THOUGH I HAD MISGIVINGS, I AGREED to join my friend for dinner at a recently new, popular restaurant in the city. I wanted to visit with him but was hoping we could just hang out at a local place that I knew had good food. He considered himself a “foodie” who enjoys trying the newest trendy restaurants; I on the other hand think of myself as a low rent eater who enjoys eating at diners and independent, family-owned places. There is a place near my home where the same family has owned and ran this restaurant since the 1960s. They serve simple entrees like turkey club sandwiches, tuna melts and burgers, each served with great French fries. And what I like about this place is the fact they serve generous portions, and the food is fresh and good. I am quite certain my friend would turn his nose up at the place just by its looks. The name of the place is written in red block letters on a square, plastic sign that hangs above the front door. Because decades have passed, the décor now is considered “kitschy” or retro. Realizing I could not dress in my usual relaxed weekend outfit, I asked if we could meet for an early dinner. I was hoping we could beat the crowds and if I were still hungry after eating, I could stop for something on the way home. AS I WALKED IN THE RESTAURANT, I was met by an employee dressed in black slacks and a white, long-sleeved shirt. Asked for the name of the reservations, I gave my friend’s name. The employee confirmed the name on her tablet then directed me to my friend who was already seated. The place was done in calm, subdued colors of blues and greens with a hint of gold. On the table was a small plate that had 2 square dinner rolls with a ribbon of oil circling them. A small pile of grated cheese was directly in the center; it looked like the white ashes from a funeral pyre. Throughout the evening while we conversed, several plates of varying sizes were brought and taken from our table. The salad took all of 4-5 bites to complete with some special dressing that had a lemon undertone to it. I missed having a good-sized salad. The main course for me was a boneless chicken breast; I had to ask them to omit the bacon, the sauce, the onions, and the peppercorn. Everything was ala carte, so I ordered crispy fingerling potatoes. I had never seen such a small chicken breast. When the bill came, I was stunned. We agreed to split the bill; it cost us $100.00 each. All this money which I would normally never spend at a restaurant, and I was still hungry. I felt the same way about this film; all the money the studio must have spent, and I was still wanting more by the end. A SKILLED CIA OPERATIVE UNCOVERS DAMAGING information on a job which sets in motion a manhunt to apprehend him, no matter the price. With Ryan Gosling (Blade Runner 2046, The Nice Guys) as Six, Chris Evans (Gifted, Avengers franchise) as Lloyd Hansen, Ana de Armas (Knives Out, No Time to Die) as Dani Miranda, Billy Bob Thornton (A Million Little Pieces, Bad Santa franchise) as Fitzroy and Jessica Henwick (Love and Monsters, Underwater) as Suzanne Brewer; this action thriller overflowed with fight and action scenes. It turns out they were necessary to cover up the poorly written script. With such a capable cast, this movie could have been terrific; but it never reached that level. I will say it was mindless fun, if one is in the mood for people being beaten up and things blowing apart. The fight scenes were well orchestrated, and I liked the various settings. By the end of the picture, I felt I had seen a compilation of scenes from previously, better done, spy action films. It just goes to show you spending a lot of money does not mean you will get a great, satisfying product.
2 ½ stars
DURING MY SPACE EXPLORATIONS I DISCOVERED planets far from earth that were inhabited by peaceful beings. The inhabitants of one planet did not walk; they were able to float above the ground effortlessly. Everyone was dressed in a similar fashion with a long, flowing robe-like outer coating that refracted light to form a non-stop palette of colors. I considered their heads to be egg shaped with large dark eyes and no hair. Because they were a peaceful race, there were a couple of other species from other planets that wanted to conquer them. Due to this threat the peaceful ones, as I called them, had to build up their defenses. I was in charge of the space ships that in actuality were different writing pens I collected; however, they were able to shoot out death rays from the tips. The pocket clip part of the pen is where the captain and their crew flew the ship, so I addressed my warnings to that part of the pen. I could spend hours flying my pens through the house as they took on evil forces, defending their home planet. Sometimes I had to fly through space dust or debris which was the mist from a can of air freshener. IT WAS NOT UNTIL MY HIGHER LEARNING days that I paid more attention to space. Oh and of course Star Trek and Star Wars pushed me into that direction. To this day I enjoy science fiction/fantasy movies and books. I feel a certain connection to them because they have always presented a different reality to the dark one I was experiencing at times. Within science fiction stories it seemed as if a planet was being threatened, all the inhabitants would come together to defeat the threat. There was something about having diverse beings coming together that I found attractive. At the time, I did not realize it was what I was wishing for in my reality. Feeling like an outsider or just different growing up, the idea of an all accepting society fascinated me. I think that is why when I was a kid fantasizing about space I always had planets filled with peaceful beings. Add in the story lines from Star Trek and I was sure there was a safe haven somewhere in space. It is funny that a few of my friends to this day can tell when I am spacing out and the reasons for it. None of my fantasies however had the type of intensity that I saw in this dramatic, biographical space film. IN A RACE WITH THE SOVIET Union to achieve glory in space, the United States embarked on a radical idea that had never been done before. It would take a certain type of person to be a part of what could become an event of historical proportions. This film festival nominated movie starred Ryan Gosling (Blade Runner 2049, La La Land) as Neil Armstrong, Claire Foy (Breathe, Unsane) as Janet Armstrong, Jason Clarke (Everest, The Man with the Iron Heart) as Edward Higgins White, Kyle Chandler (Manchester by the Sea, Argo) as Deke Slayton and Pablo Schreiber (13 Hours, Den of Thieves) as Jim Lovell. The beauty of this film was the way the director allowed scenes to tell the story without dialog; some of the film shots were beautiful. Now add in the acting skills, especially form Ryan and Claire, and I for the most part was taken away by the story. There have been a variety of space films but for some reason I found the intensity of this one to be tangible. Everything felt authentic and real. Though my imagination made traveling to space an easy process, I got on board for this historical event, space story.
3 1/2 stars
THE INVITATION WAS NOT addressed to me, but I was asked to go as a guest. I took no offense since the event was something that had never been part of my usual experiences. It was an art gallery opening for an artist; I was familiar with their name but not their work. Situated down in a trendy part of the city, the gallery’s large windows were swathed in dark banners that looked like they had been splattered with blood. I was not sure what I was getting into as I looked at the people milling about the front of the gallery when we walked in. Once inside servers with skin painted in dull shades of gray were walking around with champagne glasses filled with something that looked like a thick syrupy wine. If I did not know better I would have said I walked onto the set of a vampire themed movie. I declined any offer of the drink. WALKING AROUND THE GALLERY I was exposed to pieces of art that depicted graphic violence. They were done in an abstract way but one could easily make out the human form even with the bizarre, twisted ways it was being placed. Making my way around I was able to hear a variety of comments from the guests that were meandering about as they were looking for more of that reddish liquid stuff to drink. The majority of things I heard people say were positive about the artwork. I honestly did not understand how they could look at these grotesque pieces and interpret them as these beacons of reason and positivity. There was one gentleman who literally was lecturing the small group of individuals around him, expounding on the dynamic themes this one piece presented. I actually stopped to listen to him and though I am not a judgmental person by nature, I have to tell you I thought the talkative man sounded pompous, as he went on and on about various themes one could draw from the piece. By no means do I claim to be an art expert and I know appreciating art is a subjective thing; but I did not get any of the artwork for it did not entertain or move me in a positive way. Sadly I felt the same way about this science fiction, mystery sequel. BLADE RUNNER K, played by Ryan Gosling (Gangster Squad, La La Land), discovered a secret that was hatched years ago that could alter evolution. Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Prisoners) this sci-fi thriller visually was impressive. The sets and costumes all conveyed a sense of defeat or maybe more to the point tiredness. Ryan with Robin Wright (Wonder Woman, House of Cards-TV) as Lieutenant Joshi, Ana de Armas (War Dogs, Hands of Stone) as Joi, Sylvia Hoeks (The Best Offer, The Storm) as Luv and Harrison Ford (42, The Age of Adeline) as Rick Deckard were all wonderful in their roles. My big issue with this film was the unnecessary length of time to tell a story from a script that was spotty in parts. I was bored through parts of the picture. There were some characters that one never got the opportunity to really understand, while others had more depth to them. It pains me to say this but I found this film to be pretentious and full of itself. Maybe with major editing there would have been more excitement for me; however, for my viewing time I sat there with a perplexed look on my face.
GREAT results can happen when one’s dream remains in a somewhat fluid state, like a soap bubble that grows with the input of more air. A young person grew up with the dream of living in the country, where her art studio would inhabit the abandoned barn on her property. Her skills as an artist were refined over the years to the point she was able to earn a living selling her works. From each sale she took a portion of the profit and squirreled it away to eventually become the down payment for her dream. But something happened when she fell in love with a man who had his own dreams. Ever since he was a young boy he wanted to live in a high rise apartment building that had a doorman. All of his schooling was laid out towards making his dream come true; he finally had his dream job that took him to all parts of the world. The only thing left was to save up and find that special apartment that would be his home base, a secure beacon high above the city. DREAMS have always been a part of my internal motivations. The story I wrote to start out this review is similar to something I experienced when I met someone who had their own dreams. Trust me it was not the easiest thing to do, to let someone else’s dream form a bond with my own; however, once I realized our dreams could blend together without losing our goals it got easier. A relationship is partially a negotiation, a compromise; the key is paring down to the important aspects of one’s dreams then finding a way where they can remain intact within the new dream being formed between two people. Let the couple in this musical movie show you. SPARKS formed right from the start when aspiring actress Mia and jazz musician Sebastian, played by Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, The Help) and Ryan Gosling (The Big Short, The Place Beyond the Pines), first met. Each came into the relationship with a dream; the question was how to achieve it. This comedic drama started out with a bang by having a big, opening musical number. If you are not a fan of musicals and their history there is a good chance this film will not have a strong impact on you. I knew Ryan had a musical background but did not know Emma could sing; both of them had a wonderful chemistry together. With J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, The Closer-TV) as Bill and musical artist John Legend (Soul Men) as Keith for part of the cast, the story was partially an homage to those old fashioned musicals from the 1930s and 40s. The dance numbers were fun but I found the music only okay, nothing very memorable. The allure of this film I believe is due to its novelty; there hasn’t been a good film in this genre recently. I will tell you I enjoyed this movie, especially the story line; however, I was a bit confused to the point I felt I must have missed something, wondering if I needed to see the movie again. Maybe from the unavoidable buzz I was hearing I dreamt this was going to be one of my 4 star movies.
Besides being humorous can you figure out what each of the following pairings have in common: Abbott and Costello, Burns and Allen, Penn & Teller, Lewis and Martin, Laurel and Hardy. I will set the clock at 60 seconds, now go. Tick, tock, tick tock; your time is up. The common trait between each couple is the 2 individuals that make up the pairing are distinctly dissimilar from each other. Look at Martin and Lewis, one was the goofy clown while the other was the debonair crooner; Hardy was the outgoing talkative one while Laurel was the quiet thoughtful one. It really adds credence to the saying, “opposites attract.” I just find the whole science, if you will, on the attraction of opposites fascinating. When I am waiting for a flight at an airport, one of the things I do to make the time go by is watch the couples walking by and notice the differences between them. Now granted I have to rely on their physical appearances for the most part; but sometimes if I am privy to hearing their conversations, I can get a better idea of each one’s personality. Even within my circle of friends and relatives I have always been aware of how opposites can solidify and form a strong bond. In my past relationships there has always been attributes that each of us were solely skilled in. I remember one relationship where I was the “bad guy” role whenever an issue came up that required talking to a customer service representative; you know, like a returned or malfunctioning product. It was not a problem for me and I was glad to eliminate any possible stress off my significant other. If you do not believe opposites attract then I suggest you watch this wild action comedy film to see how it can work. PRIVATE investigator Holland March, played by Ryan Gosling (The Big Short, Gangster Squad) was given little choice but to help solve a case with the rude and brutish Jackson Healy, played by Russell Crowe (The Water Diviner, Winter’s Tale). I would not have thought the pairing of Gosling and Crowe would be such a crazy fun couple, but I have to tell you they were terrific together. Ryan was amazing handling the physical and comedic parts to his role. Set in Los Angeles during the 1970s, I got such a kick out of the soundtrack and retro look to the scenes. Also starring Angourie Rice (These Final Hours) as Holly March and Matt Bomer (Magic Mike franchise, American Horror Story-TV) as John Boy, everyone did their part in making this a good movie watching experience. For being a relative newcomer compared to the rest of the cast, Angourie was spectacular in her role. The twists and turns in the script were almost too much for me, but the strong acting carried me through all the way to the end of the movie. At the moment I cannot come up with a current comedy couple similar to the ones I mentioned earlier; but I am here to tell you I hope Crowe and Gosling are allowed to solve another case sometime in the near future.
3 ¼ stars
My first piggy bank started out its life as a jar of chocolate syrup. With a lid that had a plastic bear’s head on top with a coin slot in back, once the syrup was gone and the jar washed I would save any money I would get inside of it. I had a total of 6 banks before I got a new type of bank; a metal rocket ship with a spring loaded docking port. Putting a coin on the catapult device, all I had to do was press the red launch button and the coin would be jettisoned into a slot just behind the rocket ship’s pilot cabin. As I got older all my change found its way to an actual bank with friendly tellers. I grew up in a time when banks were staffed by local residents; it was a place you could trust to hold your money and if lucky earn a little interest on those funds. As one bank started buying another bank which would then buy another bank, the small local banks became satellite locations for large nationwide banks. Some of the employees were replaced and though the new ones were friendly, it was a scripted friendliness as their goal was to sell you one of the bank’s new financial products. So they were not as personal as I remembered, but I still trusted them. It was not until later in life when I refinanced my place that I lost all trust with the banking institutions. And the fact that this happened around the same time as the story in this biographical film only made me angry all over again. FUND manager Dr. Michael Burry, played by Christian Bale (The Flowers of War, Public Enemies), discovered something that no one else realized about the housing market. The banks thought he was crazy. Based on Michael Lewis’ (The Blind Side, Moneyball) best seller, this comedic film festival winning drama had such a great cast that included Ryan Gosling (Gangster Squad, Half Nelson) as Jared Vennett and Steve Carell (Freeheld, Foxcatcher) as Mark Blum. I have a new appreciation for Steve’s dramatic acting abilities. The script was laced with numerous funny moments as three stories were running parallel to each other. What I found to be a brilliant stroke of genius was the way the writers used plain talking speech in a humorous setting to explain some of the business products and practices discussed in this film. In fact, I learned more from this excellent movie than numerous articles and publications I have read about the economy. Now before you say you get bored when people start talking about business, let me tell you this film kept things interesting, moving along with the help of the film editor and director; there was not a dull moment. However, there is a chance you may get angry after you see what took place in this well done picture.
3 1/2 stars
Everyone has a breaking point; it is just the reactions that are different. Some people quietly remove themselves from the situation that pushed them over the edge; others may explode with anger. I have been working to separate myself from the latter group, trying to teach myself to walk away when I get angry. It has not been easy. When I get pushed past my breaking point a floodgate opens up, releasing years of stored anger and hurt that sears through my veins before erupting out of my mouth. If I am fortunate to have a friend with me, who has the ability to read my face and see the subtle telltale signs of my transformation, they will try to diffuse the situation before I go over to the dark side. Age may have something to do with it, because as the years have gone by the intensity levels have diminished. I cannot say the same thing for the main character in this crime mystery, inspired by true events. A talented actor was needed for this role and Ryan Gosling (Drive, Gangster Squad) was eerily perfect playing David Marks. Son of real estate magnate Sanford Marks, played by Frank Langella (Robot & Frank, Frost/Nixon), David did not want anything to do with the family business. He thought he could succeed on his own when he met Katie, played by Kirsten Dunst (Upside Down, Melancholia), a tenant in one of the family’s buildings. Settling into what appeared to be an idyllic life with Katie, it would not take long before mounting pressures pushed David to the brink. In one of her best performances, Kirsten was wonderful playing an intelligent woman of simple means who experiences life on a new level. Frank was great as he oozed with entitlement playing the chairman and demanding father. I wished the script would have been better because there were spots int the story that I found perplexing. Not that I was bored at all; the powerful acting kept me watching what essentially was a love story mixed with a murder mystery. There is a fine line between rational and irrational behavior. It all depends on where we place the breaking point. A couple of brief scenes with blood.
2 3/4 stars — DVD
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
Perched atop my father’s dresser was a chrome figurine of a woman, circa 1940’s. She was my introduction to the art deco era. I found the symmetry used in the architecture, the art, the fashion made perfect sense to my sensibilities. With items that had been handed down in the family, I would try to determine if they came from the art deco period. I found myself doing the same thing as I sat through this beautiful looking movie. Set in Los Angeles in the late 1940’s, the set designs and costumes were perfectly recreated. When the production crews created the gorgeous sets, they probably had no idea their work would be covering up more than the bare walls of the movie studio’s sound stage. For what was behind the sets was a cartoon characterization of a gangster movie. The writers must have used Dick Tracy as a template in forming the screenplay that was inspired by a true story. The plot was about a small group of Los Angeles police officers; who were assigned the task of bringing down feared mob boss Mickey Cohen, played by Sean Penn (All the King’s Men, Fail Game). If I did not know better I would swear Sean Penn was portraying criminal Flat Top or Low Brow from the Dick Tracy cartoons. Yes Sean brought his intensity, but his dialog was so dreadful that it was laughable. Two of my favorite actors Ryan Gosling (Drive, Half Nelson) and Emma Stone (Easy A, The Help) had to have felt abused by the loony lines they were given, as Sgt. Jerry Wooters and Mickey’s girlfriend Grace Farraday. Josh Brolin (Men in Black 3, No Country for Old Men) was stiff as Sgt. John O’Mara. What a shame to have such a capable cast and give them an awful story and direction. I wish there had been a volume switch I could have shut off, because having no sound would have been the best way to watch this pretty foul movie. A note to the parents who brought young children into the theater: if you want your kids exposed to the art deco style, take them to a museum. Scenes of violence and blood.
1 3/4 stars
Is there such a thing as love at first sight or is it something else? Though I have never experienced it; I have come close, referring to it as love at first infatuation. That time where you see a person and immediately feel comfortable around them, quickly finding a common rhythm. When the two of you start a relationship, the key in maintaining it is communication. I would also add the ability not to let expectations trip you up, while continuing to learn and grow with your partner. This is why I found this dramatic movie to be the real deal when it came to charting the course of a couple’s relationship through the years. Dean and Cindy, played by Ryan Gosling (Drive, Half Nelson) and Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn, Take This Waltz) met and fell in love. The story was told with the assistance of flashbacks, going between the current state of their relationship to the start of their courtship. As we watched scenes from different parts of their lives, we became privy to their expectations and emotional baggage. Ryan, who I find to be a gifted actor, gave another fine performance as the emotionally damaged Dean. Pairing him with Michelle was a brilliant move, for she handled her role with a rich texturing as we witnessed the bloom of their love wilting. I am not sure I would have given the movie the NC-17 rating it received; because to me, the director only captured the real rawness of a couple’s lovemaking while being out of synch. This well done film showed how easy it was to fall in love. The challenge came in how well that love could be maintained.
3 1/4 stars — DVD