IT SOUNDED LIKE A FUN TIME, so me and a group of friends decided to sign up for it. A charity was holding an event at a large amusement park that was about an hour’s drive away. They had rented out the park for the evening and planned on having games, music, dancing and entertainment besides the rides. I figured it would be less of a hassle to get around the park than on an average weekend day with the big crowds. Also, because they would be serving alcohol in the park, no one under 18 would be allowed. My friends and I were excited about the prospects of having an easier time riding the big attraction rides multiple times. Usually because the lines were so long for the well-known rides, one might be able to go on it only once due to time constraints. I for one do not like waiting in line for over an hour just to ride an attraction for less than one minute. My only concern was the weather; I was hoping there would be no chance of rain, causing the park to shut down some of their rides. Each of us were getting excited as the date got closer. ON THE DAY OF THE EVENT, with a clear blue sky drifting towards twilight, we piled into one car and headed out on the road towards the amusement park. I was the driver for the evening since I did not care for alcohol. While we were making our way there, we decided to come up with a game plan on how to get as many of the “big” rides in while still taking part in the charity’s planned activities. A quick survey showed most of us were excited to tackle the park’s top roller coasters first. I had heard the newest roller coaster was the ultimate thrill ride because it not only spun and swerved around the track, it also plummeted down to an underground tunnel. Some of my friends were planning on doing that ride more than once; while I figured I would go find a less stressful ride, one that didn’t have spinning as a main component. The fastest spinning I can tolerate is the speed of a merry-go-round. Our excitement increased by the time I pulled the car into the parking lot. With tickets in hand, we headed inside the park to carry out our strategy. As we got to the first roller coaster, I was the first one to notice it was not running. Maybe it was broken? We moved onto our 2ndchoice and discovered the same thing; it too was not running. Paying attention now, as we were walking around, we saw many of the “big” rides were shut down. All the excitement we had built up melted into disappointment. I experienced a similar reaction while watching this mystery thriller. DURING A TORRENTIAL RAINSTORM A GROUP of random strangers took refuge in a motel. They thought they would be safe for the night until one of the guests was found dead. With John Cusack (Cell, Grosse Pointe Blank) as Ed, Ray Liotta (Something Wild, Shades of Blue-TV) as Rhodes, Amanda Peet (The Whole Nine Yards, Griffin & Phoenix) as Paris, John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone, The Pardon) as Larry and Alfred Molina (Saint Judy, Frida) as Dr. Malick; this film festival winner was a good old fashioned thriller in the same vein as an Agatha Christie story. I thought the cast did a decent job with their acting, despite the disconnected script. Not that I did not enjoy watching this movie, I did; but I felt let down as the script started winding down to its conclusion. I thought the filming and sets added an extra level of anxiety and dread to the written words. During the picture, I found myself getting into the story with its plot twists and suspense. If only that level experienced in the beginning had lasted all the way to the end.
2 ¾ stars
LIving a life filled with “what ifs” is like driving a car with filthy windows; you may get to your final destination but will not have seen where you have been going. I understand this concept on an intellectual level, but it has always been a challenge for me emotionally. It is easy for me to fall into this “what if” trap for example by standing in a checkout line where a customer in front of me suddenly needs a price check on one of their items. I will immediately think I should have chosen that other line that did not look busy. Maybe it was the environment I grew up in or lack of confidence, but a life spent wondering what would have happened if I had done something different is a waste of time. I cannot reverse time or change the results; so why devote energy to something that is out of my control? It would be similar to going out to dinner and after the meal wishing you had chosen your other choice. You would not go and purge yourself of the meal to start over; you could only gain the knowledge not to order it again. Now in the field of entertainment I see nothing wrong with the “what if” scenario being used as a meaningful plot device. WHAT if Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin borther had lived? Though this dramatic musical film does not mention Elvis in any of its advertisements; it was obvious to me if the character looks like Elvis, sings like Elvis and moves like Elvis then the writers were using Elvis’ birth as the catalyst for this story about identical twins who were separated at birth. Both roles played by newcomer Blake Rayne, the one named Drexel Hemsley would grow up to be a rock superstar while the one named Ryan Wade grew up being groomed to follow in his father Reece’s, played by Ray Liotta (Identity, Smokin’ Aces), footsteps in the ministry. I did not have a problem with the idea for this story per se; however, having to sit through this film with its ridiculous cliches and pandering to faith based viewers was torturous for me. It stunned me to see Ashley Judd (High Crimes, Divergent) as Louise Wade trying to do something with the horrible script. I would say the same for Ray; but after seeing his name listed as a producer, one has to wonder what he was thinking, agreeing to this mess of a movie. The only reason this film received as a high rating as it did from me was due to the musical numbers. After seeing this picture you would be justified in wondering what would have happened if you had gone seen some other film.
1 2/3 stars
It is not necessarily based on their outer appearance or what they may have said, you just get a negative feeling about the person. Though there was little talk about it, there was a boy in grade school who did mean things to animals. I knew to keep my distance from him. My instinctive radar has helped me steer clear of evil people through my adult life. There have been times where I have met someone and immediately got a negative reaction from them. Looking into their eyes is how I confirm the feeling. If I see a dark murkiness in there eyes, where light does not reflect off of the surface; I know there is something festering inside of them that is cold and brutal. To give you an example, take a look at the star of this crime thriller, Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, Mud) as Richard Kuklinski. Michael is such a gifted actor; his performances always come with a deep intensity. Based on a true story, Richard Kuklinski was hired as a contract killer by crime boss Roy Demeo, played by Ray Liotta (Identity, Smokin’ Aces). The movie followed Richard’s dual life: doting father and loving husband during the day and cool killer at night. Winona Ryder (Black Swan, Edward Scissorhands) was wonderful playing Richard’s wife Deborah, who was completely unaware of her husband’s real profession. Though the script was weak in telling the story fully, the incredible acting kept everything moving forward. With Ray matching his acting intensity to Michael’s skills, I was never bored. In addition to these stellar actors there was Stephen Dorff (Public Enemies, Blade) as Joey Kuklinski, an almost unrecognizable Chris Evans (The Avengers, Sunshine) as Mr. Freezy and Davide Schwimmer (Nothing But the Truth, Friends-TV) as Josh Rosenthal. Each of their performances contributed to the overall tour de force acting done in this film. Playing the deep duality of a ruthless killer and family man should earn Michael Shannon an Oscar nomination in my opinion. Whether it is from birth, childhood or environment; there are people who are simply evil. I have seen this evil and it was in Michael’s wicked performance of a cold heartless killer. Multiple scenes had violence and blood.
While the age of 65 is the brass ring the average person strives to reach for retirement, it was not for a majority of my family members. My father worked seven days a week and continued to work beyond retirement age. I had a couple of uncles where one worked every day at a tavern and the other traveled around the country as a manufacturer’s rep. Both worked past the age of 65. The goal was to do whatever was necessary to provide for one’s family. As for myself, I have not given much thought to the idea of retirement. In this powerful drama I was fascinated with the juxtaposition of methods used by two fathers to provide for their families. Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine, Drive) played stunt motorcycle driver Luke, a single man who found out he was the father of a baby boy. Romina, the woman he had the fling with a year ago and now the mother of his child, was played by Eva Mendes (Hitch, We Own the Night). Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook, Limitless) played Avery Cross, a police officer who worked in a department riddled with corruption. When Luke chose to rob banks as a way to provide for his son, it would set in motion a series of events that would affect his family and officer Cross’ family for generations. Already being a fan of Ryan’s acting, his part of the story was incredible to watch. From the opening sequence, where we follow Luke as he prepares for his motorcycle stunt, everyone did a great job of acting. Ben Medelsohn (The Dark Knight Rises, Killing Them Softly) as auto repair shop owner Robin was terrific. Because the first part of the film was thrilling for me, Bradley’s story was a slight letdown; but not by much. His acting was excellent as was Ray Liotta (Identity, Smokin’ Aces) as policeman Deluca. With outstanding direction and camera work, the span of years the story covered did not seem long at all. Sometimes choices made cause a ripple effect that last a lifetime. A couple of scenes with violence and blood.
3 1/3 stars
Here is a film that movie critics can sit down and discuss among themselves into the early hours of dawn. They can debate the merits on using slow motion photography for an execution scene versus the quick kill method or any other such topic. Since I see myself more as a consumer instead of a reviewer; I have to say from where I was sitting no one in the theater cared. We just wanted to be entertained. Judging by the amount of people who kept getting in and out of their seats, I think they were finding better entertainment at the concession stands. Have you ever read a restaurant review that made you immediately go to that place, with bib attached, only to find out the meal was nothing like the review? This is how I felt sitting in the theater. With such a powerful set of actors, I thought I was going to see a rugged intense crime film. Instead I was bored, wondering what kind of black magic was used to turn scenes into lengthy debates that sucked the life out of the actors. In the movie’s favor there were some scenes that shined; but they were few and far between. Based on George V. Higgins’ novel Cogan’s Trade, Brad Pitt (Fight Club, Moneyball) was the enforcer Jackie Cogan, brought in to clean up after a mob controlled gambling place was robbed by a couple of petty thieves. Jackie hired former big time hit man Mickey, played by James Gandolfini (Welcome to the Rileys, The Sopranos-TV), to help him out. If the obscenities were eliminated from James’ lines he would have been speechless. As good as Ray Liotta (Identity, Smokin’ Aces) was as gambling host Markie Trattman, that is how bad Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods, The Visitor) was as the mob’s spokesman. Sadly, this movie was a waste of good talent and time. Violent scenes with blood.