on the spare one. There was a time where I would put up a better fight to prove I was right about something; but over time, I seem to either not have or choose not to spend so much energy to change someone’s mind, who doesn’t want to listen or consider what I have to say. Don’t you find this type of thing frustrating? Gratefully this occurrence did not turn out to be a life or death situation, unlike what was taking place in this historical movie. AFTER years of Spanish rule Filipino General Antonio Luna, played by John Arcilla (Metro Manila, Compound), did not feel any better about the United States taking control of the Philippines. Based on a true event this action film had the elements to make it a blockbuster type of picture. With Arron Villaflor (Maalaala Mo Kaya-TV, Paraiso-TV) as Joven Hernando and Mon Confiado (Faces of Love, Manila Skies) as Emilio Aguinaldo; there were bloody battle scenes, dramatic flair and intense emotional scenes. However, I found many scenes to be over the top; in other words, they were either overdramatic or excessive on the violence. I can appreciate the significance of the story since it took place during an important time in Philippines’ history; but I thought the execution of the story came across more like a soap opera. One possibility could have been the language barrier for me; I did not find much range in the actor’s acting skills. The funny thing about it though, I found the basic story line to be easily relatable to current times. Coming strictly as a movie reviewer I was frustrated that this picture did not do a better job in telling its story. Violent and bloody scenes were shown; Filipino, Tagalog, Spanish was spoken with English subtitles.
There are some skills I have been trained in that I hope I will never have to perform. Every year I must be re-certified in CPR if I want to continue teaching my cycle and yoga classes, besides keeping my fitness certifications current. I only hope an opportunity will never present itself to me, where I must utilize my CPR training. Speaking to a coworker who had to perform CPR on a member, he said his body was flooded with adrenalin as everything became quiet around him. The only sound he heard was his counting as he preformed chest compressions. He kept the member alive until the paramedics came and took over, saving the member’s life. In this intense war drama, the soldiers’ training did not prepare them for the real battle. The time was 1982 during the first Lebanon/Israeli war. A small group of soldiers operating a tank accompanied a platoon of paratroopers to a bombed out town, to flush out any remaining resistance. The entire movie was filmed from inside the tank. Starring relative newcomer Yoav Donat as Shmuli, Zohar Shtrauss (Eyes Wide Open, Things Behind the Sun) as Gamil, Oshri Cohen (Agora, Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi) as Hertzel and Itay Tiran (The Debt, Die Lebenden) as Assi; the atmosphere inside the tank was a simmering stew of fear, sweat, horror and confusion as they entered hostile territory. I thought the acting was gritty and taut between the characters. With only having an optical periscope to view the outside, the effect worked for me; I felt myself constantly being drawn into the small world of the tank soldiers. This multi nominated, winning film depicted a soldier’s harsh reality, showing a disconnect between one’s duty and morality. No matter how much training a person receives, it does not always prepare them for the real world. Scenes with blood. Hebrew and Arabic with English subtitles.
3 1/4 stars — DVD
In a discussion with a member in my yoga class who is a magazine editor, we talked about the current state of reporting on the news. If someone does not have a direct connection to an event, the story becomes abstract. We specifically were talking about war coverage since we had been talking about the movie Zero Dark Thirty. She mentioned the differences in media coverage between the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars. In the 1970’s newspapers and newscasts put battles and casualties right in people’s faces. These days it tends to be mentioned as a statistic with less importance, which angers her. Unfortunately we had to end our conversation since I was about to start class. Believing in synchronicity, I found this movie came at the perfect time; right after I had seen Zero Dark Thirty. Where one was a Hollywood production, this movie was a documentary distributed by National Geographic. Directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger spent over 1 year with the men of Battle Company 2nd of the 503rd Infantry Regiment 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, starting with their deployment to Afghanistan. These men were being sent to Korangal Valley, an area that could easily have been called “Death Valley” due to the never-ending deadly skirmishes with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. What I appreciated most about this Oscar nominated and Sundance Film Festival winner was the matter of fact way it was filmed. There were no political agenda, no slanted interpretations; it was more about the daily lives of these courageous men. Where Zero Dark Thirty had its intense scenes; so did this film in a different way–these men were shooting real bullets. Some people may find parts of this movie slow because there was not a story line to be followed. We were watching real soldiers up close, from deadly battles to burning their own feces. Foul language and a couple of brief scenes with blood.
3 1/2 stars — DVD
With this gripping film, we return to a theme I covered previously: Are some people simply born evil or is it something they learn? When the media covers a story, depending on the spin; we can believe a person is innocent or guilty. I find especially true these days, a news story gets twisted in a positive or negative way based on the news station’s affiliations. One of my favorite directors, Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables) wrote and directed this intense docudrama about a group of soldiers manning a military checkpoint in an Iraqi town. I had a hard time remembering this was a fictional piece; it seemed so real to me. The idea of having soldier Angel Salazar, played by Izzy Diaz (If I Had Known I Was a Genius, several various TV show episodes), documenting his time by video taping it, was brilliant. We were able to see what Angel was recording through his viewfinder. It was fascinating to see how some of his informal scenes were later covered by the media. Witnessing fellow soldiers B.B Rush’s and Reno Flake’s, played by Daniel Stewart Sherman (The Briefcase, Mr. Popper’s Penguins) and Patrick Carroll (several various TV show episodes), heinous behavior was disturbing. I wondered if they always had that type of behavior or if it came on due to the environment. One of my best friend’s brothers never spoke of his time overseas during the Viet Nam War. I was always curious what life was like for him. In truth, the only ideas I have of military life in battle is what I have seen on the news. After watching this movie, should I assume war nourishes the seeds of evil in some individuals? Blurring the line between fact and fiction, this haunting story could easily be someone’s nightmare. Bloody, violent scenes.
3 stars — DVD
The idea that Flipper could have been the cause for dolphins’ horrific plight today breaks my heart. Remembering a vacation to Sea World with my niece and nephew as I watched this disturbing documentary, I now could never go to a dolphin show again. This Oscar and Sundance winning film played more like a spy thriller. Activist Richard (Ric) O’Barry was the individual who captured and trained the dolphins who played Flipper on the old television series. From that initial introduction; people began to fall in love with these beautiful creatures, spawning the huge industry of dolphin and whale shows around the world. When Ric witnessed what he believed to be a dolphin’s suicide on the show, he changed his beliefs and became the activist and spokesman for dolphins. What is considered the dolphin capital of the world, Ric and his team traveled to Taiji, Japan; hoping to film what really took place in this town. Not only was there the issue of the dolphins’ predicament, there was the environmental issue that was being concealed. With high tech equipment and highly specialized trained individuals, their plan truly played out like a military operation; it was thrilling and exciting for me. Despite the couple of brutal and barbaric scenes filmed, this incredible documentary must be seen. If for nothing else, to become aware how corrupt and vile humans can be towards earth’s animals…and people.
4 stars — DVD
The closest I have come to witnessing some of the events in this movie have been from a co-worker’s stories, who is part of a patriotic honor guard riding group. What was special about this movie was the fact there was no political bent or one-sided criticism of war. This was not a typical war movie per se; the only battle was between protocol and compassion. After being injured, Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery played by Ben Foster (The Mechanic, Birds of America) was assigned to assist Captain Tony Stone, played by Woody Harrelson (Rampart, The Hunger Games). The two of them had the task of informing family members on the death of a loved one. Having never experienced this situation, I was moved on what it took to perform such a monumental task. The acting by Woody and Ben was believable, at times heart wrenching. I could see why Woody received an Oscar nomination for this role. He brought such intensity to this character who was trained to do things by the book, no matter how conflicted he may have been. Also, I was completely impressed with Ben’s performance; he was amazing in this tough role and was able to keep up with Mr. Harrelson. This emotionally charged drama, with such strong characters, truly did justice in showing an aspect of war not usually covered in other military movies.
3 1/3 stars — DVD