FROM MY SEAT, I COULD SEE the setting sun poking through a bank of clouds with long tentacles of deep orange, rays of light. The ocean was quietly whispering its waves gently onto the white sand beach. I felt relaxed as a salt infused warm breeze brushed past me. All this beauty around me suddenly dissolved, replaced with rows of wooden folding chairs, when the person next to me accidently elbowed me. I was sitting in the middle of a bookstore, listening to an author talk about his latest book. He was describing the place he secluded himself to, so he could concentrate on his writing. Because he was so descriptive about the area, I felt as if I had been transported from the bookstore to his beach. The people seated around me had been replaced with palm trees and scattered rocks. That is the beauty of a great storyteller; their words can take the reader/listener/viewer on a fantastical trip to any place in the entire universe. I may have no experience or reference point to a place or event; but through the writer’s words, I can experience and understand it as if I had been a part of it. It is a gift I feel because not everyone can tell a good story. THERE WAS THIS PERSON WHO I DREADED being around whenever they started to tell a story. I know this is going to sound rude, but it was tortuous to sit there and listen to them as they would constantly stop to correct some non-essential detail to the story they were trying to tell. Seriously, who cares if a person is 41 or 42, or if someone drives a blue or black car; I would be cringing in my seat, refraining myself from editing them so they could get to the end of their story. This person ruined every joke they tried to tell. Either they would leave out something or add so much frivolous details that by the time they got to the punchline, the listener had lost all interest. There have been times where I felt like I was being held a prisoner due to this person’s poor storytelling ability. I feel the same way about movie scripts. A good script writer can convey the essence, the feelings in a story, allowing the viewer to experience it even if it is something they have never encountered. Some of you may remember the convention that took place in Chicago in the 1960s; if you do or do not, it will not make a difference when you watch this historical, dramatic thriller. A GROUP OF INDIVIDUALS ARRIVED IN CHICAGO to protest the Vietnam War; several of them would find themselves on centerstage in a trial like no other. With Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts franchise, The Danish Girl) as Tom Hayden, Alex Sharp (The Hustle, The Sunlit Night) as Rennie Davis, Sacha Baron Cohen (The Brothers Grimsby, Les Misérables) as Abbie Hoffman, Jeremy Strong (The Big Short, The Judge) as Jerry Rubin and Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon, Robot & Frank) as Judge Julius Hoffman; this film festival winner written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing-TV) immediately grabbed my attention and never let go. The writing was sharp, witty, enlightening; in other words, outstanding. I felt each actor was talking from their heart and mind; they transformed into their characters. Sacha and Frank Langella were brilliant in their roles. I knew about the event that took place in Chicago but did not really understand what was going on with it. Whether scenes in this film were true or not made no difference to me because I wasn’t looking for historical accuracy; I was looking to be entertained and with this movie I received it 100%.
A LONG TIME AGO THERE WAS A variety show on television that I used to watch, when I was a small child. What this TV program did for me was to reveal a world of unexpectedness and surprise. I can still remember the first time I saw a human being bend backwards. For being a little kid, I was mesmerized by this woman as she bent herself into all kinds of shapes as part of a circus act that was performing on the show. Behind her there was a man who was blowing flames out of his mouth like a dragon. I wondered if that was how he cooked his dinner. My first encounter with ventriloquism took place while watching this variety show. I could not believe what I was seeing, a talking doll. Whether these episodes sparked my imagination or not, I cannot say; however, I have always gravitated towards things that could not be believed when seen. To a little child, seeing a magnifying glass set paper on fire with the sun’s rays was pure magic. I used to carry a magnifying glass when outside that I would pretend was a ray gun, so I could try and burn holes in blades of grass, tree trunks and car doors among other things. The world was a magical place of fantasy for me. THAT WORLD OF CHILDHOOD DISSOLVED AND evolved as I became educated during my school years. I discovered the reasons/science behind those things that I thought were magical. This did not make me sad; if anything, it fueled a stronger sense of curiosity or let me say inquisitiveness in me. Part of me thinks these feelings spurred me to study the sciences in my schoolings; however, by no means did it curtail my wonderment for the unbelievable. If you were to have asked me, when I was younger, if I thought there would come a time when things that stunned or surprised us would have become fewer and farther between, I would have had to be in agreement. It makes sense to me; as children there are more things of wonder than when we are aged and older. There are not many things that surprise me these days. Only recently have I seen things that I could not explain fully. Hearing the comments and beliefs some people have about other people is both startling and mind blowing to me; I cannot believe what I am seeing and hearing. My curiosity gets prodded into trying to understand how a person came to their conclusions, but the perplexed feelings I have make me stare in disbelief. It might be easier to explain this if you choose to watch this shocking comedy. HOPING TO GAIN THE UNITED STATES’ favor for his country Borat Sagdiyev, played by Sacha Baron Cohen (Les Miserables, Alice Through the Looking Glass), comes up with a plan to give his daughter away to a high elected official. He would just have to get through the politician’s supporters. With Maria Bakalova (The Father, Transgression) as Tutar Sagdiyev, Tom Hanks (Cast Away, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood) playing himself, relative newcomer Dani Popescu as Premier Nazarbayev and newcomer Manuel Vieru as Dr. Yamak; this film was uncomfortable to watch at times. There certainly were scenes that shocked me into disbelief, to the point I was questioning their authenticity. As I mentioned earlier, despite being uncomfortable while watching this movie, there were other times where I laughed out loud. The fact that I saw the first Borat film, there was less of a surprise factor with this picture. Also, I thought the story within story format dulled this movie’s prospects; I started to get bored with the father/daughter dynamic early on. Yet, with some scenes I still cannot get over how outrageous they were in nature and content. Just when one thinks they have seen and heard everything the past couple of years, this movie comes along and provides a surprise.
2 2/3 stars
The multi-colored pennants hanging off the building were so thick in numbers you would have thought this was the launching of an armada instead of a grocery store’s grand re-opening. I could tell before I pulled into the parking lot that something must have been going on because traffic was busier than usual. As I walked into the store I immediately noticed all the shopping carts were replaced with polished black, extra wide carts. Later I would discover I missed the squeaky wheels of the old carts because they used to announce my arrival to the shoppers lost in thought IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AISLE, blocking passage. Starting at the produce department all the previous stand alone racks were replaced with these “islands” built of wood with multiple shelves perched on top in a pyramid shape. The produce was carefully lined up on these shelves that were covered in some type of felt or Astroturf. I almost needed sunglasses from the super bright lights that were hanging down from a newly revealed bare ceiling. All the signage was bigger and easier to read. I felt like I was in a brand new store though I had been shopping in this place for years. From my shopping list I saw I needed apples, pears and green peppers. At one island up ahead I could see the green peppers circling the lowest shelf. The shelf above had red peppers and the top shelf was filled with yellow. Looking at the peppers close-up I discovered, though the store was remodeled, the produce hadn’t changed; you had to hunt through to find a pepper that was not bruised or shriveled up. As they say the store was all flash with no substance, just like this fantasy film. ALICE Kingsleigh, played by Mia Wasikowska (Crimson Peak, Jane Eyre), returns to Wonderland to help her good friend Hatter Tarrant Hightopp aka Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp (Black Mass, Into the Woods). Her journey would take her back in time. This adventure film was utterly imaginative and colorful to watch on the big screen. With most of the previous cast returning like Anne Hathaway (The Intern, The Dark Knight Rises) as Mirana, there was a new addition with Sacha Baron Cohen (The Brothers Grimsby, The Dictator) as Time. He was fine though nothing real special. Maybe I was expecting the writers to use his comedic talent fully than what they wrote for him. In fact, this brings me to my main complaint about this film; it was not fun or entertaining. The story was more of a downer as were the characters. It seemed like a long time before the story picked up but by that time I did not care anymore. I remember sitting in my seat and wondering if this is what Lewis Carroll had in mind? The story lines separately may have been good by themselves, but mixing them all in one movie just made things messy in the telling of this story. This movie was like one of those Corpse flowers that is pretty to look at but smells foul.
Hank Williams sang a song called, “Alone and Forsaken,” that had to do with regret. I think all of us at one time have regretted something we did or did not do. I came late to the game of life, where one tries to live without regretting one’s actions. And to tell you the truth there are things I still do that I question if there was a different way I could have handled the situation. The key to managing regrets is to not let them stick and fester inside of you. I am sure we all have experienced buying something where soon after we regretted making the purchase. Before I taught myself to take a breath to slow down my reactions, I have said many things that I now regret saying. Even with a couple of the intense breakups I experienced I still wish I hadn’t said some of the angry things I hurled at the individuals. My philosophy in life is I believe there are no accidents; there is a reason for everything. With that in mind I feel mistakes are made to teach us something new. Just last week I followed a new recipe for baking a dessert. After reading the list of ingredients I started mixing the dry ones together before adding the wet ones. However, I failed to read beyond the mixing of ingredients because if I had I would have seen only 1/2 of the amount of chocolate chips were to be spread across the first layer of batter; the rest of them were to be sprinkled on top. In the scheme of things this was not as tragic a mistake as it was for me to see this action comedy. AFTER searching for his brother Sebastian, played by Mark Strong (The Imitation Game, Kingsman: The Secret Service), for the past 28 years Nobby, played by Sacha Baron Cohen (The Dictator, Bruno), finally found him and discovered he was a top assassin for London’s spy agency MI6. No matter what situation Sebastian was involved in Nobby was not going to lose his brother again; though Nobby did not realize he could lose his life instead. I do not know where I should begin to tell you why I had such a poor time sitting through this movie. Let me start with the humor; it was essentially vulgar, crude and not funny. With the story using comedy to move it along, you can only imagine this was one long viewing experience for me. The thing that truly surprised me was why actors such as Penelope Cruz (To Rome with Love, Zoolander 2) as Rhonda George and Rebel Wilson (How to be Single, Pitch Perfect franchise) as Dawn Grobham agreed to be part of this picture. Did they not read the script and see that a majority of jokes had to do with body parts? When this film was finally over I actually considered going to the box office to complain; I still regret having spent money on this stinker. Brief extra scene at the end of the credits.
The stage musical of Les Miserables is one of my favorite shows, having seen it three times. It has one of the best musical scores I have ever heard besides incredible set designs. At least the productions I have seen. The story set in the 1800’s in France, revolved around the life long pursuit by police officer Javert of Jean Valjean, a former prisoner who broke parole. There were so many different aspects of the story to hook in the viewer; from redemption and unconditional love to salvation and honor. Everything I loved about the stage show was abused in this film version. While watching this 2 hour and 37 minute movie, I felt the director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Red Dust) sucked the life out of this classic tale. As much as I was impressed with his Oscar winning film The King’s Speech, I was disappointed in this ugly movie. The reason I use the word ugly is because the majority of the scenes looked like they were shot with camera lenses stuck in portrait mode. Constantly seeing angled shots of the actors’ faces quickly became a bore. Then there was the quick cutting from shot to shot, along with using a spiraling camera shoot on actors and buildings, that made me slightly nauseous. Shame on Mr. Hooper; it would have been easy to add drama to the scene if we could have seen some of the body language of the actors. Hugh Jackman (Real Steel, X-Men franchise) who I normally enjoy, had something wrong here as Jean Valjean. While every actor singing had a mellowness to their voice, it seemed as Hugh was forced to sing in a higher key. His voice was shrill and grating on my ears. Russell Crowe (Gladitor, A Beautiful Mind) as Javert did an admirable job with his singing. Playing factory worker Fantine, it seemed as if Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married) knew she had one chance to make the Oscar voters notice, giving it her all to her song performance. I will say she did a great job. The surprise for me was Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn, The Other Boleyn Girl) as Marius. I had no idea he could sing and do it so well. Sacha Baron Cohen (Hugo, The Dictator) and Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows) were comic relief as the crooked innkeeper and his wife. I knew I was going to witness misery in this movie; I just did not realize it would be my own over this poorly done film.
Here was a movie that did not let anyone or anything get by unscathed. American culture, ethnic and religious groups were among a plethora of other groups that got skewered in this latest creation of Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Hugo). Playing dictator Haffaz Aladeen of the oil rich African country Wadiya, his character was infused with stereotypical traits that have been portrayed in the news and other films. This comedy was stocked with politically incorrect, crude and offensive jokes. I felt guilty when I would laugh at some of them, though not all funny bits worked well. The thin plot had Aladeen coming to New York to speak before the United Nations. My guess on why the story was choppy would be the rewrites needed to stay relevant with actual world events. Parts of the story felt odd to me; for example, the relationship that took place between Sacha’s character and Anna Faris’ (Lost in Translation, The House Bunny) character Zoey. Realistically, the main purpose of the movie was to make the viewer laugh, which it was certainly doing with the audience around me. Just know going in that you will be bombarded nonstop with any and everything imaginable to try and make the scenes funny.