THERE ARE SOME SITUATIONS AND PLACES that cause us to be fearful or simply creep us out. I get uncomfortable when, sitting in a movie theater with only a handful of patrons, someone enters and sits directly behind me. Most of the seats are empty, yet they choose the seat right in back of me; my mind immediately flashes images of what they could do to me. Have a wire loop to choke me; cut my throat with a knife; you get the picture. Yes, I see a lot of movies; I get these types of visuals immediately. It isn’t pretty. I feel the same way when I am on public transportation and the person sits close to me, though there are vacant seats all over the bus or train car. Oh, I almost forgot; standing in line and you can feel the person’s breath on your neck because they are standing in your personal space. On the other hand, there are people who do not like clowns; everyone has their own personal list of things that scare or make them feel uncomfortable. MY FEARS AND THINGS I FIND creepy predominately come from people; however, there are many individuals who get scared by places. I had no idea my garage was a scary place for example. For me, a garage is just a place to park my car; I do not devote a bit of time in the maintenance of it. Yet a friend of mine, I recently discovered, does not like walking into my garage because there are visible cobwebs in it. Nothing that one would accidently walk into, but they can be seen on the windows and rafters. Honestly, I never gave them a second thought, but my friend took one look at the cobwebs and decided to wait in the alley until I could pull my car out. I never knew I had a fear of this but on a trip I took a few years ago, I started getting scared driving on a deserted remote road. I wondered what would happen if the car broke down because there was no sign of life anywhere. Stranded with no cellular service, no gas station, no road lights, all by myself; I ask you, how would you feel in such a situation? You must admit it certainly looks like the start to a horror movie. I had the same feeling and thoughts as I started to watch this mystery, horror thriller. WHEN A NUN WAS FOUND DEAD hanging from a window of her monastery, the Vatican dispatched Father Burke, played by Demian Bichir (The Hateful Eight, A Better Life), who had some experiences in such types of situations. With Taissa Farmiga (The Bling Ring, American Horror Story-TV) as Sister Irene, Jonas Bloquet (3 Days to Kill, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) as Frenchie, Bonnie Aarons (The Princess Diaries franchise, The Fighter) as The Nun and Ingrid Bisu (The Zero Theorem, Outbound) as Sister Oana; this movie had all the earmarks of being a real scary story. The set pieces, the music, being part of The Conjuring franchise; everything was in place, including the excellent acting from Taissa, for me to get into this picture. Unfortunately, that turned out not to be the case. There were a few scenes with potential, but the writers never took it any further out of being a predictable setup. There was nothing real “jump in your seat” worthy; though there were a few creepy scenarios. By the end of the film I was left with a “meh” feeling. I must tell you, in my opinion I feel as if the whole Conjuring story line has reached the end of the line. It was a well-done horror movie in the beginning, but now with this installment there doesn’t seem to be anything creepy left to tell us.
1 ¾ stars
EVERY TIME I BUY A newspaper I believe I am doing my part in preventing the publisher from shutting down. I know it is a fallacy, but I have to believe it is true. The convenience store used to have their racks full of newspapers; now if I do not get there early enough the few papers they do get are already gone. It makes me sad because I prefer reading a newspaper instead of looking at an electronic screen. So, I want to believe my little contribution will help sustain newspapers through my lifetime. I have a similar belief when it comes to my personal banking. There is no way I want a debit card; it is that simple. Yet anytime I need to use a teller the first thing they ask me is to swipe my debit card. When I say I do not have one they give me this look as if I am a much older version of a Rip Van Winkle character. I want to believe that I am not alone, that there are others like me who prefer doing their banking the old-fashioned way and by that, I mean the banks still need to keep their branches open with tellers. WHEN IT COMES TO BELIEFS I believe I am not alone; each of us has a set of beliefs. The ones I just mentioned are not based on any facts which fits into the definition of belief. It is a state of mind where a person thinks something is true despite having evidence to prove it. For me my beliefs are based in feelings, not facts. An example would be the route I take to work. I believe it is the fastest way to get to my office; however, if someone shows me a different way that is faster, then I will no longer believe my route is the fastest. Remember there was a time where people believed the earth was flat; it took science to show them that was not the case. I consider beliefs to be multifaceted; some people refer to them as opinions, others define them as faith. It seems to me beliefs assist us in finding order in the world or put another way, they help explain the world around us. This does not mean I expect others to have the same beliefs; in fact, I would be offended if someone tried to foist their beliefs onto me. They are a personal matter as far as I am concerned. To see how beliefs can affect a person, feel free to watch this film festival winning, dramatic thriller. IN THE MIDDLE OF PREPARATIONS for his church’s celebration Reverend Ernst Toller, played by Ethan Hawke (Born to Be Alive, The Magnificent Seven), experiences a crisis of faith. With Amanda Seyfried (The Big Wedding, Dear John) as Mary, Cedric the Entertainer (Larry Crowne, Barbershop franchise) as Reverend Joel Jeffers and Victoria Hill (December Boys, Macbeth) as Esther; this thought provoking movie posed a variety of topical issues. Written and directed by Paul Schrader (Raging Bull, The Walker), I found the acting to be excellent. Not in a flowery or over the top type of way, but simply an adult driven script that infused the characters with realness. I felt the way the picture was filmed complimented the script, set in upstate New York, beautifully. My major complaint about this movie concerned the lead up to the ending. I did not like the element of fantasy that was introduced nor the way the story ended. It was a letdown for me because I believed the script was going to maintain a consistent flow to its conclusion. You might think differently because you have a different set of beliefs and that is okay.
I HAD THE GOOD FORTUNE TO experience a different religious service from mine, during one of the holidays. Entering into the cavernous building, I was immediately taken by the decorations that were hanging down every column and window. Golden gauze like fabric was gently swaying on the currents of air from the open windows. There was an elderly gentleman standing in the aisle that led to the seats. He was passing out ribbons that were attached to the top of wooden sticks, sort of like mini flags. Each of us were handed one; I asked my companion what we were supposed to do with these ribbons. They were to be used during certain passages of the service, where we are to wave them in the air. Okay that was different for me. But then there was another person standing behind the elderly man and she was handing out yellowish colored foam sticks, for lack of a better word; I swear they looked like large french fries! Each one was embossed with the word “HALLELUJAH.” Looking at my friend he was as perplexed as me. After everyone was seated a religious leader came out to explain what to do with the 2 items we were given. No disrespect but it felt like I was attending a sporting event; would we be doing the “wave” next? THE SERVICE BEGAN AFTER THE organ player, who was perched up in the balcony, finished their song. What struck me rather quickly was the amount of songs being performed throughout the service. I could not remember ever hearing so much music at any religious service I attended previously. Being a people watcher I periodically scanned the people around me. Some of them were really into the music, waving their ribbons back and forth in the air; others were jabbing their foam sticks up and down in the air. If everyone had been sitting in bleachers you would have thought they were at a football game; it was surreal for me. At one point in the service the leader walked out into the crowd dribbling a basketball; I knew it, this was a game! No seriously he gave a speech about inclusion, touching on some of the hot topics currently in the news. I have to tell you it felt genuine to me; this individual was asking us to look at something in a different light. Though this was not the religion I was raised with I learned something new. I can say the same for this historical drama. EACH TIME BEING FEARFUL FOR HIS life Luke, played by Jim Caviezel (The Thin Red Line, Frequency), persisted in visiting imprisoned apostle Paul, played by James Faulkner (Atomic Blonde, Game of Thrones-TV). Luke wanted to keep a journal of everything Paul was telling him. Set in Rome during the reign of Nero this film also starred Olivier Martinez (The Physician, Unfaithful) as Mauritius, Joanne Whalley (Willow, The Man Who Knew too Little) as Priscilla and John Lynch (The Secret Garden, Black Death) as Aquila. The first thing I appreciated about this movie was the script was written to tell a story. I do not know how much of it was true but I found it interesting since I have a general curiosity about different religions. However the script did not go far enough; it caused the actors to pale in their roles. I simply found them to be dull and wooden with their acting. Gratefully there was no heavy handed preaching to the viewers, but I would have preferred seeing more story and especially more historical background to the story.
There has always been a curiosity inside of me to learn about a person’s childhood. It did not matter if it was a neighbor, a friend or a celebrity; I wanted to know what took place in their childhood that contributed to the person they were now. I never discriminated against anyone. Even a sadistic classmate was someone I especially wanted to learn about and see what caused them to be so mean. It was partially due to this curiosity that I started out my college years studying psychology, considering psychiatry as a future career. While taking courses in school I became particularly curious about the famous people we studied in my other subjects such as history and literature. Individuals like Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, Catherine the Great and even Adolf Hitler were people I was so curious about that I would take out from the school library any biographical books about them. World figures like these individuals fascinated me to no end. Now here is where the writer in me came out; if I could not find or there was nothing available about the life of a historical figure, I would amuse myself by imagining their childhood. Maybe it was the influence of my psych classes but I would create family dynamics, possible heroes they may have idolized or historical influences; the who, when, what and where of my creations did not make a difference whether they were reality based or not. This pastime provided me much pleasure. I see from this dramatic movie I am not alone in the type of activity, where creative license was amply used to write about Jesus’ childhood. SEVEN year old Jesus, played by Adam Greaves-Neal (Sherlock-TV, All at Sea-TV), did not quite understand why he felt different from other children. His parents Mary and Joseph, played by Sara Lazzaro (Ten Winters, Andarevia) and Vincent Walsh (Saving Private Ryan, 300: Rise of an Empire), avoided telling Jesus about his birth as a way to protect him from the Romans. As I mentioned earlier the use of creative license did not bother me; I was curious to see what the writers had in store for young Jesus. What helped them was the adult actors who were cast. Besides Vincent there was Sean Bean (The Lord of the Rings franchise, The Martian) as Severus and David Bradley (Harry Potter franchise, The Holding) as the old Rabbi. The issue I had with the script was the lack of a better story. I mean there was my curiosity being piqued but for such a subject I felt it would have been beneficial if more emotions were involved in the story. It felt like one long, at times meandering, chase scene. Even the cinematography was poorly done, creating stereotypical shots like the sun’s rays bursting through a cloud bank. Once done I left the theater feeling unsatisfied, both my curiosity and movie watching sides.
1 3/4 stars
One can gain added insight when re-visting a book or movie. There have been times where I have seen the same film more than once because I either enjoyed it immensely or felt I may have missed something the first time. Regarding books I have done the same thing; more than likely because I felt I had a relationship like a friendship and I wanted to visit with them again. When it is of my choosing the experience is always pleasant. Now when someone else is involved in telling a story again, it may not always be a good thing. Think about your schooling where you may have studied the same topic multiple times. Depending on the instructor the repeated story could be a boring experience for you. On the other hand it can also sound fresh and exciting with a skilled storytelling teacher. In my circle of friends and acquaintances there have been times where I have heard the same story being told several times due to a different mix of friends being together, where some had not yet heard the latest news. Not to be rude but there are some people who are not the best in telling a story; they get stuck on tiny details that have no real bearing on the outcome. Things like a stranger’s name or which corner of an intersection; these are minor details that will not enhance the listening experience. The same thing can happen when a movie studio decides to redo a previous film or story. Depending on the script, a film’s story can appear new and fresh or dull and boring. ROMAN military tribune Clavius, played by Joseph Fiennes (Enemy at the Gate, Shakespeare in Love), and his second in command Lucius, played by Tom Felton (Harry Potter franchise, Belle), were assigned the task of finding the stolen corpse of Yeshua, played by Cliff Curtis (Training Day, Three Kings), before his followers proclaim Yeshua was resurrected from the dead. This adventure drama will be a familiar story for many viewers. I thought the script had a good idea to tell this story through the eyes of one Roman soldier. It made this retelling a bit different for me. I thought Joseph’s acting and screen presence were an asset to this movie. Though I appreciated hearing this well known story from a different perspective, I though the script could have been better. I do not know if this will make sense but the entire picture had a discounted feel to it. The scenes, the acting and the sets did not go to any extremes; in other words, everything seemed minimal as if no one was totally invested in the project, nor much money either. There were a few times where I felt the story even dragged; I found myself getting bored several times. The idea behind this production was novel to me, but the outcome did nothing to excite me.
No matter where you look, from a corporation to a charitable organization to a health care facility, there will always be someone there who has the power. I have seen so many times where an individual changes once they get themselves into a position of power. It takes a strong internal makeup not to get corrupted by its force or to use it for one’s own advantage. At a former company where I worked there was an individual who did any and everything to get a particular title attached to their name. They did some sneaky and underhanded things to other employees just to get ahead in their career. The thing that really got me was when their actions were questioned by any of their co-workers (the ones that even talked to them) they would claim they had to act that way because it would benefit the company. This was rarely the case as far as I could tell. Even on the world stage haven’t we all seen individuals who claim their actions were for the greater good? I have such a hard time listening to people who claim to be righteous but they do not act it. I know an individual who is active in their religion and is quick to use their activities as proof that they are devout in their belief. However if you heard some of the prejudicial remarks that came out of their mouth you would never believe they were a religious person. To top it off, I have seen their friends who all believe this individual is the poster child for goodness. Do you think their title of vice chairman has anything to do with it? BIBLICAL archaeologist Don Verdean, played by Sam Rockwell (The Sitter, Seven Psychopaths), was approached by Pastor Tony Lazarus, played by Danny McBride (Your Highness, This is the End), to form a partnership where Don’s discoveries would go on display at Pastor Lazarus’ church. The pastor believed this would greatly increase the size of his congregation and Don did not want to disappoint him. This comedy had a well seasoned cast; besides Sam and Danny, it had Amy Ryan (Escape Plan, Gone Baby Bone) as Carol Jensen and Jemaine Clement (What We Do in the Shadows, Men in Black 3) as Boaz. The story was a satire or more precisely a spoof on people’s willingness to believe anything depending on how it is presented to them. I thought the idea for this comedy was okay but as the movie continued I realized nothing was making me care about any of the characters. As the story played out it dropped into a madcap mode that came across as ridiculous. The actors did try to help but by the end of the film I was left with a blah feeling; there was nothing great or bad about this picture, it was innocuous if you can believe it.
1 3/4 stars
Except when it concerns weight, most instances of loss more times than not are associated with sadness. Even from a scarf to a pair of sunglasses, I have never heard someone say they were happy about losing them. Sadness can be overwhelming when it comes to the loss of a loved one. And if the death was sudden like a heart attack, the survivors can experience shock along with the sad feelings flooding over them. Though I would never say anything, I never understood when someone would say, “We lost her/him today.” I have always wondered if people were just uncomfortable saying the word “died,” maybe because it sounds so final or abrupt as compared to passing away or gone. Now there is another aspect of loss that I think must be harder to deal with and that is when the death is unexpected. Maybe due to an accident or killing, I can only imagine how awful it must feel. There were a couple of different people I knew who had experienced such a tragedy and it was heartbreaking. Though I will say when it comes to this form of death I can understand why a person would have a vein of anger and revenge mixed in with their unhappiness. Hopefully I will never have to experience such a horrible thing in my life. I would rather be exposed to this type of event as an observer while watching a movie. Or at least I thought so until I saw this fantasy adventure. CURSED by a witch with immortal life Kaulder, played by Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious franchise, The Pacifier), would spend his life throughout the centuries protecting the world from such wretched witches. This action film was all about the CGI effects. There were a couple of scenes that were actually good. I thought the idea behind the story was decent; however the script was as dull as an old rusty nail. With Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings franchise, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) as Dolan 37th, Michael Caine (Harry Brown, Inception) as Dolan 36th and Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones-TV, Downton Abbey-TV) as Chloe; the actors had nothing to work with to try and make this film at least somewhat exciting. As for Vin, with his limited acting range, this role did not suit him at all. With his monotone speech, I found him boring. Maybe part of the issue was the direction the actors were getting because I did not care for the way scenes jumped back and forth in time; it made for a frenzied viewing experience. I will say I did not mind Rose Leslie’s character and wished there were more scenes with Michael; though even his character seemed like one I have seen him play before. This is one film I would not be sad if the movie studio lost.
1 2/3 stars
A majority of the residents from the neighborhood I grew up in practiced the same religion. In some ways it was easier because we all celebrated the same holidays and knew what foods to expect for the meals. Notice even at a young age it was all about the food. As I grew up the neighborhood was transformed and became more diversified. Except for one particular gang of kids from the neighborhood, I cannot recall a time where religion was used as an excuse for a particular action. Everyone was treated the same no matter what religion they practiced at home. It was not until I was an adult and out on my own where I saw how some people used religion as a means to manipulate other people. Where I consider religion to be a personal and private matter, I have a hard time understanding someone who uses their religion to explain their actions; but to me some of their actions are questionable. There have been enough examples made public where I do not feel the need to mention them here. In fact, I am a little uncomfortable even talking about this now. However, it is worth it so I can review today’s movie. STRANDED on our planet P.K., played by Aamir Khan (Like Stars on Earth, Rang De Basanti), asked the most innocent of questions that produced some profound results. It took me a short time to get my bearings with the story in this satirical fantasy about organized religion. There were multiple story lines that eventually began to merge together. I am familiar with Aamir’s work and this role was different for him. Despite not being a fan of slapstick humor, I did appreciate the character he was portraying. Included in the cast was Anushka Sharma (Wedding Planners, Ladies vs. Ricky Bahl) as Jagat Janani a/k/a/ Jaggu, Sanjay Dutt (Mission Kashmir, Lage Raho Munna) as Bhairon Singh and Saurabh Shukla (Slumdog Millionaire, Barfi!) as Tapasvi Maharaj. If one is not familiar with Bollywood films, it is important to pay attention to the songs being sung because they play a part in moving the story forward. An interesting side note, this film’s running time was 2 1/2 hours; halfway through the movie the screen went dark and up popped the word “intermission.” It lasted a few seconds then the picture continued on. Back to the slapstick comedy, I think it colored my feelings towards everyone’s acting abilities. However the strength of the story, with its proposals and variables, carried me through the entire movie. Add in a couple of twists and I felt this film did a wonderful job in taking the subject of religion and presenting a non-offensive, thought provoking, solid piece of work. Hindi and Bhojpuri language was spoken with English subtitles.
Under no circumstances do I wish to offend anyone’s beliefs or customs. For myself there are several traditions I continue today from my upbringing. I do them more out of respect for my ancestors than for me. It has always fascinated me how traditions have evolved with the times. What may have served a purpose in olden times may not be relevant to the way we live now. Also, I always had an issue with being told to do something based on ancient doctrine. Being a storyteller I know my choice of verbiage can slant a story to a particular opinion. Regarding written documentation, I always digest it with a grain of salt. If someone had to tell the story and someone had to write it down; what were the chances the story could be embellished? In this film festival winner, I was mortified by such old customs being practiced. Ozgu Namal (Beynelmilel, Not Worth a Fig) played the daughter Meryem who was found raped and unconscious. Because her family believed it was her fault, the only way they could expel the shame brought onto the family was to have the girl killed. The job fell to Cemal, played by Murat Han (Kardelen, Sobaka), upon his return from active military duty. Cemal was to take Meryem and travel from their small village to Istanbul, where he was to execute her. This beautifully filmed drama with its hypnotic musical score laid out equal sides between old customs and modern thinking. The acting was wrought with vivid emotions, adding to the sense of doom. As a complete story I found it too melodramatic with a quick and tidy ending. However, that did not bother me since the movie’s story drew me in. Personally I have a hard time when people are treated less than equal and where people are quick to judge. That is what I believe. Turkish with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD
For whatever reason, I never gave much thought to the how and why humans exist. If anything, I always thought I was an accident since my two brothers were eleven and eight years older than me. The big joke I used to tell my friends in defense of my thinking was saying, after having to deal with my graffiti spraying, story telling brothers; my mother waited eight years and decided she wanted to continue the madness by having me. I know each religion has their own definition on the nature of existence. Some believe in the ashes to ashes, dust to dust way of thinking; others believe in reincarnation. I only know there is no right answer or wrong answer. In this documentary, director Roger Nygard (Trekkies, Suckers) traveled the globe interviewing religious leaders, spiritual figureheads, scholars, artists and scientists among others, to seek out answers to some of life’s profound questions. Before you think this documentary sounds heavy and ponderous, let me tell you it was nothing like it. Roger handled the scenes with a light, humorous spin; keeping the story moving forward. Maybe an easier way of describing this documentary would be to say some of you should think of it as the CliffsNotes for religion; to others it can be thought of as Religion for Dummies book. Personally, I found this an interesting film. My curiosity with other cultures was piqued by the different locales and variety of interviewees. Can I say I found the answers to the meaning of life, to my existence from this movie? The answer would be no; however, I did gain a deeper understanding of people’s beliefs and reaffirm my own belief that there is no such thing as a right or wrong religion.
2 2/3 stars — DVD