EVERY STEP A DECEASED FAMILY MEMBER has taken during their lifetime has led to you. I have thought about this from time to time, usually when I learned something new about a relative. When I found out a portion of my family members decided to immigrate to Canada during the war instead of the United States, I wondered what my life would have been like if I had grown up in Canada. Growing up I might have seen a few of the Canadian relatives when I was very young, but I do not have any memories of them. If they were still alive, I would ask them why they chose to go north instead of following the rest of the relatives who came to America. Was there a disagreement or dislike that pushed them to break away, is something I always wanted to know? Or better yet, what would my life have been like if my relatives had never moved from their home? I think about the number of labels one can gain in one’s lifetime; from daughter or son to brother or sister to husband or wife to cousin to aunt or uncle to grandparent and so on. Each of us has a role in the family tree. IN THE SCHEME OF THINGS, I do not think my family tree is much different from anyone else’s family. As far as I know there is nothing too dramatic or outrageous like other families I have heard about. There is a friend of mine who had never met an uncle because the man, in his late 20’s, fell to his death. At that point this uncle’s portion of the family tree ceased to grow. I have another friend who in high school found out she had 2 step brothers living in another state. It turns out her father had a 2nd family no one knew about; including my friend’s mother, the wife. It wasn’t until college that my friend had her first contact with these 2 boys and was stunned to see how much they looked like her (their) Dad. Because of those 2 boys she became a sister, a cousin, a niece and eventually an aunt; all of that simply from this occurrence, though however tragic it was for her and her mother. Newton’s laws of motion could be used to let every family member know, for every action there is an equal reaction; the examples of this can be found in this dramatic romance movie. COLLEGE SWEETHEARTS ABBY AND WILL, played by Olivia Wilde (The Words, The Lazarus Effect) and Oscar Isaac (Star Wars franchise, Annihilation), find themselves on a path that has lasting effects on those before and after them. Written and directed by Dan Fogelman (This is Us-TV, Danny Collins), this multigenerational story had a fine cast such as Mandy Patinkin (Wonder, Homeland-TV) as Irwin, Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Signal) as Dylan and Antonio Banderas (The Skin I Live In, The Mask of Zorro) as Mr. Saccione. Where the episodic telling of a story works in Dan’s television show, I found it annoying for this film. There was a heavy-handedness that made for many syrupy actions and scenes; I felt like I was being told how to feel, very manipulative. It was as if scenes were purposely done to get the audience to tear up. Boredom set in quickly for me and it was not until the last third of the film where my interest finally piqued. I liked the idea of the story and had to wonder how things would have played out if there was a different writer. As I left the theater I thought how much my life would change by me having sat in the theater at this particular time and day.
1 ¾ stars
THE MAJORITY OF US AGREED that in principle social media sites offer people a positive benefit. All around the world individuals have the opportunity to experience and learn about pretty much anything. We were sitting around at dinnertime talking about the recent controversy with a particular social media site; it involved people’s personal information being mined by a consulting firm. It may say in the terms and conditions when one signs up online that our information can be shared, but how many of us actually read all the terms: I know I do not. If I understand correctly the depth of information that was shared by the internet site was startling. Someone at the table was saying the company can keep track of our mobile phone numbers being used since most people are posting comments and photos via their phones. When you think about it, it really does sound invasive. I still cannot get over how I can look at an item at a retail store’s website and the next time I go on my social media account there is an advertisement for the same item. Talk about living in an Orwellian time of Big Brother. AS WE CONTINUED OUR CONVERSATION someone brought up how every good thing that gets created always has a downside due to dishonest people. I had to think about this for only a short time before I agreed. A lot of these internet sites were set up with good intentions but they all are being based on people being honest. I remember receiving a message from a stranger that wanted to connect; everything looked legitimate so I responded back to them. As soon as I did they sent a stream of shocking photos that I had to quickly delete then block the person. On the other hand I am sure there are a multitude of individuals online who believe they are alone, different or feel there is something better for them; who discover like minded individuals. This can have a powerful affect on a person. The reason I say this is because I believe that discovery is the catalyst for one’s imagination to open up and flourish. It all starts with a dream that can lead one to their new reality; just see how this works in this action adventure, science fiction film. IN THE FUTURE EVERYONE TAPS into a virtual world where they can be whatever they want to be. However there were some individuals who saw an opportunity where they could take control of it all for their own gain. Directed by Steven Spielberg (The Color Purple, Catch Me if You Can) this movie starred Tye Sheridan (Mud, X-Men: Apocalypse) as Parzival/Wade Watts, Olivia Cooke (Thoroughbreds, The Quiet Ones) as Art3mis/Samantha, Ben Mendelsohn (Darkest Hour, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Sorrento and Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies, Dunkirk) as Anorak/James Halliday. Right at the start this film grabbed me on its visuals. Both its real and virtual world had an assortment of treats; I especially enjoyed the way Spielberg inserted throwback references. The other thing that excited me was the action scenes; they were all well orchestrated with excellent special effects. Now for the bad news; I was somewhat underwhelmed with the story. I found the real world scenes more interesting. The virtual world after awhile seemed like I was watching a video game that I could not participate in it. There was an obvious message that the writers and director wanted to get across to the viewers; it seemed a bit preachy to me. By the end of the film I was not sure if I had just seen what our future could be and if it was going to be a good or bad thing.
2 ¾ stars
AT FIRST I THOUGHT IT was due to the amount of gifts a child received, but I am not so sure anymore. I have attended children’s birthday parties where the number of toys being unwrapped was almost obscene. The child would get so worked up into a frenzy that they were just shredding the gift wrapping paper, going from box to box. I do not know if they even spent 10 seconds focusing on the unwrapped package before they went on to the next one. For the longest time I assumed a child who gets showered with gifts appreciates them less than a child whose parents could only afford to give one or two items. There just seemed to be a sense of boredom that settled in with the children of wealthier parents. I remember one party where the birthday boy received a remote controlled race car and proceeded to race it into the walls until the car broke; it did not faze him at all. In fact, he just left the broken pieces right where they were and walked away. MAYBE IT IS JUST ME but it appears the amount of toys and electronic devices marketed to children has dulled their imaginations. There was a time where a stick and a garbage can cover would be all one needed to have a sword and shield for King Arthur’s court. A pile of fallen, autumn leaves would be the domain of a king you wanted to depose. These days I see more and more kids getting plugged into electronic games. I used to make believe with my friends that we were a combat unit sent out to fight the enemy. We needed imagination as we used whatever we could find as props. I once used an empty dishwater detergent bottle as a flame thrower, except it was filled with water that would spew out when I squeezed the bottle. We had to pretend and sure one of us would die at each battle, but no one ever got harmed; none of us ever wanted to see an injury. These days it is hard not to see some form of real violence on the internet, television and video games. Heck, how many times have I complained about parents bringing their 5 year olds to an R rated movie; it upsets me. After constantly being exposed to violence I am sure it numbs a person to the reality of it. I think that is what was going on in this film festival winning, dramatic thriller. CHILDHOOD FRIENDS LILY AND AMANDA, played by Anya Taylor-Joy (Split, The Witch) and Olivia Cooke (The Signal, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), reconnect after several years. At first they seemed at odds until Lily expressed her dislike for her stepfather Mark, played by Paul Sparks (Midnight Special). Now there was something the two friends could focus on. This bloody crime movie also starred Anton Yelchin (Green Room, Star Trek franchise) as Tim and Kaili Vernoff (Café Society, The Path-TV) as Karen. I know this film has been getting a lot of good press and I can see where it is deserved. The filming style, the acting and the look of it were all done well. However the story dragged for me; I never felt connected to the characters. I had a feeling where the story was going and admit I was surprised in the twist, but I left the theater feeling blah about the whole experience. And this was despite the scenes with blood. Maybe I need to see this again but I would rather go do something outside.
Maybe it takes a passage of time for one’s perceptions to evolve out of a wider base of experiences. Now when I look back at my school years, though some of them were brutal, I see there were parts of it where I was fortunate. Having gone to school at a time when students were not considered bull’s-eyes I can only recall one incident where a student had died. He was the brother of a classmate who was 1 year behind us in school. There were rumors about what happened to him but it appeared as if he had killed himself. Outside of that the only thing that came close was one student who was an epileptic who had a seizure in the middle of a class and another who was a hemophiliac. I remember when the teacher spent half of the morning explaining to us what it meant to be a hemophiliac; we were told to be very careful around her, especially during PE class and recess. As you are probably guessing this was before the HIPAA law came into effect. In regards to these 3 individuals, it was the only time where the different factions (it is the only word that does justice to what my school was like) in the school came together. Whether one actively sought out a faction or was judged and placed in one; after seeing this stellar film, I think all schools have the same factions. FORCED by his mother to go visit a classmate recently diagnosed with cancer Greg, played by Thomas Mann (Project X, Beautiful Creatures), had no idea what to say to Rachel, played by Olivia Cooke (The Signal, Ouija). Not interested in his pity Rachel and Greg had nothing in common except not being part of a particular group in school. Her journey through her illness would blur the lines. This film festival winning comedic drama was this generation’s coming of age story. With cast members like Nick Offerman (We’re the Millers, Parks and Recreation-TV) as Greg’s dad, Molly Shannon (Analyze This, Life After Beth) as Denise and newcomer R J Cyler as Earl; everyone was believable and gelled so well together. The bond between everyone was cemented by the intelligent script that had street smarts. As I sat in the theater watching this movie, I had various school memories popping up that were similar in theme to what I was seeing on screen. With the outstanding directing that beautifully blended in the absurd, sad, happy and uncomfortable scenes; I was swept into the story of this film and enjoyed nearly every minute being involved with these students. Wow, I wish I could have said the same thing about my time spent during my school years.
3 2/3 stars
There were no commercials or advertisements as far as I could recall. None of the toy shelves at stores carried it. The only thing I can remember was it being the first game I ever played, not counting tag or hide-and-go-seek. The game was handed down to me, taught by my Mother. We would either sit at the kitchen table or on the sofa to play, with only one thing needed: a deck of cards. After she shuffled them she would lay all the cards out face down in rows. Each player would take turns flipping over 2 cards at a time. If they matched, for example 2 threes or 2 queens, the player kept the cards; if not, they would turn the cards face down and the next player would try finding a match. The winner was the one who collected the most cards. I used to love playing this game and eventually started playing it myself to see how long it would take me to match up all the cards. In turn, I taught the next generation after me this card game that had no official name. As time passed and I transitioned to board games with friends, I never showed any of my friends this card game that was done in the family. Not that it was necessarily a secret, it just remained a game one played with a family member. After seeing this film maybe that was a good thing. BOARD games were supposed to be fun, but not in this horror film. After finding a spirit board, aka Ouija board, a group of friends decided to use it to see if they could find out why a friend of theirs killed herself. They unwittingly introduced a dark, ancient spirit into their lives that only wanted one thing: them. Starting out at a slow deliberate pace, this horror movie never veered from it. First time director Stiles White created a bland, generic piece that seemed to attract only young adults based on who was in the theater with me. If you have never seen a scary movie, then it is possible you may jump a couple of times while watching this picture. With Olivia Cooke (The Signal, Bates Motel-TV) as Laine Morris, Daren Kagasoff (The Secret Life of the American Teenager-TV, Blue-TV) as Trevor and Shelley Hennig (Days of Our Lives-TV, The Secret Circle-TV) as Debbie Galardi being part of the cast, there was no acting worth noting here. Of course having such a poorly written script with no lines worth remembering, the cast could not help but to be boring. I cannot believe I am saying this but a better time would have been to save my money by staying home and playing a game with family and friends. There were several scenes with blood.
1 1/3 stars
It is good to have a healthy curiosity about the world around us. For a society it is a component to conscious advancement. Without curiosity imagine what life would be like for us, even just our life expectancy. I remember in school how students were encouraged to be inquisitive and guided to figure out how things worked, instead of tapping a smartphone screen for the answers. A small example just happened to me at the grocery store this weekend when my total bill was $10.89. I gave the cashier $21.00. She stared at it for a moment then looked up at me and told me the total again. I had to explain to her that I wanted $10.00 back instead of singles. I used to be curious enough to try a new food item but now I have to read the label to see what things went into making the product. There was a time when something was not working I could at least open it up to see what was wrong with it. Now if I do that I void the warranty. It used to be if you saw someone standing next to a broken down car by the side of the road, you could stop and offer them help. These days people have to be careful because you never know if what you see is really true. It is so drummed into my head at work not to click on any attachments in emails from unknown sources that I tend to delete emails coming from anyone unfamiliar to me. One has to be careful these days as the 3 friends in this science fiction thriller found it. While on a road trip friends Nic, Haley and Jonah; played by Brenton Thwaites (Oculus, Maleficent), Olivia Cooke (The Quiet Ones, Bates Motel-TV) and Beau Knapp (Super 8, No One Lives); go off course to track down a computer hacker who had broken into their operating system. The beginning of the story started out good in this film; I liked the idea. Adding in the well done direction to the pacing and building tension, I thought this movie would be exciting. To top it off, the studio cast Laurence Fishburne (Man of Steel, Event Horizon) who did an excellent job with his character Damon. Everything seemed to be in place to make a great picture except for one important element: the script was a mess. There were times I was bored and I still am not sure what went on. I felt the script could have benefited if it had been re-written to tighten up the scenes and add some depth to the situations. Thinking about it now I could have waited for this to come out on DVD, if only I had not been so curious.
It was not a requirement but we all knew non-participation would affect our grade. The professor of my college freshmen psychology class encouraged us to enroll in the volunteer program for the graduate students. I remember some of the studies I volunteered for were interesting. There was one where I was sitting in the waiting room with another volunteer. We had a brief time for introductions before we were called into a room. A lab assistant handed each of us a pen and notepad. We were instructed to sit at opposite ends of the room and write down our perceptions of the other one. Once we were done the supervisor asked us to switch our papers. The facilitator then asked the volunteer to read what I wrote about him. I kept my comments to simple generalizations like he seemed nice, had a hearty laugh. When it was my turn to read aloud I was stunned by his words. He had written things like I did not seem to be very smart, appeared to be uncoordinated. After I finished reading, the person in charge asked me to address any comments I might have directly to the volunteer. Turning to him I let loose with such a profanity filled stream of intense anger that the supervisor could not calm me down until he finally admitted this had been a set up and the other volunteer was a graduate student, who was studying subjects’ reactions. I chose to opt out of the program. The test subject in this horror film inspired by actual events did not have the same opportunity. Jared Harris (Lincoln, Natural Born Killers) played professor Joseph Coupland who was convinced he could scientifically explain the irrational occurrences happening to test subject Jane Harper, played by Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel-TV). Settled in a London estate with his team, the professor had everything documented to film by student Brian McNeil, played by Sam Claflin (Snow White and the Huntsman, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire). But even some pictures could not explain what took place. The film work with its cool retro look created an interesting setting for this story. There were parts that were extremely loud which I could not tell was set by the movie theater or the film. Since I found aspects of the story far-fetched, the scare factor was somewhat diminished for me in this film. It was a shame because I liked the idea behind the story, having a central character trying to bring rationality to irrational acts. I am afraid this movie left me unimpressed. If you want to hear something scary, remind me to tell you about the time at school when they wanted to hook me up to electrodes. There were several scenes with blood in them.
1 3/4 stars