IT WAS THE 2ND WEEK OF high school when I first heard the guitar music filtering into the hallway. I was a freshman and still getting the lay of the land in the large school building, compared to my small elementary school. Making a mental note of my surroundings, I promised myself I would find where the music was coming from. The following week during my study period, I asked for a hall pass and made my way through the school hallways listening for the music. It was faint and unrecognizable, lingering just enough in the air like morning mist to lead me towards it. I soon found myself in an unfamiliar part of the school, in front of a slightly ajar door without a room number. As I slowly pushed the door open the guitar playing stopped. I froze for a moment but decided I could not run away now. Stepping into the room I saw a blonde-haired guy sitting on a desk with one leg crossed over the other and a guitar resting in his lap. He was the first to speak by saying hello to me. I said hi back and told him I had heard the music playing and wanted to find out where it was coming from. He asked if I played an instrument and I told him yes, the piano. From there we started talking all things music, from classical to pop music. HE WAS A SENIOR WHICH TOOK me by surprise because I had heard seniors would not be caught dead talking to lowly freshmen. Music was our connection and I found myself hanging out with him playing music every week, since they did not take attendance in study hall. Having a senior as a friend was fortuitous because it gave me inside access on how to maneuver through the school year. He gave me a rundown of which teachers were cool, what foods to avoid in the lunchroom, what bathrooms were safe to use, among a variety of other tips and warnings. I did not have to go through a typical trial and error period of discovery that was filled with risk, especially for freshman. Little did I know how valuable his info would be for me. My years in high school were traumatic, filled with bullying and abuse; I could only imagine how worse it would have been if I did not know what I already knew due to him. Though we only had one year together in school before he went out of state for college; for all intents and purposes he was a mentor to me, just like the main character in this dramatic crime film. HAVING LOST ALL HIS MONEY, NOT able to even buy a meal John, played by John C. Reilly (Stan & Ollie, The Sisters Brothers), was leery of the stranger who suddenly appeared and offered to buy him a cup of coffee. No one does something for free without wanting something; what did this finely dressed man want with John? With Philip Baker Hall (Boogie Nights, The Last Word) as Sydney, Gwyneth Paltrow (The Avengers franchise, Thanks for Sharing) as Clementine, Samuel L. Jackson (Shaft, The Hateful Eight) as Jimmy and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Hunger Games franchise, The Master) as a young craps player; this film festival winner was filled with a tour de force of acting. The cast was outstanding as they slowly made their way through the script. Seeped in mystery and emotions, I enjoyed the unintentional retro vibe coming off this over 20-year-old film. Due to the authenticity of the dialog, I stayed engaged with the story; a story that seemed familiar to me from other gambling films, yet still had some surprise to it. I can see where young writers would use this film as a teaching tool on how to write real characters.
3 ¼ stars
The idea that there is someone looking up at the sky and seeing something different from what I see sparks my imagination. There is something about humans living on this planet experiencing totally different things to me that energizes my mind. Since I was small I had always been fascinated with people who had friends or family living in a different country. I did not know actually why I felt that way. Maybe hearing stories about individuals who lived in a foreign land allowed me to vicariously experience a part of the world I might never be able to visit during my lifetime. Now I try not to have regrets in my life; but if there was one thing I could have done differently when I was younger, I would have sought out a pen pal. To have 2 people sharing life’s experiences with each other is a gift in my opinion. I know there are some individuals who have an easier time talking to a stranger than to a family member. From my years of teaching and meeting so many different people I know this to be true. LIVING in Australia with an alcoholic mother and feeling all alone Mary Daisy Dinkle, voiced by Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding, The Sixth Sense), decided to randomly pick a name out of a US phonebook. She would then write a letter to this stranger named Max Jerry Horovitz, voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman (A Most Wanted Man, The Hunger Games franchise). Max had Asperger’s syndrome and lived in New York City. Mary’s letter would start a decades long relationship where no topic was off limits. This film festival winning comedic drama was a joy to watch on DVD. Doing the story with claymation characters was a brilliant idea; the emotions displayed had an easy sensitivity to them. The story was narrated by Barry Humphries aka Dame Edna (Immortal Beloved, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), who did a wonderful job no matter if he was saying a deadpan sarcastic remark or tackling a sad situation. I was swept up with the main characters’ plight; that is how real they came across in this animated film. By the way this movie is for a more mature audience; this is not a young children’s film. On a personal note there was a bonus I discovered from watching this picture. It dawned on me that I am essentially doing a modern version of communicating with pen pals from all the people I have met through my movie review site and the sites I have visited. I am basking in the joy of having seen an amazing film and realizing I now know people from all over the world. This movie was for a more mature audience.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
How the heart swells at an act of kindness generated by love. Simple acts such as a small gift on a random day or a surprise visit to share lunch together expand the love that is shared by two. There are multiply levels for acts of love. Each on is as valid as one from another level; the only difference is the degree of difficulty. I believe a true love is one where the two individuals still maintain their love during life’s challenges. In my opinion, those people who leave a relationship when something hard comes up were never truly in love. For love is unconditional; it will not deflate when a person has a health challenge or disappear when one must travel for work and is gone for weeks at a time. There is the saying love makes the heart grow fonder and I believe it to be true. If love makes up the muscles of the heart then communication is the blood that nourishes it. LOVE was the underlying motivation to the events in this science fiction adventure film. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, Winter’s Bone) reprised her role as Katniss Everdeen for this first of a 2 part ending to the series. Having taken refuge in District 13 headed by President Alma Coin, played by Julianne Moore (Non-Stop, What Maisie Knew); Katniss had to be convinced in lending her voice towards the campaign to keep the revolution alive. When it was discovered Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson (Red Dawn, The Kids are all Right), was alive and living in the capitol, Katniss agreed to be the spokesperson of the cause. However, there were a couple of conditions that had to be met. If you have not seen the previous films to this franchise you may feel a bit lost with this one. Things moved slowly at first which I attributed to the writers laying down the groundwork for the huge finale with the 2nd half of this story. Jennifer was her usual amazing self with this character; her acting was especially notable due to her having to pretend to act badly in a couple of the scenes. Compared to the previous installments there was not much action in this picture. There was more of a cat and mouse nature to the story. I did find it sad to see the deceased Philip Seymour Hoffman (A Most Wanted Man, Doubt) on screen playing his character Plutarch Heavensbee. A question came up for me during the latter part of the film. Since I had not read the books, I was wondering if it was really necessary to split the final book into two films. My guess was probably not but I understand how studios want to get the most bang for their buck. Though I enjoyed the previous film more, this one did not give me a reason to leave the series now.
It is getting so hard to trust anyone, let alone anything these days. I may not be one to talk since I do not easily give out trust; it is something I have always felt gets earned. My trust was originally formed as a solid unblemished mountain on protected land. Through the years each untruthful statement whipped at the outer layers of my trust like pelting rain, eroding the surface away. Being told I was your friend only to find out I was not; being told the product I was purchasing would be compatible with my other devices only to find out it was not; being told I was the only one only to find out I was not; each of these hit my trust, leaving a gaping dark hole that became impossible to traverse. If all the negative news about recalls, stolen credit cards and fraud was not enough; the stories I see about people doing bodily harm to others scares me more. The way individuals gain access to places so they can do damage alarms me terribly. I am afraid to answer my front door unless the screen door is locked and I know I am not the only one who feels this way. TRUST was heavily tested in this thriller based on John le Carre’s novel of the same name. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master, Doubt) played Gunther Bachman, an agent in a highly secretive German government agency. After Issa Karpov, played by Grigoriy Dobrygin (How I Ended the Summer, 4 Days in May), illegally arrived in Hamburg to claim his father’s estate; a clandestine race of cat and mouse began as German and American agents attempted to find out Issa’s true intentions. This film festival nominee was one of Philip’s final completed films. It saddens me to say he was outstanding in this role because seeing him only reminded me there would be no further performances. He helped push the cast to a higher standard, where everyone was so believable they kept the viewer guessing through each scene. Part of the cast included Willem Dafoe (The Fault in our Stars, Out of the Furnace) as Tommy Brue, Robin Wright (Forrest Gump, Rampart) as Martha Sullivan and Rachel McAdams (Midnight in Paris, About Time) as Annabel Richter. The major disappointment about this movie was the script. The first half of the film was muddled and slow; I sat wondering when it would get exciting. Finally by the last half I got into the story, appreciating the acting even more. Due to the actors and plot source I trusted this movie was going to be an intense thrilling picture. It did not quite make it all the way, but Philip certainly would have had nothing to apologize for regarding his performance.
I feel very fortunate that I grew up in the city, in an established neighborhood. Before I knew our neighbors they already knew me. You see, everyone knew each other from the block. My first playground was essentially the hallway of the apartment building where I was born. I used to crawl up and down the staircases, visiting any neighbor who happened to have their front door open as I came by. Once I was able to go outside to play, I quickly became friends with the other kids who lived on the block. Unbeknownst to us at the time, there were always at least a couple of mothers watching us while we played. We felt we owned the streets and alleys as we would set up forts made of snow in winter and during summer we would use any bushes or leaves as a cover for our secret spy meetings. It constantly baffled us how each of our mothers already knew what we were doing before we would come in to tell them about our day. As they say a mother always knows and the proof can be seen in this dramatic film. GOD’S Pocket was a tough, gritty neighborhood of Philadelphia. After she found out her son Leon, played by Caleb Landry Jones (No Country for Old Men, Antiviral), died at work Jeanie Scarpato, played by Christina Hendricks (Drive, Life as We Know It), was convinced it was not an accident. She wanted her husband Mickey, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (A Late Quartet, Capote), to find out what really happened to her son. This Sundance Film Festival nominated movie captured the look and feel of a rugged, economically depressed area during the 1960s. There was a general heaviness that weighed on everyone including the viewer. Besides Philip and Christina performing on a high level, I thought John Turturro (Fading Gigilo, Barton Fink) as Arthur “Bird” Capezio and Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods, The Visitor) as Richard Shellburn stood out in the cast; though everyone did a convincing job of acting. The downfall to this picture was all in the script. The story was filled with cliches, did not offer anything original. There were moments where I wondered if the writers intended the scene to be funny, but it only created a messiness that left me perplexed. What a shame for this to be one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films; the story did no favors for anyone. It boiled down to tough luck in a tough neighborhood. A couple of brief scenes with blood.
There is no age limit when it comes to making a good impression on a date. How many of us have done things out of our comfort zone, with the intent to show our willingness and flexibility in being an accommodating person? I remember going on a date where I agreed to a night of country two stepping. Borrowing a cowboy hat from a friend, I spent the night never showing my misery with my awkward dance steps. By the end of the evening I was hoping for a 2nd date, so we could go to a dance club and I prove I at least had rhythm. These are the things that one does to cast a positive light on themselves and in this dramatic movie we see a beautiful example of someone trying his best to make a good impression. This film adaptation of the stage play was the directorial debut of Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master, A Late Quartet). Reprising his role as limousine driver Jack, Philip was comfortable with his role. After being fixed up on a blind date by his friends Lucy and Clyde, played by Daphne Robin-Vega (Life on the Ledge, Flawless) and John Ortiz (Silver Linings Playbook, American Gangster), Jack decided he would learn how to swim and cook. He wanted to make a good impression on Connie, played by Amy Ryan (Win Win, Gone Baby Gone). The only problem in his plan was getting advice from his friends who were having martial issues. Though the pacing seemed slow at times, I was impressed with Philip’s directing. The scenes where his character was visualizing himself swimming and cooking had a delicate sweetness. I could see this movie as a play, feeling it was an easy transition to film since it was more actor driven than action. The things one does for romance; Jack got an “A” for effort and Philip made a good impression on me with his capable directing of this good film.
2 3/4 stars — DVD
Everyday I have to remind myself I cannot control things that are out of my control. You would think after all these years I would have learned this lesson by now. I do not know if I would call it a defense mechanism; but whenever I find myself in an uncontrollable situation, humor has always been my immediate reaction. This is something my brothers and I have always done, getting it from our father. Just before I was about to go under for a medical procedure, I asked the doctor if I would be able to play the guitar afterwards. When he said absolutely, I told him I was excited since I always wanted to be able to play the guitar. This is why I was fond of the main character in this heartwarming comedy. Robin Williams (Dead Poets Society, Jumanji) was the perfect actor to play in this movie based on the true story of Hunter “Patch” Adams. After having committed himself to a mental institution, Hunter realized he wanted to be a doctor. Seeing how patients were being treated more like numbers than as human beings, he believed humor would be an important factor in the patient’s well being. The problem was his idea was contrary to established practices. Having seen Robin Williams perform in concert early in his career, I cannot say he was even acting in this role; he was just playing himself. If you are not a fan of his then you will not care for this movie. The supporting actors did a good job, such as Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master, A Late Quartet) as Mitch, Michael Jeter (The Green Mile, Jurassic Park III) as Rudy and Monica Potter (Along Came A Spider, Parenthood) as Carin. I found the story predictable and far-fetched in spots. However, since Patch Adams and I believe laughter is important to a person’s health; I enjoyed watching this DVD. I do not know about you; but as far as I am concerned, I never want to have a grumpy doctor touching me.
2 1/4 stars — DVD
They say music soothes the savage beast. I beg to differ, music can do much more. There is some music that affects me on a physical level, where I get the urge to tap my foot or shake my hips. Then there is certain musical pieces where I feel as if I am being transported along a winding road with sloping curves and gentle hills. I have certain songs associated to special occasions that have occurred throughout my life. For example, I have a pop song that reminds me of my trip to the Badlands every time I hear it. Then there is the song I played repeatedly when I was a child that brings back memories of me playing on our back porch on a warm sunny day. As music has always been important to me, so was it in this dramatic movie. A famous string quartet struggled to stay together when resentments, love and illness came to light. It seems as if this is the year of Christopher Walken (Seven Psychopaths, The Maiden Heist) who played Peter Mitchell, the eldest member of the quartet. He was excellent playing a vulnerable, emotional widower. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master, Moneyball) can always be counted on giving his characters life, which he fully did as Robert Gelbart in this movie. I have enjoyed Catherine Keener’s (Into the Wild, The Interpreter) past performances; however, I felt she was not fully utilized as Juliette Gelbart. Though the acting was well done, I felt the story veered off into a sub story that was less interesting for me. If the writers would have kept their focus on the group dynamices and go deeper into each character, the movie would have been better. It would have been nice if there was more music being played to get through the boring parts.
2 2/3 stars
If I had the opportunity to go back and do high school again I definitely would not do it. Once was enough for me. With the things that happened to me in high school, some of the scenes in this movie gave me anxiety. But that is my stuff; the majority of you may not experience a similar reaction. Not familiar with the previous movie or television show this film was based on, I will review this prequel as a stand alone. Middle aged ex-con Jerri Blank, played by Amy Sedaris (Jennifer’s Body, Elf), returned home to discover her mother had died, her father was remarried and presently was in a stress induced coma. On the suggestion of her dad’s doctor, Jerri decided to return to high school, hoping to make her father proud; in turn, wakening him from his coma. However, Jerri soon discovered high school would be as tough as her time in prison. The first thing that grabbed my attention with this movie was the incredible cast. Stephen Colbert (The Colbert Report-TV, Company) was excellent playing closeted science teacher Chuck Norlet. High school grief counselor Peggy Callas was played by Sarah Jessica Parker (The Family Stone, Hocus Pocus). In addition, there was Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master, Moneyballl), Allison Janney (Juno, The Help) and Matthew Broderick (Glory, The Producers) as part of the cast. These were not lightweights by any means. The majority of humor in this comedy was made up of politically incorrect references. When there was physical comedy some of it would work, but others fell flat. I found the silliness waned within a short time; getting more groans than chuckles out of me. If you are looking to revisit your high school years, you would be better served to transfer out of this movie’s district.
1 3/4 stars — DVD
The word “master” comes with several connotations. If I hear master crafter, I think of a skilled creator. When a person is referred to as the master of the house, I think of slavery. The title of this dramatic movie was a perfect choice. Freddie Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, Hotel Rwanda), was a naval veteran who had a gift for making alcohol, out of a variety of substances. A majority of his life had been spent in a haze of drunkenness. When Freddie met the charismatic Lancaster Dodd, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Moneyball, Doubt), he hoped to find some clarity in his life. Lancaster saw something in Freddie that could be purged with his help. The two men began a tumultuous relationship; Freddie would become both a guinea pig and an example of Lancaster’s unorthodox methods. Staging assemblies around the country, Lancaster’s fervent beliefs began to attract followers. If for nothing else, the amazing acting from Joaquin has to be seen. Besides his explosive, emotional rants; his physical transformation was mind blowing. Pitting him with Philip should easily earn the two Oscar nominations, in my opinion. As for the story, I found it tedious and wordy. Scenes that were carefully detailed did not help with the drawn out passages that I found boring. There were parts that made no sense to me and Amy Adams (Trouble with the Curve, The Fighter) as Lancaster’s wife Peggy was underutilized. She was the wrong choice for the role. Without excuses or making judgements, this movie simply presented a man with his flock; others could interpret it as the master and his cult.
2 1/2 stars