MAYBE BEING BORN IN AN APARTMENT building is the reason why I acknowledge neighbors when I see them. I have lived in buildings and houses; each offers a different living experience. With a house, I always made sure that any loud music/noise ended by 9 pm. There were times I would get home late on a winter night and I would not use the snowblower to shovel the sidewalks, because I did not want to disturb any neighbors. It was important to me to be a good neighbor, so I never complained about a dog barking non-stop in the neighbor’s backyard or my neighbor’s child shooting baskets at 6:30 in the morning. Honestly, I was fortunate to have reasonable and good neighbors. It was not unusual for a neighbor to come over and help when they saw me attempting to do a home repair outside. Likewise, I would help a neighbor carry groceries or heavy objects from their vehicle whenever I saw them. When I moved from an apartment to a house, I made it a point to maintain friendly, or at least cordial, relations with my neighbors. We were going to be living next door to each other, so why would I want to cause something that would turn the relationship acrimonious. LIVING IN A CONDO BUILDING, I have found I have more frequent contact with neighbors than when living in a house. Having several apartments on one floor, one is bound to bump into a neighbor in the hallway. Add in an elevator and there rarely is a day I would not see anyone. Now here is the funny thing; when someone would get on the elevator I always either say hello or acknowledge them with a nod of my head. We live in the same building and though they may be a stranger to me, I feel it is the kind thing to do. It always surprises me when I meet a neighbor who either does not make eye contact or says nothing in return when I acknowledge them. It is not like I get offended by it; I just find it odd. There are some neighbors who will make small talk and there are others who just say a quick hi and go about their business. This may sound weird, but I sometimes wonder what a neighbor would do if they came upon me in some kind of physical distress. Would they quickly walk away because they do not want to be involved or would they try to help? I would rather they be like the neighbors in this dramatic, Academy Award winning movie. EXPERIENCING MULTIPLE LOSSES AFTER THE GREAT recession, the only thing Fern, played by Frances McDormand (Moonrise Kingdom, Burn After Reading), had available was her phone and a van. Between the two she would find a place unlike the place she had come from. With newcomer Gay DeForest as Gay, newcomer Patricia Grier as Patty, newcomer Linda May as Linda and David Strathairn (Fast Color, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) as Dave, this film festival winner was a gentle piece of work. The direction was excellent though I have to say the pacing bordered close to being too slow for me. The acting from Francis was a study on how one could convey emotions without talking and she was powerful in the role. One of the big surprises for me were the newcomers who were not actors but the actual people portraying their lives. The story was a curious one and I appreciated the way it was filmed; the scenery was beautiful. I do have to say if I had seen this before I did my Oscar favorites, I honestly would not have picked Frances as best actress, not that she was bad by any means. My focus is first and foremost the entertainment value and I think the slowness and quiet dragged me down a bit. However, I still feel this rightfully deserved to be included with the nominees this past year.
3 ¼ stars
THE GUESTS I was hosting were curious to see the city’s diverse neighborhoods. I put the afternoon aside to take them on a driving tour. After explaining how the city streets were based on a grid system, making it difficult to get lost as long as one could see a street address, we drove off to our 1st neighborhood. It so happens this was the area where I grew up. Driving around I explained the significance of several buildings, pointed out artifacts of interest and shared some of my personal history along the way. When I explained how I could walk to the main shopping district from my house without using any of the streets, they urged me to show them. I pointed out the several buildings’ gangways and alleys I traversed to make my way to the grocery store. There was no need to explain to them that this was one of my safe routes when I was a kid. AFTER SPENDING THE day showing them several neighborhoods I had some down time, letting my mind drift back to the spots that meant something to me. It is funny how as one grows older things that were important become less so. Memories that were crystal clear and vibrant now look dull as if every recall of them had buffed the layers away. There was the neighborhood’s casual restaurant where my friends and I would sit for a couple of hours to solve what we thought were such urgent matters. All of them seemed so insignificant now through aged eyes. One of the neighborhoods I drove my guests through had a two storied nightclub where I had dreams of being hired as a dancer. If I straighten up now too fast from tying my shoelaces I get lightheaded; how did time go by so fast? Having seen my old public library brought back a flood of emotions for it was one of my safe havens. It was there that I could nestle into one of the alcoves with a stack of books in front of me as cover. How I used to dream about what my life would become only to see it now from much further down the road, as I strolled along my path of scattered memories. SPENDING YEARS PARTYING with the upper echelon of society journalist Jeb Gambardella, played by Toni Servillo (The Girl by the Lake, The Consequences of Love), pretty much knew or knew about everyone. But at this stage of his life did he really want to know them? This Oscar and film festival winning drama also starred Carlo Verdone (Me, Them and Lara; Fun is Beautiful) as Romano, Sabrina Ferilli (Forever Young, 3 Women) as Ramona and Carlo Bucci Rosso (The New Monsters Today, Il Divo) as Lello Cava. Set in Italy, it was beautiful watching this movie. Not just the outdoor scenes but even the indoor ones each offered something for the viewer. As I began this DVD I did not connect immediately to the story; however, there was something about the way the film was shot that drew me in. I found it especially interesting that I perceived all the actors to be friends, which was due to how well they all blended together in the story. There was some confusion on my part whether the story was being told in chronological order or not, but it did not distract me too much. I will say I thought the film ran too long; the script could have used some editing. In a way this was an interesting study of the aging process. Italian was spoken with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD
In a few days the big event will be upon us. I know it will be worth everything I endured the past year. There was the teen movie where the audience looked like it was separated into different groups, huddled by the campfire glow from their cell phones, texting away. I recall the small cluster of elderly people behind me who I assumed were addicted to hard candies based on the crackling, unwrapping noises that pierced the still air throughout most of the movie. All of these things will melt from my memories as the flood of winning Oscar nominees settle into fresh impressions. This was a tough year for me with a few of the categories because the competition was so close. I have my pre-Oscar meal planned, washed my soft cozy afghan and dusted the big screened television; so, I am ready for my favorite day of the year. I really do not have a bucket list but one day I want to be part of the audience sitting at the Oscar telecast. Better yet, I would do almost anything to be a seat filler. If the chance ever comes I already know I would leave behind a tastefully wrapped chocolate candy on each celebrity’s seat upon my departure. Please find below my choices for who I feel should receive the Oscar this year.
BEST ACTOR: Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
This was a tough call because I feel Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave deserves it just as much as Matthew. I would prefer a tie here; however, I feel the academy will choose Matthew based on his recent body of work.
BEST ACTRESS: Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
If anyone can grab this from Cate it will be Judi Dench for Philomena. This is tough but I decided on Cate for her different moods on display.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club
His role was more complicated to pull off and he was brilliant with his performance.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave
I actually was leaning towards Jennifer Lawrence for the longest time but the more I thought about it I decided Lupita was extra special. The dark horse here would be June Squibb for Nebraska, but Lupita deserves the win.
BEST DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
This was the hardest one for me to make a decision. Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity deserves this just as much as Steve McQueen. The new technology he created for the cameras, the difficulty in pushing actors who were alone in many scenes; it was amazing work. However, I am choosing Steve based on the variety of cast and scenes in this film. He kept me absolutely engaged throughout the film.
BEST PICTURE: 12 Years a Slave
Since the beginning I have been telling everyone that this film needs to be shown in every classroom. Being based on a true story only made this movie more incredible for me.
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Gravity
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: Frozen
I only saw 3 out of the 5 nominees and if I had seen The Wind Rises my answer may have been different.
VISUAL EFFECTS: Gravity
So another year comes to a close and I want to thank each of you for your encouragement, support, comments and total acceptance of me; a part neurotic, obsessive, film lover.
I would have been angrier if I had seen this documentary a few years ago. Having survived the global financial crisis of 2008, I know I am one of the lucky ones. Seeing co-workers being let go, consoling friends who lost their homes to foreclosure, worrying about uninsured family members with health issues; I do not recall ever being so overwhelmed with all the negative news. Every generation grows up with the expectation to have an easier life than the previous group. For the very first time in modern history that is no longer the case. Because the wealthiest group of people make up only a small percentage of the population, the average citizen may not have an understanding of derivatives or credit default swaps; I certainly have no need to pay attention to such things. However, I do know what the words greed, selfish and power hungry mean. This Oscar winning film presented the crisis in laymen’s terms without choosing political sides. Not that I now understand the financial markets any better, but at least I can see how people’s thirst for money and power nearly brought down the world economy. The hardest part was seeing how these people barely suffered the consequences of their actions. Director and writer Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight) did an incredible job piecing together the events that led up to the financial meltdown of 2008. Matt Damon (Promised Land, Contagion) was the narrator, taking us through charts and interviews with politicians, economists, professors and former chairmen to name a few. Now you may think this all sounds like it would be dry and boring to watch; it was not the case. I credit the style of questioning that was done. Interviewees were either asked straightforward questions or requested to comment on their past speeches and published articles. I will say there were times I liked seeing some of these individuals squirm when their past conclusions or actions ran contrary to current facts. There is nothing I can do to change the past; I can only use history as a teaching tool as I try to live each day in a responsible way. It was a shame other people did not have the same idea.
4 stars — DVD
Gaining physical strength is far easier than mental strength in my opinion. For my body to get strong I can lift weights, practice yoga or do pushups. It is more challenging for me to be mentally strong. I can still hear the negative comments that were thrown at me like poisonous darts that paralyzed the synapses of my mind. Even today when I try something new the echoes of negativity can be heard in my head. For the first review of the new year, I wanted to review a film that inspires strength. This classic movie was filled with tough courage and fortitude. The story was about deaf, blind and mute Helen Keller and her tutor Annie Sullivan. With no means to communicate with her family, Helen was nearly uncontrollable to the point her parents were thinking to institutionalize her. One last option was hiring Annie from the Perkins Institute for the Blind. What ensued literally was a battle of strength, stubbornness and love. Both Patty Duke (Valley of the Dolls, The Patty Duke Show-TV) and Anne Bancroft (The Graduate, The Elephant Man) won Oscars for their phenomenal performances as Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. At the time Patty was the youngest person at 16 years of age to have won an Oscar award. With keen directing by Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde, Little Big Man), the scenes in this film were just as powerful today as they were when the film first appeared on the big screen. Please understand by my film choice I am not setting up a comparison of our problems to Helen’s plight. The strength displayed in this drama is a motivation for me. I never make new year resolutions; so for the year ahead of us, I wish everyone emotional and mental robustness.
4 stars — DVD
My dark side flourished with evilness when I was younger. If I felt I had been crossed or had my trust broken, I would not walk away. Instead I would go on the attack. At a former company there was a co-worker who was friendly to my face, but then would go out of her way to put me down in front of management for her own gain. I decided if it was not business related I would not make a response to any of her actions, pretending she no longer existed. To drive the point home, whenever I brought a food treat into the office; i offered it to every single person but her. I discovered it drove her crazy, so I kept it up for 1 1/2 years. Looking back I realize my behavior was childish, but at the time it felt so good to do. Whether in a movie or real life I always vote for the bad person to get their just desserts. That is why this classic movie was so much fun to watch. Everything was precisely put into place from cast to story to director in creating this brilliant film. The time was the 1930’s in the midwest and young con artist Johnny Hooker, played by Robert Redford (The Natural, The Way We Were), wanted to get revenge on powerful gangster Doyle Lonnegan, played by Robert Shaw (Jaws, A Man for All Seasons), for ordering the hit on Johnny’s best friend. Knowing his limitations, Johnny needed help from master con artist Henry Gondorff, played by Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke, Road to Perdition). The two men came up with an elaborate plan to get back at Lonnegan, hurting him where it mattered most. I have nothing negative to say about this dramatic comedy. With a wonderful score by Scott Joplin to the distinct titled segments; the Oscar winning movie was filled with surprise twists. From the outstanding acting, directing and writing; this cinematic treasure delivered pure good justice.
4 stars — DVD
Though it is a cliche, I firmly believe the eyes are the windows to the soul. There have been people where I looked into their eyes and only saw a dark, thick aspic. Then I have gazed into other people’s eyes and saw my peripheral vision expand; as I stared into veils of color stretching for miles, sharing a common pulse. I have always been leery of anyone who does not make direct eye contact with me. In this outstanding thriller, the eyes were essential in the telling of this dramatic story. Benjamin Esposito, played by Ricardo Darin (Nine Queens, Son of the Bride) was a retired federal agent for the justice department in Argentina. Hoping to write a novel based on one of his former closed murder cases, Benjamin returned to his old office to meet with department chief Irene Menendez Hastings, played by Soledad Villamil (Red Bear, Life According to Muriel). Using flashbacks, we observed the determination of Benjamin and his partner as they tried to find the killer of Liliana Coloto. But when it came to things closer to his life, Benjamin was incapable of acting upon them. Would revisiting the case give him the courage to express what had been laying inside of him for all these years? This movie captured me from the start, with its exciting story and wonderful acting by the entire cast. Each scene was perfectly placed and filled with a rich layering of emotions. The film, rightly so, won the Oscar for best foreign movie. What really moved me about this film was the way the actors used their eyes to convey their feelings and move the story forward. A couple of scenes with blood and violence. Spanish with English subtitles.
4 stars — DVD
Back in college, one of my sociology professors had a variety of colorful terms in describing people’s marriages. One of his favorite terms was “holy deadlock,” which described a married couple who should not be married to each other; but stay together for reasons that have nothing to do with love. This teacher was an expert in the field, at least that is what he would tell us. I wonder what he would have to say about the couple in this movie. Ten years after her aunt’s murder; newlywed Paula Alquist, played by Ingrid Bergman (Anastasia, Notorious), returned to her aunt’s house with her new husband Gregory Anton, played by Charles Boyer (Barefoot in the Park, Tales of Manhattan). Returning to the house where her aunt’s body was found, Paula soon started to experience strange oddities; each one driving a wedge between the couple. Ingrid won her 1st Oscar with the wonderful performance she did in this psychological thriller. Charles brought a sophisticated darkness to the role that was creepy to me. The supporting cast filled out the spaces around the leads, giving each scene an added rich texturing to the story. It was something to see the film debut of a young Angela Lansbury (Bedknobs and Broomsticks; Murder, She Wrote-TV) as Nancy, earning her an Oscar nomination for her incredible acting. The Oscar winning art direction made this beautiful black and white movie a visual treasure. This was a breathtaking masterpiece on all levels, proving that some movies are simply ageless.
4 stars — DVD
The fact that I do not follow team sports activities, preferring individual sports, and becoming so involved with this movie, should be a testament to the powerful story it told. After seeing the trailer and it winning the Oscar for best documentary, I decided to see it. The story was about volunteer football coach Bill Courtney and his Manassas Tiger high school football team from North Memphis. Having fallen on hard times when the major employer closed their factory, the crime and poverty rates had soared in the city. The football team, which should have been a source of pride, was on a long losing streak as the team had to deal with students dropping out or getting in trouble with the law. This film gave the audience an intimate glimpse into Mr Courtney’s life, as he devoted his time and energy to making something good happen for the players. Talk about reality, why don’t television networks make a reality show like this story? It was absolutely inspirational to see the transformation in the students, the coach, his family and the student’s parents as the football players started to work together as a team. For those of you, who saw the movie The Blind Side, think of this film as a grittier, real version of it. I do not know if I would even call this a documentary. It was so well done in telling the story about this incredible individual Bill Courtney, I would have walked out of the theater thinking Hollywood finally got it right.
3 1/2 stars