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 absence of a reason or answer could fester in the heart and cause an abscess. Sadly I have had experience in this area. We had been dating for several months and it was somewhat startling to me how well everything was flowing between us. The times I spent at their studio apartment were almost magical because it never felt like we needed our own space throughout our times together for entire weekends. It was as if the walls of the apartment faded back into muted curtains of gauze, allowing us to nest into a secret protected area away from the hubbub of the world outside that was whining against the floor to ceiling windows. Then one day everything came crashing down. I was at home when I received their phone call; we had plans to get together later in the evening. They apologized and told me they could not do this anymore. When I asked what they meant, all they said was they could no longer be in this relationship and they hung up. I wondered if there was something I did as I poured over all of the memories I had stored from the two of us, searching for some type of answer. I did reach out to them to try and get an explanation but all of my attempts went unanswered. This was traumatic for me and so that is why I feel the way I do; the hurt will linger as long as there is no conclusion. Another example of the added pain to unanswered questions can be found in this dramatic film. AFTER a tragic, life altering occurrence Sarah and Phil, played by Olivia Wilde (Drinking Buddies, In Time) and Luke Wilson (Legally Blonde franchise, Old School), spiral out of control unable to help each other during their crisis. This film festival nominee had some intense moments, thanks to Olivia and Luke. I felt it was one of Olivia’s best performances to date. With Giovanni Ribisi (Ted franchise, Saving Private Ryan) as Tim and Ty Simpkins (Insidious franchise, Jurassic World) as Adam, the story was not easy to watch in some parts due to the heavy subject matter. The whole cast contributed to making this a believable film for me. Another thing I liked about this picture was the way they kept the dialog down to a minimum in several scenes. I felt it made them more powerful in conveying the emotions. Now there were a few scenes where I found the actions taking place were somewhat odd, wondering if it was created for added effect. I do want to add that some viewers may feel uncomfortable; not for any physical altercations per se, but for the authentic portrayal of a family in despair.
I have found a majority of noises eventually turn into white noise, background sounds as the mind tunes them out. One sound that never stops being heard is the sound of a loving heart. Hearing it brings such a comfort like a warm, cozy, fuzzy blanket on a crisp winter day. To be in a loving relationship is a major accomplishment in one’s life as far as I am concerned. Finding that one special person who accepts all of you, is supportive and kind, who helps you fill out your dreams and provides nourishment that keeps you glowing is a remarkable achievement. As the two of you grow old together the relationship continues to evolve, taking in account any new dreams or hopes; the underlying strength of your bond will always be there to support whoever trips while walking the path of your lives. All of this is wonderful but I have seen how devastating it becomes when death takes one of the two. I knew someone who could not accept the death of their loved one, going to their grave every single day, seven days a week. She stopped living as she surrounded herself with the memories death left behind. One of the hardest parts I have found is altering the daily routines the two of you had shared. STRUCK with immense grief seeing Zoe, played by Olivia Wilde (In Time, Rush), lying on the floor dead from a horrible accident; Frank, played by Mark Duplass (The One I Love, Safety Not Guaranteed), would not let her go. He was willing to take a chance on using her for his scientific experiment that had not been tested yet on humans. Not knowing what would happen, all Frank wanted was to bring back Zoe. The concept for this story was not new; there have been various movies that dealt with bringing someone back from the dead. I thought it would be interesting to use love for the main character’s motivation. The cast worked well together which also included Evan Peters (American Horror Story-TV, X-Men: Days of Future Past) as Clay and Sarah Bolger (In America, The Spiderwick Chronicles) as Eva. Unfortunately the only horror about this film was sitting and watching it. I was completely bored due to the poorly written script, the lack of anything original and the utter absence of suspense. For being classified as a thriller and horror movie, neither took place. The ending was written in such a way that there could be a sequel which would be a very scary thing. I cannot imagine anyone sitting through this picture and finding something they could relate to, let alone being entertained. The heart of this film needs a “do not resuscitate” order placed on it. There were scenes that had blood in them.
1 1/2 stars
They live in my head and do everything I tell them to do. Some of them may have started out as real people like my very 1st friend who lived in the same apartment building where I was born. We were preschool age, but I still remember when we shared a box of colored dog biscuits, thinking they were just extra hard cookies. Over the years that memory was manipulated to fit into a story I was working on for college. I have many fictional characters that reside in my mind, ready to be employed for an article, a story or even just a mental exercise to keep my imagination active. This is the life of a writer or at least of me. Having a dominant right sided brain, my life has always traveled along the perimeter between reality and fantasy. It was a world I was always attracted to because of its ability to be both a crowded and lonely place at the same time. The world inside a writer’s mind can be as present and alive as our daily lives. Liam Neeson (Non-Stop, The Grey) played Michael, an author who traveled to Paris to work on a new book and be with his mistress Anna, played by Olivia Wilde (Rush, In Time). During the same time there were two other stories taking place in this romantic drama. In New York City Julia and Rick, played by Mila Kunis (Black Swan, Ted) and James Franco (This is the End, Palo Alto), were in a bitter custody battle after their son was injured. The third story took place in Rome where Adrien Brody (King Kong, The Pianist) was Scott, a businessman of knockoff designer wear who got involved with a troubled woman who was desperately trying to get her daughter back before being forced into prostitution. The acting was alive and engaging in all three stories, though I found the Mila and James story the strongest. With attractive settings the overall look to this film was pleasing to me; however, it only went so far before the weight of the lumbering script dulled the viewing experience. Written and directed by Paul Haggis (Crash, In the Valley of Elah) I found the stories repetitive. It really felt like the drama went to a certain level and remained there with no variance. I was able to follow all three stories as their scenes switched back and forth between them and figured out relatively early what was going to happen. By the end of the film I did not feel completely satisfied. The concept of peering into a writer’s mind was an excellent idea; in my mind, I would have done a major rewrite of the script.
The racetrack had to have elaborate turns, at least one bridge, hills and a long stretch of flat road. These were my requirements when I would set up my slot car racing track when I was a kid. Back then it was all about the speed; how fast could I navigate the course without the car spinning off the track. My interest in fast driving continued into adulthood; as long as I was behind the wheel I would get a thrill from driving. However, if I was in the passenger seat or a spectator I lost all interest. Because of that I have no desire to watch auto racing competitions; they leave me bored with their cars repeating the same track over and over into a monotonous blur of metal and sound. This is why it was all the more amazing to me how director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) got me totally interested in this action film based on a true story. The film followed the rivalry between 1970’s Formula 1 racing car drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda, played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor, Red Dawn) and Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds, Good Bye Lenin!). I do not know how accurate the depiction of hard partying British playboy James and no nonsense Austrian Niki were to the real men, but for this drama it worked in propelling the story forward. With Chris and Daniel playing the central figures the rest of the cast was left in the background. Olivia Wilde (Drinking Buddies, In Time) as James’ 1st wife Suzy Miller was forgettable for the most part; but Niki’s wife Marlene Lauda, played by Alexandra Maria Lara (Downfall, Youth Without Youth), had more staying power. If I had not known this was a Ron Howard film I would have never guessed he was the director; the film had a fast pace with quick editing shots that made me dizzy at times. Action and speed were the main drivers (get it?) for this story which did not allow much time for character development. The CGI effects were seamless to the point I was not even aware of them. I appreciated the different angles the director used in filming the racing scenes, from driver perspectives to overhead long shots. With the use of voice-overs, I felt the story was well rounded enough for the viewer to get a good sense of these championship drivers. I especially enjoyed the way the movie ended. Please do not tell the state police, but after the movie I made it home in record time. A few scenes had blood in them.
We would try to sit together at staff meetings. Our humor was similar though mine had more of a sarcastic edge. If possible we would stop for a bite to eat after the meeting. There was an easiness to our friendship; I not only enjoyed being around them, but they had the same qualities I looked for in a loving relationship. It would take nothing for my mind to venture into a fantasy of us being together as a couple. They showed such supportive, caring, nurturing qualities; I could see us living together, me in charge of the laundry, they responsible for washing the dishes that served the meals we made together. It would be such a perfect life except for one thing–they were already in a relationship. Now I know there are people who do not let that one little fact stop them; I am not one of those people. In fact, I have been the one that was replaced by a newer version in the relationship. Not that I want you to get out the violins and play me a pity song, but I have been replaced more than once. As a result, by default, I feel I am somewhat of an expert and that is why I thought the characters in this dramatic comedy were authentic. Kate and Luke, played by Olivia Wilde (In Time, The Change-Up) and Jake Johnson (21 Jump Street, New Girl-TV), worked together at a city brewery. They always had fun when they were together; whether it was eating or going out for drinks, they looked like a happy couple. There was only one issue; Luke was already in a relationship with Jill, played by Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air, Pitch Perfect) and Kate was dating Chris, played by Ron Livingston (The Conjuring, The Cooler). With easy access to beer, one had to wonder how long they could keep walking that fine line between friendship and romance. Writer and director Joe Swanberg (Silver Bullets, LOL) used the cameras and script to create an easy natural flow to the characters, allowing them to speak in a more natural way. I thought this helped with the excellent chemistry that was evident between the actors. The humor was light and amusing as opposed to laugh out loud guffaws. I felt the movie could have used some dramatic highs and lows, breaking up the low key monotony I was experiencing. Except for one intense scene, there was not much of a deep emotional connection for me to the characters. The ending left me somewhat cold; I wanted something more or better yet, more conclusive. However if I was a drinking man, I could easily see me sitting with these characters and having a good time.
2 2/3 stars
Besides babies and animals, there is nothing harder to witness than having a loved one ill or in distress. Seeing them nearly immobile from pain, you only wish your hug could remove the discomfort from their body, letting them fall into a quiet healing sleep. Though the relationship was several years ago, I can still recall sitting on the sofa while they were convalescing after a medical procedure. Suddenly there was a yell, followed by a roaring, tumbling sound. I sprang up and raced to the stairs where I saw them sprawled down at the bottom. My throat constricted as it tried to squeeze back my thumping heart that was so loud, it reverberated inside my ears. After making sure they had nothing broken; all I could do was hold them close in my arms, watching their hair sway back and forth from my heavy breathing. That same instinctive protectiveness is what attracted me to this compelling drama. Russell Crowe (Broken City, Les Miserables) and Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games, People Like Us) were husband and wife, John and Lara Brennan. Arrested for the murder of her boss, John felt increasingly helpless with his wife’s unsuccessful case appeals. As Lara became more despondent, John had to do something to keep his family together. The start of the movie had a great set up for the beginning of the story. Russell and Elizabeth blended well together, doing a fine job of acting. I liked the way the director built up the levels of emotion as the movie progressed. My problem started with the change in Russell’s character; I found it hard to believe. Because of that, the story started to fall apart for me. It annoyed me somewhat because the last 30 minutes of the movie offered tense excitement. I did get a kick out of Liam Neeson (Battleship, The Grey) doing a cameo as Damon Pennington. For the few scenes Brian Dennehy (Every Day, The Big Year) was in as George Brennan, he still was able to provide a quiet strength. It can be brutal watching our significant other in crisis; making some of us wish we could take their place. One scene had blood in it.
2 1/2 stars — DVD
Magic gives us the opportunity to believe there is something else around us that may explain the unexplainable. For some our 1st encounter with magic occurred when we were babies. A face would appear from behind a covering of hands and say peek-a-boo. I remember my older brothers playfully grabbing my nose then showing it to me sticking out from their clenched fingers. It took me a while to figure out they were sticking the tip of their thumb up between those rounded fingers. Some type of magic can be found almost every day if you look hard enough. No matter how much you look though, you will find no movie magic in this dull comedy. Childhood friends Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton, played by Steve Carell (Hope Springs, Date Night) and Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Boardwalk Empire-TV), grew up to be famous magicians of a Las Vegas show. When street performer/magician Steve Gary, played by Jim Carrey (Mr. Popper’s Penguins, The Truman Show), gained enough public interest to steal the two headliners’ thunder, a competition began to see who would become the top magician to lead a new show for hotelier Doug Munny, played by James Gandolfini (Welcome to the Rileys, Killing Them Softly) in his new hotel. From the entire movie I believe I chuckled four times. If you have never seen Jim Carrey you will enjoy his performance. For the rest of you who have seen him, it was the same old stuff from rubber faced Jim. Both Steves were lackluster, uttering infantile lines; it made the scenes drag. The only one who was good but did not have much screen time was Alan Arkin (Argo, Stand Up Guys) as Rance Holloway. Olivia Wilde (The Words, In Time) as Wonderstone’s assistant Jane was forgettable. However, part of the reason was the undeveloped role given to her. I am afraid this film created no magic for me. They say “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” in the promotional ads for the city. No truer words have ever been spoken; this film should not have left the editing room. I had more fun making a pint of ice cream disappear over the weekend.
1 2/3 stars
Sticks and stones may break your bones, but lasers will always hurt you. When I first heard about the mash up of cowboys and aliens I thought what a strange combination. Adding in the actors chosen for this film, I decided to check out and see if our latest James Bond actor could handle beings from outer space. Jake Loneran, played by Daniel Craig (Defiance, Casino Royale) woke up without his memory and a strange metal bracelet attached to his wrist. After wandering into the small town of Absolution, he was identified as a wanted man. Just as he was about to be hauled off to face justice, strange lights appeared in the sky that attacked the town. If people wanted to be saved they would have to stand behind Jake, who had the key to saving earth; he just did not know it. Daniel Craig did some things that reminded me of his James Bond character, but he was wooden in this performance. Harrison Ford (Air Force One, Extraordinary Measures), as feared landowner Woodrow Dolarhyde, was more like a mean Indiana Jones. The only reason Olivia Wilde (In Time, The Words) was cast as Ella Swenson was for the writers to inject a love interest angle into the story. Her story line made little sense to me. I was completely perplexed why Paul Dano (There Will be Blood, Ruby Sparks) would agree to play whining Percy Dolarhyde, Woodrow’s son. The story was silly rubbish; it was a disappointment. I liked the special effects and action but they were not enough to maintain my interest during the illogical parts. Daniel Craig better ditch the cowboy hat and go back to his stirred not shaken martini.
1 3/4 stars — DVD