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Flash Movie Review: The Shape of Water

PIZZA IS ONE OF my favorite foods; I love pizza. Except for 2 pizzas, one from an independent stand alone restaurant and one from a national chain, I have not met a pizza I did not like. For me pizza is that type of food that can be eaten at any meal and then some. Cold pizza in the morning is just as good to me as a fresh out of the wood burning oven kind for lunch or dinner. With some friends or family members I have no problem ordering one large pizza for the 2 of us since we have similar tastes in toppings; and if not, we can just ask to add or subtract the differing topping off one side of the pizza. On the other hand there are some people I go out with where they have to get their own pizza because there is nothing I like about their topping choices and they will not strip their pizza down just to a basic cheese so we can share it.     RECENTLY I WAS OUT to dinner with a friend who ordered a pizza that looked like an abomination to me. It was a chipotle pizza with sausage and ranch dressing, extra ranch dressing I might add. Yuck, it looked horrible but here is the thing; they only know I do not like those toppings because I do not make a scene. I do not grab my neck with both hands showing the universal sign for choking or start gagging just as the pizza is placed on the table. Do you know why I do not make a scene? It is because they have just as much right to love their pizza toppings as I do with my choices. I am not going to taste their pizza and get indigestion or heartburn; their pizza has no affect on my choices in pizzas or how my body interacts with it. Seriously who am I, or for that matter who is anybody, to force their personal tastes on another pizza lover. I say go ahead and dig into whatever pizza makes you happy; I am not here to judge you. I am glad you have love in your heart for pizza because our ability to love is one of our greatest assets.     IN THE MIDDLE OF the cold war during the 1960s, the United States had a secret laboratory where they had in their possession something the Soviet Union desperately wanted to get. No one knew there was someone working at the lab who was also interested in this special cargo. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth), this film festival winner starred Sally Hawkins (Never Let Me Go, Maudie) as Elisa Esposito, Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals, Midnight Special) as Richard Strickland, Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Gifted) as Zelda Fuller, Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, LBJ) as Giles and Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Steve Jobs) as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler. Everyone in the cast did an outstanding performance; Sally and Michael truly are a gift to filmdom. I was absolutely taken away into this beautiful and meaningful film. Almost every scene allowed the viewer to have an emotional response and I loved the message that I interpreted from the script. It should be obvious I was totally into this dramatic, adventure fantasy and all I ask of you is if you plan on seeing what I feel will be a multiple award nominated picture this season then go into this movie with an open heart.

 

4 stars

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Flash Movie Review: The Hollars

Unless there is something seriously dramatic going on there is no way to know your family may be different from other families. This is one of the reasons we initially grow up believing we are just normal. However once you start experiencing the dynamics within other families it can be eye opening. I remember the first time my best friend invited me for dinner when we were in 3rd grade. Sitting there I knew something was just different about his family. His older brother sat at the dinner table with us and the parents, but he never said a word to me or his younger brother. He only would talk to the parents but just barely. To an outsider they would say that brother was just being rude, but to a young me I thought he was mean. As I grew and had more opportunities to be around other families I actually started to enjoy the experiences. I wonder if that was the start of my interest in pursuing interests in psychology. A college friend invited me to their home for the weekend where I wound up feeling like I was on one of those old family television shows from the 1950s or 60s. Every family member would get dressed up for dinner; I could not understand how the mother could cook an entire meal yet look like she was ready to go out on the town. There was another family I experienced that cursed at each other like they were just having a friendly conversation. Oh and how could I forget the family that shared a meal with me where all and I mean all the home cooked foods were barely edible to me? I do not want to sound ungrateful but nothing tasted like it was supposed to taste and some things did not look like they were cooked enough; yet all of the family members carried on about the food as if it were the best thing since sliced bread. It just goes to show there really is no such thing as a “normal” family.   ONLY after his mother was admitted into the hospital did John Hollar, played by John Krasinski (Away We Go, 13 Hours), travel back home to be with his family. One tends to forget about their family when they are away from them. This film festival nominated comedic drama also starred Margo Martindale (The Hours, August: Osage County) as Sally Hollar, Sharlto Copley (Elysium, District ) as Ron Hollar and Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, The Cabin in the Woods) as Don Hollar. I thought Margo and Richard were the best out of the cast. The story had fun moments in it but there really was nothing that moved me to think I was watching a good movie. Maybe because there were a variety of issues taking place I felt nothing stood out except for Margo’s character. The actors tried their best I believe and John who also directed did a decent job; but the ending left me with a blah feeling. I do not know if it is because I have seen my share of dysfunctional families that I did not think this film was any big deal.

 

2 stars

 

 

Flash Movie Review: God’s Pocket

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.

 

2 stars 

Flash Movie Review: A.C.O.D.

I was at the same event, even sitting at the same table. It is always fascinating to me how two people at the same function can have different memories of the occasion. The memories I have for this particular event were all of a negative nature; the food was cold, the overpowering music made conversations difficult and the room was too cold. My friend thought it was one of the best charity events he had ever attended. Similarly, this type of scenario happens frequently between family members. I cannot tell you how many times two relatives will recall a specific event and have completely different recollections of it. The use of perception was a key factor in this comedy movie. Adam Scott (Friends with Kids, Parks and Recreations-TV) played Carter, an adult child of divorce. With the impending wedding of his younger brother coming up, Carter forced his divorced battling parents to put their bitterness aside to attend the event. But by Carter bringing the combatant spouses back, he discovered he had different family memories then they did. Having bought a movie ticket to this film without seeing a trailer for it, part of my enjoyment came from the blending of the hilarious cast that was a surprise to me. Catherine O’Hara (For Your Consideration, Home Alone franchise) as Melissa and Richard Jenkins (White House Down, The Visitor) as Hugh were perfectly in synch as Carter’s parents. Amy Poehler (Baby Mama, Parks and Recreations-TV) as Hugh’s new wife Sondra and Jane Lynch (Afternoon Delight, Glee-TV) as Dr. Judith were standouts in their roles. I had to wonder if their dialog was all scripted or did they do some ad libbing; it was wonderful to watch them. As for the story, it was somewhat cluttered which did not give much time to further explore the characters. What kept this movie together was everyone’s comedic skills. On the one hand I can see where movie goers would feel this film played more like a television sitcom; but for me, it did not make a difference because I enjoyed this light, funny movie. At least, that is how I recall my time spent in front of the theater screen watching this film. If you go to see this movie, stay through the rolling of the fun credits.

 

2 1/2 stars

Flash Movie Review: White House Down

Even if one has not visited an iconic building, they can still be upset upon its destruction. When I travel to a new city I always seek out buildings of historic significance. Whether it is an ancient structure or a world renowned architect’s masterpiece, I enjoy seeing the architecture in every place I visit. I have only seen the Capital in Washington, DC from the outside; yet, I felt a twinge of sadness when it came under terrorist attack in this explosive action film. During the horrific incident John Cale, played by Channing Tatum (Side Effects, Magic Mike) and his daughter Emily, played by Joey King (Oz the Great and Powerful, Crazy Stupid Love) were taking a tour of the White House. With President James Sawyer, played by Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained, Ray) in residence, the building went into lockdown mode. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time; but for who, as the attackers were not counting on someone like John Cale being in the White House. My sadness over the destruction of the Capitol was overshadowed by my dread over the ridiculous script for this film. It did not know whether to be an exciting action drama or a high stakes comedy. Some of the dialog was utterly looney, with no help from Channing and Jamie. Thrown into this mess was Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Dark Knight, Won’t Back Down) as secret service agent Finnerty, Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, Step Brothers) as politician Raphelson and Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, Lawless) as terrorist Stenz. I felt bad for these three individuals being stuck in this uninspired movie. To its favor, the film had good explosions and fights. If the writers had kept the story presidential without the attempted humor, I think this would have been a better film. Also, I was annoyed when the good guy characters did ignorant things; I felt as if the writers were underestimating the viewers’ intelligence. If you have nothing else to do and have never taken a tour of the White House, I suppose there would be no harm in watching this film. One of the funniest things to me was reading the credits, where I saw the film was filmed in Montreal, Canada. There were several scenes with blood and violence.

1 3/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: Killing Them Softly

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.

 

2 stars

Flash Movie Review: Liberal Arts

Going away to college was a liberating experience for me. Where a majority of fellow high school seniors planned attending the state school, I chose to go out of state. Moving to a place where no one knew me seemed the safest thing to do. Surrounded by people who had similar interests to mine was exciting. For one of my required courses I was responsible for the upkeep of a horse named Daiquiri. Doing so allowed me free horseback riding lessons which I thought made be cool looking. In this educational world I learned more about myself and felt I was coming back to life. There was nothing better than acquiring knowledge and being  allowed to express myself. These feelings were rekindled as I watched this sweet touching film. Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother-TV, Not Another Teen Movie) deserves credit since he was the director, writer and star of this fresh thoughtful film. He played Jesse Fisher; a 30 something, recently single guy. When favorite college professor Peter Hoberg, played by Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, The Cabin in the Woods), invited him to his retirement party, Jesse agreed to travel back to his alma mater. The return to campus sparked fond memories in Jesse. When introduced to college student Zibby, played by Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene; Peace, Love and Misunderstanding), Jesse was taken by surprise with the strong connection that quickly formed between the two of them. Despite their age difference, both discovered they could still learn something from each other. This film had more to offer than what was shown in the trailer. I loved Elizabeth Olsen; she and Richard Jenkins were simply special with their acting. A surprise for me was seeing Zac Efron in this film and liking him for a change. This slice of college life with its sense of discovery, emotional upheaval and life’s lessons could easily make you want to enroll in school again.

 

3 stars

Flash Movie Review: The Visitor

Just from a chance encounter, one’s life could be forever changed. I believe each of us receives a gift from every person we meet. It may not be easily identifiable or reveal itself quickly, but at some point this gift will add to our awarenesses. In this wonderful film there was a tremendous transformation that began with an unusual meeting. College professor Walter Vale, played by Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods, Friends With Benefits), lived his daily life disengaged from everything around him. Lonely after his wife had died; Walter was stuck, unmotivated enough not to even update the lesson plan he had been using for years, for the one class he taught at the college. Assigned to attend a conference in New York, Walter reluctantly made the trip from Connecticut, staying at the apartment he and his wife had kept in New York. Upon his arrival Walter was shocked to find  people living in his place. Tarek and Zainab, played by Haaz Sleiman (American Dreamz, Dorfman) and Danal Gurira (Ghost Town, My Soul to Take), were two illegal immigrants who were duped into believing they were renting an empty apartment. In total shock, Walter’s dormant life would never be the same. It was so good to see Richard finally getting a leading role; he has always been a solid supporting actor. He was superb in this movie and totally deserving of his best actor Oscar nomination. The interactions he had with Haaz and Danal were lovely. With a quiet gentleness, the story hesitantly spread its wings to deliver an emotional love tap for the viewer. If you were not a believer beforehand; after watching this beautiful movie, you will understand the magic of a chance encounter.

3 1/3 stars — DVD 

Flash Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods

For those of you who have known me for some time, you must be shocked to see me review this horror film. I am not a fan of the slasher horror movie genre. The only tip off I had regarding this movie was Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly) was the producer and one of the writers. With trepidation, I found an empty seat in the theater and prepared myself to be visually assaulted with blood and guts. The story started with five friends (comprised of your stereotypical jock, stoner dude, intellectual guy, grounded female and the party girl) who take a road trip to a remote cabin, for a mini vacation. At first I thought what an unoriginal premise; this was going to be one of those typical horror story setups. Not to give anything away, but I was so wrong about this movie. The script was smart, humorous with a splash of satire. I would not label this as strictly a horror film; instead, I would call it a hybrid of a science fiction horror movie. The story was wildly original and was finely executed (pun intended). Besides having Chris Hemsworth (Thor, Star Trek) in the cast, I felt Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, Let Me In) as Sitterson and Bradley Whitford (Kate & Leopold, The West Wing-TV) were perfect together. The best way to view this film would be to go in with as little information about it. I would even recommend you bypass the trailer below. Just remember its roots were in the horror genre, so there were gory bloody scenes.

 

3 stars

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