BARELY ABLE TO SEE ABOVE THE heads of the people sitting in front of me, I watched in astonishment the man leaping in the air. The stage had been filled with dancers dressed in costumes that glittered under the stage lights. Most of the costumes were white in color, but some were the exact opposite in black. The male dancer in the lead role reminded me of royalty because of the way he moved across the stage when he was not leaping and spinning. With angular features for his face, his body on the other hand moved consistently with graceful fluidity. I was too young to realize the amount of work it must have taken him to be able to jump so high without a running start or to spin so quickly in the same spot; his moves at times would make the audience quietly gasp in their seats. The music the orchestra was playing was familiar to me because we had a recording of it at home. I would play it from time to time, never realizing that people were hired to dance to the music. Ballet was something foreign to me at the time. I was aware of it having seen clips of dancers on television or in a movie; but I had never seen a live performance of it up until this time. The male lead dancer in this performance was Rudolf Nureyev. WHEN I DELVED INTO THE FITNESS world as a profession, it was there I discovered the amount of work a dancer must do to make their performances seem effortless. One training class I took was based on dance moves and it was intense for me. Holding positions, working my core, and being able to give instructions to a class at the same time was a challenge. Imagine doing a side plank pose where you are on your side on the floor, balancing only on the side of your bottom foot and the hand from your extended arm. Now raise up you other leg and hold it in the air; trust me, you will feel it in your core. The first time I tried to do this I rolled over onto the floor. It took me some time to build up my strength to master the pose. I knew if I wanted to be an effective fitness instructor, I would have to put in the work to make it happen. It is no different for any profession, but I feel there is a slight difference when your profession involves performing in front of an audience. WITH ONLY ONE PURPOSE IN MIND Rudolf Nureyev, played by newcomer Oleg Ivenko, was willing to work hard to become a top ballet dancer. Nothing would stop him, even his own country. This biographical drama also starred Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter franchise, A Bigger Splash) as Pushkin, Louis Hofmann (Sanctuary, Land of Mine) as Teja Kremke, Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color, Racer and the Jailbird) as Clara Saint and Sergei Polunin (Red Sparrow, Murder on the Orient Express) as Yuri Soloviev. Set during the time of the Cold War, this film festival winner was something I wanted to see since I had seen Rudolf perform. His story was probably more interesting than what the script offered here. I would start to get interested in the story and then the scene would shift to a different time in Rudolf’s life; I found this jumping back and forth more of a distraction then a story telling technique. For someone who commanded the stage with a bigger than life personality; this movie seemed out of step with his story.
2 stars — DVD
THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID DISAPPOINTMENT is to not have hopes or expectations. Sounds simple but it really is not. I have learned to avoid placing expectations on people’s behaviors. We all react to situations in a different way; one is not better or worse than the other. Trouble starts when an individual makes statements that use the word, “should;” something like, “You should have known…” This actually was a hard lesson for me to learn, where I would react to what I thought a person should have said or done. It took me a long time to realize no one has the right to tell me how to feel, that I am the only one responsible for how I am feeling. However, as we each go through our daily life there are things that crop up that disappoint us. For example, going to a particular restaurant to get your favorite dish and it winds up they are out of it. Seeing an article of clothing that you feel is perfect for you, only to find it does not look good on you or does not do what it was advertised to do. Things like this can cause us to feel disappointed; we had our mind set for one thing, but then the reality did not match our expectations. THE PAST HOLIDAY IS SOMETHING I look forward to because the movie studios release what they believe will be their heavy Oscar contenders and audience blockbusters. Every year I spend most of the day at the theater watching one movie after another. This year was no different and in fact, I was extra excited because a couple of limited release films were opening at a theater near me. I studied the movie times to figure out what would produce the maximum viewing experience. This also was taking into consideration the duration of the movie trailers; the average amount of time devoted to them is around 20 minutes. I was starting the day at one theater to watch three films then drive to another theater to finish up with 3 more. After finding a parking spot at the 2ndtheater I walked in to discover the films I needed to see were all sold out for the present time slots. Even rearranging start times did not help me; there was only one movie available and I had no desire to see it. The reason being, I saw the trailers and the main star does the same thing for every movie with no discretion towards the scripts. I was so disappointed and after watching this comedy I was even more disappointed that I wasted my time on this picture instead of one of the ones I had on my list. ONLY ONE DETECTIVE COULD FIND THE CULPRIT who was threatening the queen of England and that was Sherlock Holmes, played by Will Ferrell (Daddy’s Home franchise, Get Hard). With the help of his trusted friend Watson, played by John C. Reilly (The Sisters Brothers, Life After Beth), the two would have to work fast to save the queen. This adventure crime film was one of the worst movies I have seen the past year. How it got saved to be released during the holiday season was baffling to me. There was nothing funny since the jokes were noticeable a mile away and were of the lowest level of anything remotely humorous. I was bored out of my mind and angry that I had to pay to be subjected to this mess. Will has done the same schtick in his comedies for so long that his actions and acting must be on autopilot. Notice I did not list the rest of the main actors because I did not want to embarrass them any further.
1 1/4 stars
WHENEVER I see it being done I always stop to watch. Not only is it an art but a beautiful and skillful manipulation of a basic element. The only times I get to see a potter in action has been at art fairs or galleries. To witness the moist hands dance across the spinning mound of clay centered on their potter’s wheel is fascinating to me. The clay looks at times like it is growing into a living plant reaching maturity; at other times, it may look like an architectural geometric structure. If you ever get the chance to watch the process I highly recommend it. There is another reason why I am attracted to this process and it has to do with control. On a certain level I can easily relate to the potter because they are in total charge of the entire creation. They do not have to depend on anyone; it is simply them and their clay. Whatever way their creation comes out, it is solely do to them. On the one hand you could say that may not always be the best way because if the object is a disaster then the potter is completely at fault. I would willingly accept that fate instead of depending on someone to help complete the vision I foresaw for the mound of clay. BEING in control has always been a part of my mental makeup, since as long as I can remember. Without turning this into a therapy session let me say that after experiencing multiple disappointments I became trained on how not to depend or need anything from anyone. Maybe I had high standards or low self-esteem, but it has always been hard for me to ask someone for help. To let go of being in control for me represents a fear somehow that I am weak or not good enough. Like I said I do not want to delve into my psyche but I do have to say I discovered I have something in common with Batman and it is not the cool gadgets. GOTHAM city could be on the brink of disaster if the Joker, voiced by Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover franchise, The Campaign), goes through with his dastardly plan. If Batman, voiced by Will Arnett (When in Rome, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise), wants to save his beloved city he may have to do something he has never done before—ask for help. This animated action adventure film was just as creative as the original Lego movie. With Michael Cera (Youth in Revolt, Arrested Development-TV) voicing Robin, Rosario Dawson (Top Five, Sin City franchise) voicing Barbara Gordon and Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash, Harry Potter franchise) voicing Alfred Pennyworth; all the characters were fun to watch and especially hear since the dialog had a fun edge to it. This film festival winner would appeal to kids and adults in my opinion. The references made for the adult viewers will not register with kids but it won’t take away from the movie watching experience. I also enjoyed the way the writers brought in a life lesson moment; it was touching and did not feel out of place. So now that I discovered I have something in common with Batman, I wonder if I should start working on my outfit.
3 ¼ stars
One of the main motivations for breeding an animal is to make money. From my college studies I learned how much thought and detail goes into deciding which animal should be bred. Whether a farmer or racehorse breeder they each spot specific traits they want to be carried down to the offspring of their herd. I still remember a course I had where we were taught to look at a pig and figure out their most prominent traits for breeding purposes. Some of you who follow race horsing may already know a winning horse is worth more in retirement when they go out to stud. Aren’t you glad we are not animals? But I have to tell you I am just as fascinated by family traits as I was in animal science. The gene pool to me is this vast reservoir of a family’s history; it is a game of chance when a couple has a child. What traits will the child acquire from the parents? I am always curious when a business establishment is family owned and has been handed down from generation to generation. It makes me wonder whether each new generation has acquired the same set of skill sets to make the business a continued success. Even when I witness a child doing the same thing as one of their parents, like being a tennis player or painter, it amazes me how that talent filtered down to the younger generation. Though I have to tell you I know of a family that has a business that has been handed down and the latest generation involved with it dislikes being a part of it. They wanted to be something else but their family essentially forced them to follow in the footsteps of their parent. Gratefully that was not the case in this gorgeous animated adventure film. KUBO, voiced by Art Parkinson (Dracula Untold, San Andreas), never knew his father and could not understand why his mother insisted he be home before dark. She had a very good reason. With a mixture of claymation and CGI effects, this family film was magical and enchanting. The actors such as Charlize Theron (Young Adult, A Million Ways to Die in the West) as Monkey, Matthew McConaughey (Mud, Dallas Buyers Club) as Beetle and Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash, Harry Potter franchise) as Moon King were wonderful voicing their characters. I do not know if the story was actually from Japanese folklore, but the script was something special. The way it brought in the topic of ancestors was beautiful. I felt there was the right balance of humor, drama, danger and thrills to create a connection to any age group watching this film. Not sure why but there is something about the art of claymation that attracts me. Maybe it is because I know how much effort has to be made to make the characters move seamlessly; the figures are just more dimensional to me. I do not know what else I could tell you except after seeing this picture I had wished I was part of Kubo’s gene pool.
It must be some type of precise formula where everything has to be exact down to the tiniest millimeter. I have always wondered if there was one factor that outweighed all the others but I never could find an answer. How does one overcome the norm when there is not an example to show them the way? And when I say factors I am talking about things like support, encouragement and self-confidence. One example that comes to mind is the transformation in the work force. Years ago when a person found a job they stayed with it forever. It was almost like a badge of honor to say, “I’ve been with the company for 30 years.” Currently it is surprising for an employee to stay longer than 3-5 years at one company. I know people who think nothing of living in a place for a while then picking up and moving across country; I am not wired to do such a thing. Granted I admire individuals who blaze a new path, so to speak; however, my mind is not wired to handle dramatic changes in my life, at least well. I know it is easier when someone has an example they can use as a blueprint; but it occurs to me, the examples I had in my life were of the negative type. I have learned things by witnessing how not to do them. How crazy is that? At a company I worked at years ago I had to open up the mail every day. The owner used the business address for his personal mail. I remember one day opening up an envelope that contained a $25,000.00 dividend check for stock he owned in a public company. I was stunned since I had no knowledge about stocks and bonds back then. All I could think about was how cool it must have been to get that size check quarterly; it was enough to retire on. That one example pushed me to learn more about stocks and make a difference in my savings plan. Though I was not confident or encouraged to move into stocks, there was something inside of me that pushed me to take a leap of faith. Not even a leap of faith would have helped me in this movie. GROWING up in the small town of Century Junction Freddie Taylor, played by Christian Cooke (Romeo & Juliet, Where the Heart Is-TV), did not want to wind up like everyone else. He wanted something more. This film festival nominated comedic drama had a competent cast that included Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter franchise, A Bigger Splash) as Mr. Kendrick, Ricky Gervais (The Invention of Lying, Ghost Town) as Mr. Taylor and Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything, Like Crazy) as Julie. Set during the 1970s in England, I thought this film depicted the era perfectly. With this being a coming of age story I did not find anything different to surprise me. There were some scenes that went well and one could tell Ricky Gervais was one of the writers. What kept my interest actually were the actors and their characters. All I can say is I took a risk with getting this DVD and it did not completely pan out.
2 1/3 stars — DVD
The landscape of one’s life may be properly maintained, with a meticulous eye to detail to make everything look ideal. Each component made to fit together so no one would see a gap or break across the land. It pretty much has everyone fooled. The reason I say this is because if someone from your past, who parted not being in synch with your feelings, suddenly showed up in your life the blurred lines around you both could cause a ripple effect that tills the soil around your present life. I have seen this for myself and to be honest have experienced it too. There was a couple I knew where I was originally friends with one of them before they were in the relationship; so I knew much of their history. The two of them lived together and anyone who met them thought they made the perfect couple. However when a person my friend had lived with previously came back into their life, the foundation for the present relationship started to crumble. Maybe there had not been much communication or the expression of feelings before but it was obvious there still was a connection with their former lover. I remember being at a small dinner party where the past and present relationships were together and it was obvious there was a murky tension between all of them. It was a tough situation and in fact I may experience something similar in the near future because I have heard talk about someone from my past is planning a visit to come here and meet up with friends. And this trip would include the new person in their life. I know I do not want to experience any of the drama that I saw playing out in this dramatic movie. ENJOYING a peaceful, quiet time off the coast of Italy rock star Marianne Lane and her boyfriend Paul De Smedt, played by Tilda Swinton (Trainwreck, Only Lovers Left Alive) and Matthias Schoenaerts (The Drop, Rust and Bone), suddenly had their trip disrupted by the appearance of record producer Harry Hawkes and his daughter Penelope Lannier, played by Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter franchise, Spectre) and Dakota Johnson (How to be Single, Fifty Shades of Grey). Their visit would stir up things that were better left alone. This film festival winner had some beautiful outdoor film shots; besides the acting it was a highlight for me. As for the cast I thought they all were wonderful and because of them I was able to still stay somewhat interested in what was otherwise a dysfunctional story. I thought the script was a mess; the story morphed from a drama to a mystery and changed the entire tone. A shame because I could not stay engaged with the characters despite the good acting. If the script had stuck with one story line I think it would have made for a better movie experience. The idea behind this story was something I could follow; I just wished it had been cleaner in its execution. Several scenes were spoken in Italian with English subtitles.
2 1/4 stars
It was a time where the words “please” and “thank you” were freely given in a sentence. Kind gestures were evident everywhere we went throughout the building. With passports in hand, a group of us went out of the country for a convention being held in a regal old hotel. Wide and majestic with its granite facade and elongated windows, the hotel had several flags waving above the doorway as if they were greeting every hotel guest. Inside the floor was fitted with a combination of huddled polished gold edged tiles that looked like reflective pools surrounded by the plush, deep red carpeting that swallowed up noises from everyone’s shoes. The lobby had an ample crystal chandelier that cast just enough light to make the room glow as if the sun was setting behind the woven tapestry that hung across the far western wall. For the duration of the convention no matter how loud or rowdy the guests became, the hotel staff never once judged or showed a disapproving face. It was when the Grand Budapest Hotel first appeared on the movie screen in this comedic drama that I recalled my memory of that trip. The difference between the two hotels was that mine sat in the heart of a large city and it did not have a murder occur within its walls. From writer and director Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom), this visually stimulating film grabbed me from the very beginning. No need to worry if visuals are not your cup of tea because the story had a creative zaniness that was elevated by the fine acting from the cast. Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter franchise, Skyfall) was outstanding as the famous hotel concierge Gustave H. Adrien Brody (The Pianist, Cadillac Records) as Dmitri, Willem Dafoe (Out of the Furnance, The Walker) as Jopling and relative newcomer Tony Revolori (The Perfect Game) as Zero Moustafa were only part of the wonderful cast that Wes assembled for this fun film. The story was a story within a story that was easy to follow. When a wealthy guest of the hotel was found murdered, the authorities believed Gustave H was to blame. What took place after were a series of screwball chases and plot twists that hearkened back to the madcap comedy movies made in the 1930s and 40s. Each scene had its own unique individualized detailing where I felt I was looking through a series of paintings. If you are not a fan of Wes Anderson, I think the cast could still win you over. As far as I was concerned I was willing to book a room at the hotel in this film festival winner.
3 2/3 stars
The couple sitting next to me either thought the armrest between us was radioactive or rigged to explode. No not really, they were heavy into performing public displays of affection, known as PDAs. I do not have an issue with a kiss, hug, neck massage, tickle or the holding of hands; but when 2 people are intensely trying to invade each other’s body in a public area like the aisle of a grocery store or on a crowded train, I have to wonder what is going on that they need to show the world they are in love that much. Honestly, I interpret it to mean there is something lacking in their relationship and they are overcompensating for it. On the flip side when a person does not want to be out in public with their significant other, I usually make the assumption there is something they are hiding or embarrasses them. Based on the biographical book of the same name, this romantic drama revealed a side of Charles Dickens that was unfamiliar to me. Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter franchise, Red Dragon) directed and starred as Charles Dickens. Upon meeting the young daughter of Mrs. Frances Ternan, played by Kristin Scott Thomas (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The English Patient), Charles Dickens became enamored with her to the point where his wife Catherine, played by Joanna Scanlan (Notes of a Scandal, Girl with a Pearl Earring), knew something was afoot. The first thing I have to tell you is how surprised I was about the story. Witnessing the actions of Charles Dickens in this Oscar nominated film I could easily see him play one of the characters in his novels. The scenes in this richly detailed film went from sparse open expanses to muted fully appointed rooms. Each aspect of this movie was well thought out. Felicity Jones (Hysteria, The Tempest) as the young woman Nelly did a beautiful job of acting as did the other actors. If I separate each part of this film I had no complaints about them individually; however, what failed for me was the directing. This story was so dragged out; I had a hard time staying focused. One of the comments I heard a fellow viewer say afterwards was if he saw the back of Nelly’s head one more time he was going to scream. I am sure Ralph is proud of this film, but if I had done this picture with the same results I would have tried to keep it hidden away from my friends.
2 3/4 stars
Real magic is something I find when reading a book. The author is the mapmaker while I travel along the route they laid out before me. The magic begins in my imagination when the printed words (yes, from a book that is in my hands) gently soak into my eyes. When I read the word “villa” I conjure up a sprawling terra cotta structure, guarded by tall majestic trees with long green arthritic arms stretched out trying to hold hands with each other. A character in the story can mention a musical instrument and I will hear it playing in my mind. Some of you already know I prefer seeing the movie first then reading the book afterwards. The reason being I usually find the book better than the film. My imagination paints such a vivid picture of what I am reading; it is hard for a director to recreate what I have already seen. Since I have read this classic Charles Dickens story and seen the previous film versions of it, I will review this movie as if it is the first time I am seeing the story on film. The story revolved around a young orphan named Pip, played by newcomer Toby Irvine and Jeremy Irvine (War Horse, Now is Good). Partially motivated by his attraction to Miss Havisham’s, played by Helena Bonham Carter (Dark Shadows, The Lone Ranger), adopted daughter Estella, played by Holliday Grainger (Jane Eyre, Anna Karenia); Pip diligently struggled to become a respectful fine gentleman, worthy of Estella’s affection. The two stand out performances in this dramatic romance came from Ralph Fiennes (The Duchess, Skyfall) as Magwitch and Helena Bonham Carter. The rest of the cast was not bad; they just did not stand out compared to these two. I thought the cinematography was wonderful, both indoor and outdoor scenes were richly detailed. The issue I had with this film festival winner was how dry and disengaged everything seemed. There was not much life in this movie; I found my mind wandering through portions of it. There was not as much drama as one would imagine with a Charles Dickens story. So with everything I have just said; if I now compare this version to the ones that came before, this was a pretty movie to watch that did not have much to show for it.
2 1/3 stars
It has been said that outside of divorce, moving is the most stressful thing in one’s life. I remember gaining 15 pounds on my last move. Having lived in the same area my whole life, I cannot imagine how much more anxiety ridden it would be, to move out of state. There was a time when I was planning to move out of state; the saving grace being it was my choice, for a happy reason. It has to be awful when one is being forced out of their home. And what must it be like if you had to leave the country of your birth? Set in Shanghai, China during the 1930’s; Russian Countess Sofia Belinskya, played by Natasha Richardson (The Parent Trap, Maid in Manhattan), was the sole income earner for her displaced family. She worked at a bar, entertaining the male clientele. One day she noticed Todd Jackson, played by Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter franchise, The Reader), a blind American ex-diplomat. When Countess Sofia noticed two men plotting to jump Mr. Jackson outside of the club; she interceded, guiding him to safety. From this chance meeting, the two sad individuals formed a working relationship. The countess would be the centerpiece to Mr. Jackson’s new business venture, a nightclub called The White Countess. This beautiful period piece was good because of the acting. It is sad that we do not have Natasha in our lives anymore; for she was wonderful as the melancholy woman of royalty, reduced to degradation and worry, as Japanese forces began exerting their presence in the city. Ralph Fiennes did an outstanding acting job with his role. However, I found it disappointing that Natasha’s mother and aunt, Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave were underutilized. The story dragged in parts, in need of some tightening up. If you are not familiar with Natasha Richardson’s work, you would be well served by seeing her in this movie.
2 3/4 stars — DVD