IT STARTED WITH THREE friends who decided to get together for dinner and a movie. They had been friends for years so pretty much knew each others’ tastes regarding food and films. Once the date was found that fit into everyone’s schedule the three friends could figure out where to meet. It was during this brief time when one of the friends asked if they could bring a friend of theirs; the other friends had met the person a few times already so they were fine with including another person into their movie night. A few days later this new addition into the group asked if their cousin could join. The friends could not say no, so starting out with a group of three grew now to five. By the time everyone was getting together there were a total of seven people in attendance. Things were going to get interesting with that many people now involved in the decision process. WHERE THE THREE ORIGINAL friends could quickly pick a restaurant to fit the taste preferences for all of them, these additional people torpedoed that certainty. One person did not like Chinese food, another would not eat Mexican cuisine, one person did not want to spend “too much” money on food; the decision process turned into a mess. Emails, calls and texts were going back and forth nixing one suggestion while negotiating another. It took days to decide on a restaurant that would suit everyone’s demands and even that restaurant was agreed to begrudgingly by a couple of the individuals. One of the three original friends had little patience for someone who agrees to do something then spends the whole time being sour about being there. Chances were good this scenario could happen at the restaurant; I agree because I have been in this very situation myself. Things rarely go well when there are multiple people who each have strong opinions on what should take place. It seems the writers of this dramatic, crime mystery were suffering the same fate. A QUIET SUBURBAN NEIGHBORHOOD reels out of control when a loan shark comes to collect a debt and a black family moves in. With Matt Damon (Inside Job, The Great Wall) as Gardner, Julianne Moore (Maggie’s Plan, Still Alice) as Rose/Margaret, Noah Jupe (The Night Manager, Wonder) as Nicky, Glenn Fleshler (A Most Violent Year, Boardwalk Empire-TV) as Sloan and Oscar Isaac (The Promise, Drive) as Bud Cooper; I overall enjoyed the entire cast and each of their characters. Add in the perfect sets and costumes and this film looked like it was going to be a winner. I was so wrong and I feel the reason was due to the script. There were too many storylines; one could be considered a drama, the other a comedy and another one of a more mysterious nature. As I was getting into the action of one, the scene would change and go to a different subject. All this did was make me lose interest in what was happening on the screen. If I had not liked the actors I think it would have been true boredom to sit there. It really was a shame because each story line could have easily been separated into its own movie. I could see each of them being a good and engaging story that I would want to see. Sadly this was just a mess but on the bright side if you are out with a group of friends, I think you would all agree to give this one a pass.
1 ¾ stars
LOOKING at him there was nothing that distinguished him differently from anyone else. The only thing one could say about him was his height; he was one of the tallest boys in the neighborhood. He was a friend of mine who lived across the street from me. What did make him stand out from everyone else in the neighborhood was his name. No one had a name even remotely close to his or anyone else in his family. Their last name as well as some of his siblings’ first names had so many syllables. As far as I knew no one really cared that they had unusual names compared to the rest of us in school. I remember at some point being told by him that his family was Armenian. It sounded so exotic and far away compared to the rest of the families on the block. This bit of information was treated more like a footnote; all it meant to our circle of friends was his family had traveled halfway across the world from a place none of us had ever heard about before. THROUGHOUT my schooling; I am talking elementary, high school and college; I cannot recall ever hearing or having a discussion about the historical events that were depicted in this dramatic movie. I do remember the events that led up to World War I started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. With World War II a prominent part of its history was the systematic extermination of people based on their faith, heritage, sexual orientation, among other distinctions. Regarding the First World War, I cannot recall part of its story involving a particular group of people targeted for elimination. Sitting through this film a part of me was shocked by the action taking place in several scenes. Not because it was especially graphic, gratefully it was not, but due to the historical significance that somehow was missing from my education. The story in this picture was something larger than what I had imagined. MEDICAL student Mikael Boghosian, played by Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), always wanted to be a doctor. The Ottoman Empire had other plans for the Armenian man. This film festival winning movie also starred Charlotte Le Bon (The Walk, The Hundred-Foot Journey) as Ana Khesarian, Christian Bale (The Fighter, The Big Short) as Chris Myers, Shohreh Aghdashloo (Rosewater, The Story of Soraya M.) as Marta Boghosian and Marwan Kenzari (Ben-Hur, Loft) as Emre Ogan. Oscar who I think is a gifted actor did not disappoint in this movie; however, Christian Bale was miscast. His role not only did not offer him much to work with, but was more involved with the 2nd story line that I found did not belong in this film. The culprit for this film not reaching full potential was the script. I get the idea studios believe a story needs a love interest, but the whole love triangle scenario in this story was a distraction. There were so many opportunities to mine dramatic intensity that instead was passed over to focus back on the relationship between the three main stars. It was sad because based on what I saw this picture really could have been memorable. After the film was over I had to stay seated and think about how extraordinary it was for my friend and his family to have been living across the street from me.
2 1/3 stars
I think having the ability to see one’s self through someone else’s eyes would be quite beneficial. It would be like having an instant 2nd opinion, besides the advantages of having an easy access mirror that reflects back perceptions. I have seen various television shows where an individual is shown a videotape of themselves after some event. Most of these are done as a comedy bit on a talk show, but there have been other occasions where I have seen it done. I cringe when I think about things I have done where if I only had given thought to how my actions would be perceived, I would not have acted in such a way. Another positive aspect about someone else’s viewpoint is the confidence one could gain from such knowledge. Can you imagine growing up and being told by someone important to you that you will never be good at art or sports? Any painting you draw or ball you throw never receives a compliment or a word of encouragement. Not until you are in a different environment and someone sees something in you, do you finally hear a positive comment. I know I have mentioned this previously but based on my background no one would have believed that I would become a fitness/yoga instructor; I flunked PE twice in high school. Yet there was one individual at a fitness class I attended in my neighborhood who saw and encouraged me to pursue my passion. It just goes to show you that sometimes our perceptions of ourselves may not always be the most accurate. THE world En Sabah Nur, played by Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Stars Wars: Episode VII-The Force Awakens) remembered was nothing like the new world he was seeing now. Changes needed to be made. This action adventure brought back most of the actors from the previous film, so I will focus on a couple of the standouts for me. Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games franchise, Joy) as Raven/Mystique was a focal point to this film and I always enjoy her performances; however, I only wished the script would have offered her more. Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones-TV, Barely Lethal) as Jean Grey was perfect casting in my opinion. The other actor I enjoyed was Evan Peters (American Horror Story-TV, Elvis & Nixon) as Quicksilver. I read on Moviejoltz’ Facebook timeline a discussion regarding this story deviating from the comic book. Since I am not familiar with the comic books I can only base my review on what I saw on the big screen. The special effects were good though it seemed the fight scenes overwhelmed the telling of the story. With such a capable cast I wished the script had offered more depth and feelings for the characters. It did seem like some roles were put into this story for possible consideration of a spinoff. I enjoyed watching this fantasy film but after it was done I felt like something was missing. Granted this was my perception of the movie; true comic book fans may have a stronger reaction. There was one extra scene at the end of the credits.
2 ¾ stars
It has been years since we first got together; has it been decades already? Old friends who have seen and lived through so much together all these years. I remember when we first met; I was standing in a long line of people outside on a cloudless day. Though you were not native to the area we soon discovered we had things in common and became fast friends. Our conversations were never forced; in fact, we were comfortable enough to say anything because neither of us ever judged the other. Even when you were having father issues I was there for you. There were periods of time where we did not get to see each other. Remember when you went away to that remote place to find yourself? I will never forget when you found out you had a sister; you were over the moon. When I look back at the times we spent staring up at the stars, wondering which ones looked like they were in the throes of death, we really have experienced a lot together. And like any close friendship, no matter how long it has been between visits, we pick up right where we left off as if we had just seen each other yesterday. There is a certain comfort that comes with our conversations. Though we view things with older and wiser eyes, I still see younger images of us whenever we talk. To tell you the truth, memories of our past years always accompany you so that I always get a sense of home whenever we meet. THE years of peaceful harmony that followed the defeat of the Empire were about to be threatened from a new evil force called the First Order. Their plan involved the use of the dark side. This action adventure fantasy directed and co-written by J.J. Abrams (Super 8, Star Trek franchise) had the perfect balance between the past and present. Not that someone unfamiliar with the past Star Wars movies needs to see all of them, but it would help with some of this film’s humorous dialog. With relative newcomer Daisey Ridley as Rey, Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year, Ex Machina) as Poe Dameron and Adam Driver (This is Where I Leave You, What If) as Kylo Ren; I can say with certainty the franchise has been placed in capable hands. These three actors especially Daisy were powerful on screen. Is the story perfect; no, I do not believe so. I found a few parts to be a rehash from past films. There were also some scenes that shared a similarity with past ones. However, the overall movie viewing experience was really special. The entire audience acted and reacted in identical ways, from cheering at the unbelievable battle scenes to the sly remarks from past cast members. As a stepping stone for a new story arc, this picture will fulfill many viewers’ hopes and dreams. Things look good for a new force to take fight.
3 1/2 stars for Star Wars fans 3 1/4 stars for everyone else
It drives me crazy when a computer function does not work. On the monitor a small warning pops up and tells me the procedure failed; then has the nerve to make me press the “okay” button like I have a choice. I want to say no, it is not okay now fix it. The way I look at it I want computers to correct themselves if they are so smart. Now intelligently I understand they cannot think for themselves, but it certainly seems we are going in that direction. With the variety of electronic devices we use these days, some of our computers know more about ourselves than our family or friends. Instead of typing we can talk to our computers, use sign language and maybe soon facial recognition. Just this morning on the news I saw a report of a robot with a human face that has over 40+ pulleys underneath so the robot can provide visual facial cues besides verbal ones. I have to tell you it creeped me out a bit. Maybe it is because of all the science fiction movies I have seen; but the smarter computers are becoming the more concerned I am of their power. There is all this talk about artificial intelligence; do you ever think there will be a time where a computer will refuse one of our requests? It is a frightening thought and this dramatic science fiction film does not make me feel any better about it. WINNING a company contest computer programmer Caleb, played by Domhnall Gleeson (Unbroken, About Time), won a week at the company CEO’s remote private residence. Upon his arrival he discovered he would be testing a new form of artificial intelligence never seen before and her name was Ava, played by Alicia Vikander (Seventh Son, A Royal Affair). This film festival winning movie quickly drew me in with its crisp sleek look. I enjoyed how the scenes blended in with the soundtrack to create a buildup of tension. The acting was excellent from everyone, particularly by Oscar Isaac (A Most Violent Year, Robin Hood) as Nathan. He had a commanding presence on screen. For the majority of the film the script kept my interest; there were only a few parts that seemed to deflate and slow down. For such a modern and relevant story, there was an exciting old fashioned type of cat and mouse mystery game going on which was captivating. This picture had the type of science fiction story that could be considered closer to reality than fiction, which was a scary thought to me. I kept thinking about this movie after it was over. After you see this film you may get a better understanding about my fears when it comes to smart computers. There were a couple of brief scenes with blood.
3 1/4 stars
I am used to friends and family picking up and moving out of state for either a job opportunity or retirement. As for me I would be willing to do it only on a part-time basis, specifically during wintertime. I never had the courage to even think about this until the past several years as the winter months have been harder on me; but who knows if I will ever get to a point where I could afford to do such a thing. What I find to be more courageous are those individuals and families who emigrate to a different country, especially the ones who hope to become business owners one day. I have known people who were willing to work seven days a week, doing whatever needed to be done, to try and make a go of their new business. Depending on where it is located can add an extra level of difficulty when it involves local or federal government agencies. In fact, I just heard a story from a member from one of my classes who is trying to build a new building. The restrictions and requirements to get and keep a building permit is truly a nightmare. ON the verge of expanding his business Abel Morales, played by Oscar Isaac (Inside Lleywn Davis, Body of Lies), was desperately trying to keep things afloat while trying to find out who was stealing from his company. With all of his finances tied up in the business he was taking these acts of crime personally. This film festival winning crime drama had everything going for it. Written and directed by J.C. Chandor (Margin Call, All is Lost), the movie perfectly balanced the emotional scenes with brilliant film work. One of the main reasons why this worked so well was due to the cast and what a group of actors were chosen. Besides Oscar’s performance which was wonderful, there was Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Help) who played his wife Anna, David Oyelowo (Selma, Interstellar) as Lawrence and Albert Brooks (Defending Your Life, Drive) as Andrew Walsh. All of them were amazing to watch; but let me add, Jessica was electric in this role. She was so good that I have to say I think this was her best performance to date. Set in New York during the early 1980s, the whole look of the picture was right on. This action movie was the complete package that was beautifully done with the right amount of emotional investment; I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. There were a couple of scenes where blood and violence was shown.
3 1/2 stars
There are a multitude of actions and reactions that can be attributed to love. The warmth that rises up to the surface of your skin when your significant other engulfs your hand with their hand is due to love. Saddened as you look at the remnants of your love’s face outlined on their pillow while they are away on a business trip, slows your heart rate for the duration of their time away. I remember spending weeks driving around the city and suburbs, taking photographs of places we had been to that were associated with happy moments, to create a memory photo album for their birthday. Yep, due to the love I had for them. Love can overrule the mind’s practical side and make us do some things that can be embarrassing, odd or even scary. For me, I cringe when I think about the time I went to meet them at the airport, dressed up as a shirtless cowboy. Please excuse me for a moment as I clear the taste of bile from my mouth. Most of us associate being in love with joyful thoughts, but in this dramatic thriller love revealed a darker side. Elizabeth Olsen (Oldboy, Liberal Arts) played Therese Raquin who was sent to stay with her aunt Madame Raquin, played by Jessica Lange (The Vow, Big Fish). She was to become a companion and caretaker for her sickly cousin Camille, played by Tom Felton (Harry Potter franchise, The Apparition). As time passed Therese was taken by surprise the day her aunt decided that she would be marrying her cousin and the three of them would live happily ever after. That was until one day Camille brought home his old friend Laurent, played by Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis, Drive). The sets in this period piece were excellent, depicting France in the 1860s. Already fond of Elizabeth Olsen, I thought her and Jessica’s performances were outstanding. Actually I enjoyed the entire cast; the acting level was of a high caliber. The problems with this film have to do with the script and the directing. There were slow dry scenes where I felt the story sagging. It was sad because the potential for a highly dramatic, powerful film was there but it never reached it. The only love I felt for this film was for Jessica Lange and Elizabeth Olsen.
2 1/2 stars
Hope is such a funny thing. In some circumstances it is the life preserver that keeps you afloat during the rough choppy waters of doubt and fear. When one has to wait for test results, hope is there to carry them through the days. There are times though where hope drives us crazy as if it greased the wheels of one’s reasoning, making them skid across the roads of reality and sanity. Checking one’s email account for an email or voice messages for that one call, hoping the person you just met keeps their promise to contact you for a date, as you refuse to make any plans yet for the weekend. This would be the wicked side of hope. The dictionary defines hope as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. It says nothing about it helping or hindering us. In this latest dramatic film from the writing and directing team of Ethan and Joel Coen (The Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men) hope was the only thing musician Llewyn Davis, played by Oscar Isaac (Robin Hood, Drive), had as he tried to make it in the New York folk scene back in the 1960’s. This Golden Globe nominated black and white movie was meticulously filmed down to each detail. The set pieces and scenes had the Coen Brothers’ special way of evoking emotions out of both the characters and viewers. I do not believe everyone will be familiar with the Fred Harvey rest stop oasis, but it was priceless to see one of them in a scene. If I am not mistaken they were in only one state in America where they spanned across the highway. Besides the outstanding acting from Oscar, I thought the acting was equally well done by Carey Mulligan (An Education, The Great Gatsby) as Jean and John Goodman (Argo, Roseanne-TV) as Roland Turner. In fact, I think John is one of the best character actors working in movies today. As for the story I enjoyed most of it, though I felt at times it was meandering about, leaving uncertain conclusions. The ending left me a little cold. I am not sure this film festival winning movie will please everyone. Music lovers will certainly enjoy this musical movie; at least I hope so.
3 1/3 stars
Rarely am I impressed with someone’s job. My motto has always been “someone has to graduate at the top of the class and someone at the bottom of the class.” But when it comes to teachers, I have to admit I am somewhat biased. Both my brothers were teachers; one was a career AP history and sociology high school teacher and the other was an EMH teacher; the letters stood for educable mentally handicapped. I think today the title would be a special needs teacher. From my school years I can absolutely vouch for the effect a teacher can make on a student. For every positive effect there is an equal amount of negative ones. When it came to this movie, I understood what single mother Jamie Fitzpatrick, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal (Hysteria, Crazy Heart), hoped to accomplish. She wanted her daughter to get a decent education from the PIttsburgh school system. With poor conditions and uninterested tenured teachers at the failing, inner city school; Jamie waged a battle against the school system. To achieve change, her tenacity would be met by an unyielding school bureaucracy, fearful teacher’s union and skeptical parents; all determined to protect their own interests. For Jamie to make a solid case, she would first need to win over teacher Nona Alberts, played by Viola Davis (The Help, Doubt). This film was a mess; it received a failing grade from me. Though Viola gave it her best it was not enough, the script was ridiculous; filled with cliches, manipulation and catch phrases. I found Maggie one dimensional and felt her relationship made no sense with teacher Michael Perry, played by Oscar Isaac (Drive, Body of Lies). The story did not know what it wanted; going with an anti union message, then back tracking on it. What could have been a powerful movie was instead slow and uninteresting. Give this film a detention for being boring.
1 2/3 stars