I WAS NEVER VERY GOOD AT playing mystery games like Clue. Of all the times I played it, I only won the game once. The same holds true for those immersive, staged mystery house events. Though they are exciting and fun, I do not focus on seeking out who is the killer; I am having such a fun time with the experience, along with the visuals and acting, that I get lost into it. In other words, I immerse myself, hence an immersive production. LOL There is something about seeing, what I would consider, average/innocuous events that later turn out to be vital clues to the identity of the murderer. This also applies to mystery books and movies; the way they can pull one into their story and take them on this wild trail of events has always impressed me. As I have been working on this review it has occurred to me, I was a guest at a dinner party where all the guests had to assume the identity of a famous individual. Throughout the meal there were six of us seated around the dining room table; some were talking with an accent and others were conversing with a different sounding voice. I was a well-known television star, so I periodically dropped clues about the type of shirt I was wearing and the landscape of the area I lived in on the TV series. It was not until we were eating dessert before someone correctly guessed my character. WITH MY LOVE OF MYSTERIES, THE one and only time I was in London, England I wanted to see the play The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie. I remember how excited I was to see it, both because it was a murder mystery, and it was being staged in London’s famous West End district. The production checked off all my expectations. And the “piece de resistance” occurred at the end of the show when a cast member came out on stage to ask everyone in the audience to keep secret who was the killer. I thought this was so cool because I felt like I was suddenly part of the production, and my job was not to reveal the murderer. I want you to know I never did reveal the identity of the killer. I find it fascinating that after all these years I am now reviewing a dramatic comedy murder that incorporates The Mousetrap into its story. PLANS WERE IN PLACE TO BRING the play The Mousetrap to the big screen. However, when a cast member was found dead, things had to be placed on hold as an investigation was to take place. The inspector would soon discover it was not easy dealing with theater people. With Adrien Brody (The French Dispatch, American Heist) as Leo Kopernick, David Oyelowo (The Water Man, A United Kingdom) as Mervyn Cocker-Norris, Saoirse Ronan (Mary Queen of Scots, Little Women) as Constable Stalker, Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Best of Enemies) as Inspector Stoppard and Harris Dickinson (The King’s Man, Beach Rats) as Richard Attenborough; this story based in the 1950s London had all the markings of being a classic “whodunit” type of thriller. The cast filled with well rounded, capable actors were well matched with their characters. I thought the sets and costumes were spot on, giving a perfect retro feel to the story. Sadly, it did not take much detective work to discover the script was a big letdown as was the directing. Things seemed to drag for the first half of the film. Where I normally admire Sam Rockwell’s acting skills, here he seemed to have gotten lost. There was no emotional variance to the scenes which I found boring. Weirdly, I thought Wes Anderson was directing because it certainly was his type of style; but it was not the case. I almost feel like I need to do some detective work to discover who allowed this production to go forward because it really is a mystery to me.
2 ½ stars
FROM THE VARIOUS JOBS I HAVE DONE, I have learned a couple of “truths” about people. The first one is: If an individual does not have passion about what they are doing, then they will never get far in life. The second one: If a person does not have even the smallest of a stubborn streak or maybe I should call it a sense of commitment, they could easily be swayed down a different life path. I have worked with several individuals who were schooled in what became their profession. For example, taking accounting classes towards being an accountant or studying art and interior design to be a decorator/designer. There was one accountant I knew who had the title but was not detail-oriented; I thought it was important to be particular and exact when working with numbers. This individual did not have passion for the work he was doing. Because he did not care, he would make mistakes from time to time. There was a meeting called to go over a group of accounts, I recall; where he came in late despite the fact, he was supposed to be the one who was going to update all the participants at this meeting. He was finally let go (new terminology for getting fired). A WOMAN I USED TO WORK WITH had an inspirational story. She was a single mother with 2 small children. During her entire upbringing she always had an attraction to helping people. At a young age she would tell everyone, when they asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she wanted to be a nurse. She told me there were some individuals who complimented her on her response by encouraging her to pursue her dreams; however, relatives and close friends of the family told her it was not a realistic goal because her parents did not have the means to put her through college. They would encourage her to finish high school then immediately get a job to do her part in supporting the family. She heeded their advice by getting a job, where I met her; however, she took night classes at the local college. Though it took her more than 4 years to get enough classes to graduate, she did and was able to enroll into nursing school. If I remember correctly, it took her something like 10 years to reach her goal; but when she did, she was so excited and thrilled to finally do what she always wanted to do. Her strength was an inspiration; it was like the strength of one of the main characters in this dramatic romance. WHILE THEIR FATHER WAS AWAY AT WAR, four sisters and their mother found ways to pursue their passions while maintaining the household. Their dreams may not have been the same, but their passion was similar in strength. With Saoirse Ronan (Mary Queen of Scots, Brooklyn) as Jo March, Emma Watson (Beauty and the Beast, The Circle) as Meg March, Florence Pugh (Fighting with my Family, Midsommar) as Amy March, Laura Dern (Cold Pursuit, Marriage Story) as Marmee March and Timothee Chalamet (Lady Bird, Beautiful Boy) as Theodore “Laurie” Laurence; this fresh version of the classic story was powered by the acting skills of the cast. The actors playing the sisters were outstanding together, playing as one cohesive unit. I did have trouble with the jumping back and forth in time periods to the point it was a distraction for me in the beginning. However, after some time everything fell into place and I enjoyed watching the story. I thought the directing and writing were wonderful as the scenes came across in a thoughtful, beautiful way upon the screen. This was a surprise for me because I came in feeling like I was going to see the same thing I have seen in other versions of the story. I could not have been more wrong as the writer/director Greta Gerwig (Mistress America, Lady Bird) showed me what can happen when one has passion towards a project; in this case, the classic story of Little Women.
3 ½ stars
THE TWO DID NOT KNOW EACH OTHER. They grew up in different cities and on the surface did not seem to have any similarities. I only knew of them because they were in one of my writing classes in college. The class was rather intense, where we were expected to turn in writing assignments on a weekly basis. Every Wednesday the professor would randomly choose a few students to read their papers out loud, so the class could have a discussion and critique session on the students’ works. After several weeks it became apparent to me and most of the class that these 2 students were focused on writing horror stories. As some of you might know, I am not a fan of movies that show a lot of bloody gore. As you might expect the same holds true for fiction stories. As the semester continued these two fans of horror started competing with each other; nothing overt, but each week their stories got gorier and gorier. It was as if they were in a battle to see who would be the “king of horror” as far as I could tell. I had a hard time listening to them when either one was chosen to read their stories to the class. I NEVER FOUND OUT WHAT WAS the impetus that drove those two students to compete against each other. Honestly, I have always had a hard time trying to figure out why people want to compete. This may be one of the reasons why I was never very good in several sport activities. I do not have that driving force inside of me to dominate and beat another person, just so I can be considered the best. The only person I am in competition with is myself. Overcoming one set of circumstances to get to where I am at today has been a fight every day. The way I look at it is this: my old self battles the new me, trying to push me back down to what I used to be. Hopefully I am making sense to you; but let me tell you, this struggle between the old and new me has been a major force that has pushed me to heights I thought I would never achieve in this lifetime. With my thinking I wonder if humans in general are predisposed to competing. I think the term is, “Survival of the fitness.” Another phrase I have heard is, “Only the strong will survive.” Is this a genetic thing? I do not know, but this historical drama will show you how fierce competition can be. RETURNING TO HER HOME IN SCOTLAND after her husband had died; Mary Stuart, played by Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird, The Lovely Bones), believed she could lead her people as their queen. The main issue concerning her belief was the fact there was already a queen on the throne from the House of Tudor and her name was Elizabeth I, played by Margot Robbie (I, Tonya; Suicide Squad). This biographical film also starred Jack Lowden (Dunkirk, Tommy’s Honour) as Henry Darnley, James McArdle (The Chamber, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as James, Earl of Moray and David Tennant (Bad Samaritan, Doctor Who-TV) as John Knox. This picture was all about the acting and I thought both Saoirse and Margot were wonderful. Because of them I stayed engaged with this story that I believe took a lot of liberty with actual history. Those who enjoy history might like this picture more than non-history lovers. There were some scenes that were farfetched and almost a distraction. It was a shame because I think the writers might have been competing with the Game of Thrones series when they were writing this script.
2 ½ stars
HER EYES WERE FOLLOWING ME AS I started to walk away. I could never forget those eyes and where I saw them. Her smile was quiet as if she was almost embarrassed to let it out. There was another woman I recall from the same place who was perfectly sculpted with marbled skin and hair swept to the back of her head. She also had no arms. Many years ago I was fortunate enough to visit the Louvre museum in Paris. The building alone impressed me before I even stepped foot inside. After years of only seeing them as pictures in magazines or films, I could not believe I was standing in front of the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. You know how you form an image of something in your mind on how it might look in reality? Well I had an image for each of them and when I stood in front of them I realized what I had in my mind paled in comparison to seeing the actual painting and sculpture. Mona Lisa’s eyes were fascinating because they seemed to follow you going to the left or right side of her. They simply looked alive is all I can say. SITUATED IN THE HEART OF the city I live close by to is an art museum that some say is a world class museum. I have been a visitor to it numerous times throughout my life. The collection is extensive and varied with art pieces from the masters like Monet, Picasso, Hopper and Rembrandt. To see these artists’ works close up gives me an enormous amount of pleasure. When I look at a painting I not only study the brushstrokes, shading and choice of colors; I also envision the period of time it depicts. Besides paintings and sculpted pieces this museum has a space devoted to miniature rooms; I am talking rooms that are only as big as a shoebox. The detail in each room is remarkable and each room represents a different period of time, going back centuries. When I am looking at them I feel as if I am getting a glimpse of history. Now just imagine if some of the paintings were able to come to life and talk about themselves, one could get a real dose of the past. Well that is what I experienced when I watched this animated, biographical crime film that was nominated for an Oscar award. POSTMAN JOSEPH ROULIN, voiced by Chris O’Dowd (Molly’s Game, St. Vincent), was determined to get the deceased artist Vincent van Gogh’s returned last letter to his brother Theo. With no forwarding address Joseph assigned the task of finding Theo to Armand, voiced by Douglas Booth (Noah, Jupiter Ascending). Armand would start his search at the town where Vincent had died. His arrival would unveil clues to what really happened to Vincent. This film festival winner was visually one of the most incredible movie watching experiences I have had in a long time. The entire film was hand painted by over 100 artists. Taking inspiration from Vincent’s works, it literally looked like the characters came to life. The result of this process created a pictorial feast, seriously. The shading and illumination in this picture amazed me; I cannot even fathom how the artists did it. Not too familiar with Vincent’s life story, I did not know what was true or false. Honestly it did not matter to me because I enjoyed the way the story allowed each character to spin their thoughts about the situation. After I finished watching this DVD I felt as if I had been touring an art museum and all I wanted to do was learn more about Vincent van Gogh.
3 ½ stars — DVD
THE CHARACTERISTICS DETERMINING WHO or what a person is makes up their identity. My question is how much of that identity is affected by outside influences. Recently I had a lunch date with a father and daughter. They had similar facial features but that is not so unusual; their shared characteristics however really intrigued me. Besides having similar personality traits they both had common likes and dislikes, along with some interesting quirks. I was fascinated seeing them together since it was my first time meeting the daughter. Later in the day I remember thinking about the similarities between those family members and wondering how much of my identity was created by outside forces. When you think about it aren’t you usually surprised when a couple has more than one child and each one is so different? You would assume being raised in the same type of environment their children would have similar temperaments, but it is not true. ONE OF THE CHARACTERISTICS I feel a child needs to go out into this world is to be independent. This is a trait that can come about from having parent(s) active in child rearing or on the other hand not having parents involved. I have seen children grow up fiercely independent from both home environments. Not that I would ever cringe if a young adult said they wanted to be just like their mother or father, unless their parent was a serial killer; but being able to discern between positive and negative characteristics is important and I do not believe everyone can tell the difference. In previous reviews I have talked about abusers more than likely having been abused themselves. There is a family I know where the parent neglected their child for the most part. That child grew up and when they had children they did the same thing by neglecting them. On the other hand you can have a parent and child who are so much alike they might not even be aware of it, just like in this film festival winning dramatic comedy. NOT WANTING TO BE the same like everyone else Christine McPherson, played by Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn, Hanna), chose to become “Lady Bird.” It would be her way to escape her hometown of Sacramento, California and her mother Marion, played by Laurie Metcalf (The Big Bang Theory-TV, Roseanne-TV). Written and directed by Greta Gerwig (Jackie, Mistress America) this was one of the best coming of age stories I have seen this year. With Odeya Rush (The Giver, Almost Friends) as Jenna Walton and Timothee Chalamet (Love the Coopers, Interstellar) as Kyle Scheible, I thought the entire cast was perfect with their characters. Laurie was so outstanding I believe she could get a nomination for her role. What I appreciated most about this movie was the authenticity of the dialog and action. Without giving much away let me just say the scene where Lady Bird and her mother are shopping for a dress was pitch perfect. Now granted I have no experience regarding the mother daughter connection, but I have been privy to the dynamics of it through friends and family. I felt Greta did an excellent job capturing the feelings and flavor of the turmoil being experienced by the McPhersons. In a field of comedies and coming of age stories this one certainly stands out as being different, which is a good thing.
3 ½ stars
At some point in time you come to the realization that you want to spend the rest of your life with that person. Was it after you went through your checklist of pluses and minuses, it fit into your time frame or it fulfills a desire? It is interesting, I recently read a survey that listed the top deal breakers in a relationship. The top four reasons were disheveled/unclean appearance, lazy, too needy or lack of humor. Any one of these would be what I call one of my red flags; I tend to pay close attention to the cleanliness of someone’s teeth and fingernails. The way I tend to define whether a relationship has potential or not to be long term is to look at the things that bother or annoy me. I just ask myself if this is something I can live with and if it is then I remain engaged in the relationship. Here is an example: being a credit manager, I do not know if I could be with someone who was not financially conscientious. If they had little regard to paying their bills or bouncing checks, I think over time it would build up and bother me too much. Since love is an all encompassing thing, one cannot choose the parts they like and discard the rest. So I understand where the act of committing may take time. The only time I can see where this will turn into a problem is when the person is making a commitment based only on the positive attributes of a loved one. MOVING from Ireland to America was the hardest thing Eilis, played by Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones, Hanna), ever had to do in her young life. That was until she settled in Brooklyn, New York where she met Tony, played by Emory Cohen (The Place Beyond the Pines, Beneath the Harvest Sky). This film festival winning drama was a perfect throwback to those old fashioned dialog driven movies Hollywood use to make. The romantic story was exquisite in the way it simply laid out the story of a young Irish immigrant finding her own in a foreign country, besides her journey growing into a mature woman. I thought the acting was outstanding from the main characters and supporting ones such as Julie Walters (Driving Lessons, Harry Potter franchise) as Mrs. Kehoe and Domhnall Gleeson (Ex Machina, Unbroken) as Jim Farrell. The scenery and costumes especially stood out for me in this 1950s period piece. Another aspect I particularly admired was the strength of the main character. I think many of us are used to having some type of trauma move the story and it really was not the case in this film. If I were to go through my checklist of things that create an Oscar worthy film, this one would certainly fit the bill.
3 2/3 stars
Something I have been saying for years is if you need a license to drive a car, then you need to get a license to have and take care of a child. I have not fathered any children, nor have anything against parenthood; I only base my statement on things I have seen throughout the years. When a baby is born they have a pure, blank slate. They do not know anything about racism, sexism, hatred or have preconceived opinions that are not based on reason or actual experiences. I have always been curious about this idea because it begs the question, “How do people get theses traits?” I do not mean to offend anyone nor be judgmental, but I have always felt it was the parent’s responsibility to teach their child to be an independent thinker. Maybe I should just say show them the difference between right and wrong. In regards to this action thriller, when I said a parent needs a license to raise a child I did not mean a license to kill. Saoirse Ronan (The Host,The Lovely Bones) played Hanna, who was raised in a remote area of Finland by her single dad Erik Heller, played by Eric Bana (Munich, Closed Circuit). Erik had spent years raising his daughter to be the perfect assassin before sending her out into the world. Once Hanna ventured out of their safe haven she soon discovered her father did not teach her everything a young girl should know. Not only did I think Saoirse did an excellent job of acting, but I was surprised with her fight scenes. They were well choreographed with clean straight forward action. To me Eric’s character was not a major role compared to Cate Blanchett’s (Blue Jasmine, Babel) role as Agent Marissa Wiegler. I really enjoyed Cate’s character. The story was a good idea; I liked the contrast of having a young innocent character being a lethal killer. What did not work was the screenplay; there were scenes that I found ridiculous, where I could not find any logical reason for them. In the case of this adventure film I think it could have used a license to make sense. There were a few scenes with violence and blood in them.
2 1/2 stars — DVD
Beauty beyond skin deep was an underlying message I picked up from this romantic science fiction film. My friends have heard me say so many times, the body is rented. I have always been fascinated to see old photographs of long term partners. To see how their physical appearance could have dramatically changed but not the connection between their hearts is something I truly admire. Stuff like hair color, weight and height are simply frivolous decorations compared to a person’s soul in my opinion. The story in this movie could really have taken the concept of a person’s identity and expanded it. An alien race arrived on earth to inhabit the bodies of humans, replacing their individuality with their own. The process was painless and efficient most of the time; unless the person was strong minded. One such person was Melanie, played by Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones). She had made a promise to see her little brother Jamie, played by Chandler Canterbury (Knowing, Repo Man), again. Would Melanie’s love for him and boyfriend Jared, played by Max Irons (Being Julia, Red Riding Hood), be stronger than an alien invasion? This was not the first time mankind has been invaded in the movies. However, the script was so cheesy and flat; I was bored for the majority of the film. With the writers having Diane Kruger (Unknown, National Treasure) as the Seeker, William Hurt (Dark City, A History of Violence) as Uncle Jeb and Frances Fisher (Titanic,Unforgiven) as Maggie in the cast; it was a shame they did not do some rewriting to give these actors more meatiness to their characters. I have not read Stephenie Meyer’s book this movie was based on, but I suspect it may play like a soap opera as did this film. Saoirse’s acting has been something I have respected. She gave it a good try here, but by the end of the movie I believe she really was not running away from aliens; she was running to get out of this dud. A couple of brief scenes with blood.
1 3/4 stars