I KNEW MY FRIEND HAD an older brother but there was not a trace of his existence in the house. The parents never talked about their older son; there was not a photograph to be found anywhere and what I assumed was his bedroom was instead an office. My friend did not talk much about his brother; his memories of growing up were mostly of them fighting. For some reason they never got along; but then again, the brother also fought with the parents according to my friend. I never questioned what happened to the brother because it did seem like a sore spot for all of them. The only information I was given was when the brother turned legal age he packed up a bag and moved out of the house. He never gave a forwarding address or phone number; he did not want to have any contact with his parents or younger brother. I felt sad for the family. It did not seem as if the parents were these terrible, violent individuals who beat their kids. On the contrary, I found them to be always warm and loving. It was just weird to have 2 children raised in the same house who had completely opposite reactions to the family dynamics. THERE IS A SCIENTIFIC, CULTURAL AND philosophical debate on what has a stronger influence on human behavior, nurture or nature. Nature would involve genetics and other biological factors, what we are born with; while nurture involves the environment around us, either prenatal or during a lifetime. As long as I can remember I have had a curiosity about the similarities and differences between siblings. My friends who had siblings were a constant source of discovery for me as I became aware of each of their traits. There was one friend who was social and outgoing; his younger brother was a practical jokester who was always getting into trouble. Then there was a family who lived down the street from me who had 4 children. Each child was a replica of the other; they were all smart in school, wore similar dress and shared the same mannerisms. I used to think the parents must have raised them in a controlled environment so that each one would be the same. It never occurred to me that they might have been all wired with similar traits. From seeing this film festival winning documentary, my curiosity has been fired up further because of the brothers’ unbelievable story of what happened to them. BECOMING A FRESHMAN IN COLLEGE was the catalyst for strangers Eddy Galland, David Kellman and Robert Shafran to have the story of their lives re-written in ways they never imagined. Directed by Tim Wardle (One Killer Punch-TV movie, Lifers: Channel 4 Cutting Edge), this movie could have easily been classified as a mystery thriller. The story was so unimaginable I sat in my seat in a state of shock. The fact that things took place happenstance made these three men’s story more incredible. At first, I was slightly put off by the re-enactments, but it quickly waned as the story began to twist and turn into the 2ndstory that was lying beneath. The interviews interspersed into the story accentuated the storytelling factor; I found myself becoming a detective as the boys’ history was being revealed in chunks. There was this whole ethical factor that came up for me that lingered beyond the end of the picture. I have to say this was a stunner of a movie that adds fuel to the debate on whether nurture or nature has a stronger influence on human behavior. It just was troubling for me to be a witness to the events that took place in the lives of these three men.
3 ½ stars
HER GRIEF-STRICKEN FACE APPEARED on the television screen after the commercial break. Huddled next to her was her husband, his head slowly dropping down to a certain point before being jerked back up by consciousness. They were freezing and had barely eaten anything for the past couple of days. Their car was stuck in a snow bank when it skidded off the road in a remote area; they were on their way to his mother’s house out of state. The snowstorm unexpectedly hit their area much harder than the weatherman had predicted. If they would have known they would not have taken the risk, especially since she was pregnant. I only knew about all these details from the news reporter that was interviewing the couple. The scenes in the snow were actually reenactments with 2 actors portraying the real couple. From everything I was watching and hearing, I honestly was amazed the couple survived that ordeal. They were just an average couple; they did not have any special skills or superpowers, only their wits. Being sensitive to the cold I know I would not have survived one night, yet these two lasted days before they were discovered. AFTER WATCHING THAT TELEVISION SHOW, I was curious why the couple’s story was told via a newscast program instead of being turned into a movie for theatrical release. I have seen so many films based on true stories that have been unbelievable at times. Some were about famous people; but then there have been others who were nobody special, expect for the extraordinary occurrence that they were part of. For example, one of my recent reviews was for a movie about a couple who found themselves in the middle of a major storm while sailing across the ocean. Sure, the two had some sailing knowledge, but nothing could have prepared them for what they encountered. There was another film I just reviewed that was inspired by the true story of a group of friends who have been playing the same game of tag for decades. Both films were created to entertain an audience, so I am sure the writers took some liberties with the real story. The ones that get shown on TV are not in a movie format style; they usually have been a series of vignettes narrated by some type of reporter. Both productions have value, I understand it; however, today’s movie was not as clear for me. HAVING WON MULTIPLE LAWSUITS BROUGHT AGAINST him John Gotti Sr., played by John Travolta (Hairspray, Life on the Line), received the moniker “Teflon Don.” Leading one of the largest crime families, the name suited him well. Based on true events this dramatic crime film also starred Kelly Preston (Battlefield Earth, What a Girl Wants) as Victoria Gotti, Stacy Keach (Nebraska, Escape from L.A.) as Neil Dellacroce, Spencer Rocco Lofranco (Unbroken, At Middleton) as John Gotti Jr. and Pruitt Taylor Vince (Mississippi Burning, Constantine) as Angelo Ruggiero. John did a wonderful job of acting in this film; I found his presence on screen remained strong throughout. Kelly was also good; however, the issue I had with this movie was the script or lack of one. Most of the scenes felt like they were just copies of news segments. I was somewhat entertained simply because I was curious about John Gotti, but I did not see anything I had not already known. For listing this picture a biography, I would have preferred getting more history about the characters. Instead, there were family scenes; the only difference being the father was a major crime boss. With the addition of scenes that jumped back and forth in the story, I had a difficult time staying engaged. Maybe this picture would have been better served if it had been released on television.
1 ¾ stars
PHOTOGRAPHS OF IT were impressive so I could only imagine what it looked like in person. One of my trips was planned around seeing this particular area of the country that nature had sculpted. I had read the landscape changes colors based on the sun’s position; turning from a glowing orange to almost red hue at one point. After settling into my hotel room I drove out onto the highway for the car ride there. In my mind I had a game plan laid out of everything I wanted to see and photograph. Hopefully I would find a few areas to pull off of so I could trek through portions of the natural arches and standing rocks. The sun was big and bright in the sky so I was feeling especially lucky about this portion of my trip. IN THE DISTANCE I could see the town; besides, there was a large welcome sign posted on the side of the road telling me I had arrived at my destination. I am not sure what I expected the town to look like, but what I saw was nothing I imagined. No sooner had I entered the city limits and there were signs posted everywhere advertising everything from restaurants to souvenir shops to motels; I am talking sign after sign littering the landscape. To say it was a turn off would be an understatement. As I drove deeper into the town the signs were joined by retail stands and carts. There were people on the side of the rode selling T-shirts and hats with either pictures of the natural area or different variants of the town’s name. If that was not bad enough there was a majority of retail establishments that had gaudy bright lights and decorations adorning their space. Everything I saw looked tasteless to me; to live in a beautiful part of the country and mess it up with all of this stuff was a shame. The reason I am telling you this is because this is how I felt about this action drama. STUCK IN AN elevator at the World Trade Center when the first plane hit, five strangers soon realized they would have to depend on each other if there was any chance of them surviving. Starring Whoopi Goldberg (For Colored Girls, Glee-TV) as Metzie, Gina Gershon (P.S. I Love You, Face/Off) as Eve, Charlie Sheen (Wall Street, Two and a Half Men-TV) as Jeffrey, Luis Guzman (Boogie Nights, Anger Management) as Eddie and Jacqueline Bisset (The Deep, Bullitt) as Diane; I sat in my seat dumbfounded for most of this movie. The acting was almost comical and I found myself feeling embarrassed for the actors. I wondered if they were forced against their will or lost a bet, so they had to be in this film. The script, let me say, was basic and I am being kind. It was so predictable and made the actors look like novices in their field. Sadly I thought the idea to the story was good, where it could provide a variety of ways to play it out. I literally was baffled that such a life changing event in our history winds up being represented by this picture. If I had time I would like to see if it initially went straight to DVD and the movie studio decided to release it to theaters now since the 9/11 anniversary date was upon us. Talk about walking in expecting to experience something meaningful and finding out the only thing that mattered was a paycheck.
1 ½ stars
The street festival provided an opportunity to relive the memories of the old neighborhood of my youth. Walking the residential streets was a revelation for the homes were now freshly painted in colorful hues. Old porches and stairs that previously yawned in tiredness looked confidently strong now; I doubt they would utter a peep. The biggest surprise was the amount of foliage everywhere. As a kid I remember flowers were something one would find mostly in a backyard, not many households had them in front. Bushes covered the bottoms of houses; some planted to form a straight hedge across, others looking like tossed green gumdrops. Now as I traveled down several streets, flowers and ornamental trees were blooming everywhere. The trees that remained from my childhood had expanded and grown as if someone had pumped them up with air to look like inflated balloons at a Thanksgiving parade. When I finally reached the heart of the business area there were a few stores I remembered though they were dressed up with new signs and banners. The grocery store was replaced by one of those dollar stores and the local drugstore was now a currency exchange. Sitting in the same place was the diner I used to go to at least once a week. I had to go in and though no one looked familiar to me, the furniture had not changed. I ordered my usual and watched the cook make it as I sat on one of the dark red stools at the counter. The food came in those same plastic baskets freshly lined with wax paper. I was excited as I took my first bite, taking in the earthy aroma wafting off the pile of fries. Sadly my memories tasted better than the actual meal. The same thing could be said about this version of a comedy classic. STRANGE occurrences started popping up around New York City but only two people understood what they could be. Scientist friends Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates, played by Kristen Wiig (The Martian, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) and Melissa McCarthy (The Boss, Spy) were convinced there was finally proof to substantiate their research. After all the talk of this science fiction fantasy reboot having a female cast it all came down to the script for me. Kristen, Melissa and Leslie Jones (Trainwreck, Saturday Night Live-TV) as Patty Tolan were subdued compared to Kate McKinnon (Life Partners, Saturday Night Live-TV) as Jillian Holtzmann; she was terrific which is saying a lot since the story was bland. I did not have any laugh out loud moments and felt the story needed some caffeine. The villain of the story was so dull with a tired story line that I sat in my seat and wondered what the writers were thinking. Even the special effects were nothing special; after all these years since the original film, you would think the movie studio would want to dazzle the viewers with special effects. Overall this movie was not the worst; it just did not taste as good as the original I remembered. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
The word personal is defined as relating or affecting a particular individual without the intervention of another. I may have mentioned this before but there are 2 things I avoid discussing: religion and politics. It is not because I am not interested in say one’s religious customs or beliefs, but I resist getting into a conversation with someone who feels their religion or political viewpoint is the “right” one. For me my political and religious thoughts are personal; I have no desire to foster my opinions onto other people. I would not say I am a well informed voter when it comes to political elections, but I do read the news and pay attention to the media coverage of candidates. That is the extent of my research, though I never realized how much social media sites can play a part in elections. On the downside I find out more than I wish to sometimes about people’s beliefs and opinions on my various web sites. It is such a curious thing when it is a known person who has leanings that are opposite of what I imagined they would be. In fact there are some friends in my circles who I never talk politics with because we ride different trains of thought. The reason I am telling you all of this is to convey to you I have no political ambitions, activism (except for voting in every election) or pastimes; no one would consider me a political news junkie at all. So imagine how stunned I was watching this documentary about a political figure. FORMER New York congressman Anthony Weiner decided to pin his political comeback on the mayor’s race for New York City. This documentary would cover the entire campaign from beginning to end. The first thing that amazed me about this film festival winning movie, co-written by Eli B. Despres (Blackfish, Wilderness Survival for Girls), was what appeared to be the unlimited access the filmmakers were granted by Anthony and his wife Huma Abedin. With the amount of election coverage all of us are exposed to these days, I know I am only seeing only the façade of a campaign. Nearly every word and gesture has probably been planned unless the candidate trips up. I normally do not pay much attention to the marketing paraphernalia from any political candidate; so being able to go behind the scenes of the campaign in this picture was fascinating to me. And I have to tell you getting backroom access to Anthony’s journey during the 2013 mayoral race was mind blowing. On one side there were scenes with Huma that were just heartbreaking; on the other side watching Anthony was part circus, part train wreck and part stubbornness all rolled up into one. I was glued to this documentary; I felt I was watching a live theater production. How ironic, I initially was not too excited to see this film at first; but I was immediately won over. Let me mention I absolutely loved writer Eli B. Despres’ Blackfish documentary, so it now makes sense that I would love this political story.
3 ½ stars
The rules for dating as far as I can tell are constantly changing. I use to wish for a handbook to make the process easier. From my experiences I feel the underlying reason for all of the confusion these days is mistrust. It seems as if very few people take another person at face value. There was a time where most dates did not have an issue getting picked up at their home. I do not know if it is partially because of the internet or all the different crime shows on television, but a majority of people prefer meeting at some type of public establishment. Now I actually agree with this logic; I’m all for meeting someone out publicly for the 1st time. Here is the thing though; even after a couple of dates I noticed some individuals balk at the suggestion of being picked up at their home or coming over to mine. There have been times when I’ve offered such an arrangement but sensed their uneasiness at the suggestion. I get the sense they feel I have an ulterior motive in offering such a thing. It is just weird to me; but I never force the issue. Now there is something else that I find perplexing; maybe you have noticed it yourself. Those friends that go from being single to being in a relationship quickly become outdated on the latest dating rules; it is as if their set of rules expired over night. You can query them, asking them how they knew their date was the right one; but to no avail, everyone has a different answer. When you think about it, it is amazing how people wind up being in a loving relationship. If you do not believe me just take a look at the women in this comedic romance. Alice, Robin and Meg; played by Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey, Black Mass), Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect franchise, Bridesmaids) and Leslie Mann (The Other Woman, This is 40); each had different reasons for dating. It only became more confusing when love was introduced into it. Based on the best seller, the cast also included Anders Holm (The Intern, The Interview) as Tom and Jake Lacy (Carol, Obvious Child) as Ken. Though I have not read the book, I did get the idea the story was meant to shine a light on the dating world from a feminine perspective. I thought Leslie and Rebel were better when it came to acting skills. Honestly though, I did not think this movie did anything different; I was constantly getting bored with the story. In fact, the trailer for this film showed the best parts; throughout the movie I never connected to any of the characters. Now here is the funny thing, I could see where the story could have taken a bigger risk and delve deeper into the characters but the script was not geared to do it. After seeing this film I am just as confused about dating and love as I was before.
1 3/4 stars
Seasoned eyes pause during their trek, scanning the room as they catch a reflection of themselves in someone else’s eyes. The stillness seems to have gone on for a long time, but no one around would have noticed anything different. The two sets of eyes unlock to continue on their way, knowing they will come back to this new laid trail to tread softly upon it once again. When they do this time a shadow of a smile escapes like a gentle sigh as the tiniest of lines appear at the corners of those eyes. The lines are proof that the eyes are settling in for a longer duration. Now here is where the sets of eyes may differ for each set is projecting a series of random images that have played before. A walk down by the lake, sitting at an outdoor cafe on a warm day, helping to take off a thick winter coat; the difference is the added appearance of the new person you have noticed across the room. They are pictures of a possible future that must return to the reality of the mind’s photo album. Some people are quite skilled at all of this because there is a strong sense of self. What happens though when that strong sense is missing? It has been called flirting, prowling, hunting and teasing; some individuals are blatant about it while others are more subdued. When the intentions come from a place of respect and affection any name would do. If the opportunity appears to experience a true and deep love, who would not want to embrace it? STORE clerk Theresa Belivet, played by Rooney Mara (Pan, Side Effects); found she suddenly felt different when she saw customer Carol Aird, played by Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings franchise, Cinderella). It was not just the hat Carol was wearing. Directed by Todd Haynes (I’m Not There, Velvet Goldmine), this film festival winner was an exquisite visual period piece from the 1950s set in New York City. With Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story-TV, 12 Years a Slave) as Abby Gerhard and Kyle Chandler (The Wolf of Wall Street, Zero Dark Thirty) as Harge Aird; the acting was perfect for the story, in an intimate and refined way. I thought Rooney’s acting was one of her best performances. The costumes and sets were created with the utmost style for the era; I liked the look of them. I understood for the era there had to be a certain shall we say subtleness to the script; however, I felt it diminished my overall enjoyment in viewing this dramatic romance. In turn, the pacing tended to run slow for me. There were passages where the emotional level stayed consistent far too long; it needed more dramatic variance in my opinion. Watching this film was like getting a beautifully wrapped present that contained a sweater for you but just not in the right size.
I always enjoy meeting friends of friends and relatives or the significant others of friends. There is this fascination I have regarding how different people form relationships. In regards to friends I do not expect that all of their friends have similar traits, but I actually look at what I think is their stronger attributes and how they fit in with our common friend; it is like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. I had a friend who had a friend I felt was an irritating individual. Whenever we were together in a social setting we remained polite, but kept our face to face time down to a minimum amount to avoid getting on each other’s nerves. At the other end of the spectrum, there was a friend who introduced me to their best friend and we immediately bonded as friends. It was not too long before we felt we were each other’s best friend, we had so many similar traits. Our mutual friend actually became jealous of our relationship. Now have you ever noticed how two people in a relationship can be opposite of each other, where one is an introvert and the other an extrovert? This fits so well into my thinking the world is made up of pluses and minuses; sort of on the same lines as that theory about there is an opposing force for every force or something like that. I think that is one of the reasons why I found the main characters interesting in this comedy film. FINDING herself alone and in a new city; college freshman Tracy, played by Lola Kirke (Gone Girl, Reaching the Moon), decided to reach out to her future stepsister Brooke, played by Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha, No Strings Attached). Starting in Times Square Brooke would take Tracy on a wild adventure through New York life. I have been a fan of Greta for some time and give her credit for her work on this film where she also co-wrote the script. There were some fun exchanges and great lines in the dialog. Unfortunately it took a long time for this movie to grab me; I found the first half slow and boring. Once Heather Lind (A Single Shot, The Weekend) as Mamie-Claire came onto the scene I found myself becoming more interested in the characters. The role of Brooke was a fascinating study for me; I enjoyed the idea of chasing one’s dreams and creating plans while not letting any setbacks pull you down attitude. The issue I had with this picture was trying to decide if it was purposefully trying to be shallow because I never felt totally invested in the characters. I still cannot tell. Like I said earlier it took a long time for me to get into this film and by the end I was left with a feeling of, “That is it?”
2 1/2 stars
The word separation is an interesting word because it has two polar opposite emotions associated with it. A person would be relieved and happy to be separated from someone who was toxic to them. I can understand the feeling that would come over someone after being in an abusive relationship; in this case separating oneself would be a healthy thing. After being harnessed to a yoke, dragging fear and despair with them everywhere, the feelings of leaving has to be monumental. When there are people you love such as family, friends, or soul mates; a separation from them can feel as if your breath never quite fills your lungs, taxing your heart’s beat. Being apart from them can be sad and painful, where you worry each memory filled tear running down your face will feel like loved ones slipping away from you. It seems to me the act of separation can have a powerful affect on an individual. In this film festival winning movie being separated from his 2 children was more than 40 year old Xavier Rousseau, played by Romain Duris (Heartbreaker, The Beat That My Heart Skipped), could bear. When Wendy, played by Kelly Reilly (Flight, Sherlock Holmes franchise), the mother of his 2 kids decided to leave France and move to New York City, Xavier decided to follow and settle down near them in the foreign land. He would soon discover it was not an easy thing to do. This dramatic comedy had a lot going for it. I did not know this film was the third in a series, the two previous being L’Auberge Espagnole and Russian Dolls. After viewing this romantic movie I wished I had seen the previous ones because I felt I was missing out on something. The cast had an easy flow going between each other and were all believable. Part of the cast also included Audrey Tautou (Coco Before Chanel, The Da Vinci Code) as Martine and Cecile De France (Hereafter, High Tension) as Isabelle. The story essentially had no major potholes in it, things were pretty much kept at an even keel and that would be my major complaint. I did not find much contrast between any of the scenes; there was a chuckle here, a touching moment there. As I said before maybe my reaction would have been different if I had more history with the characters, watching them in their previous films. Granted I had very little negative things to say about the movie; I just felt a little left out. There was English, French, Spanish and Chinese languages spoken with English subtitles when needed.
2 2/3 stars
Once one gets past the awkwardness of puberty and the teen years, is there any reason to be embarrassed for something you had no control over? I am not talking about your hair accidentally being dyed a color not found in nature or tripping over a crack in the sidewalk. Instead I am referring to things like your birthplace, parents or current residence. I find it perplexing when someone is embarrassed to have visitors over to their perceived small, or some other negative adjective, apartment, because the guests live in a swanky or trendy place. Another example would be being ashamed of a parent’s lack of education. Maybe some of these comparisons could be considered a form of envy which I find distasteful. I had the same type of feeling for this comedy film. Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, Saturday Night Live-TV) played aspiring playwright Imogene. Struggling to become successful in New York City, she found herself in a predicament that required her to move back in with her mother Zelda, played by Annette Bening (Ruby Sparks, Running With Scissors). Things would not be the same due to two strangers Lee and George, played by Darren Criss (Glee-TV) and Matt Dillon (Crash, Wild Things), living in her mother’s house now. I have to tell you right from the start; this movie was not a comedy, it was a tragedy. This is not a compliment. To create a balance of drama and comedy, it takes work with a little finesse. The story was atrocious; none of the characters were likable. For the duration of this film I found maybe two or three things that were slightly amusing. One of them had Darren Criss’s character singing. Outside of that I have to say this film was icky. In an instance such as this; it would be totally understandable if the actors were embarrassed about their finished product, I know I was for them.
1 1/2 stars