THE CANDLE WAS BURNING BRIGHTLY WHEN I went to sleep, and it was still burning when I got up in the morning. I did not know at first the significance of this candle that looked like it was formed inside a drinking glass. All I knew was that it would appear only a handful of times throughout the year. The wax in the glass was always white and by the time the flame extinguished itself, the rim of the glass would have a ring of black stuff around it. Though I never saw it, I believe the used candle was disposed of because I never saw them in the house the rest of the year, in a cupboard or pantry. I never touched the candle for it usually was placed on a counter or sometimes right on top of the stove between the 2 sets of burners. Only when I got older did I find out those candles were lit once a year for a deceased relative as a remembrance. It was a custom/ritual that was handed down from generation to generation; I never found out how long exactly it had been taking place in the family. It also was not the only custom/ritual, I discovered, that had been performed in our home. AS MY CIRCLE OF FRIENDS AND family expanded, I learned there were many families that had their own customs/rituals. I remember attending a wedding where it was custom for the groom to ride in on a white horse, decorated in colorful yarns and jewels. Another custom involved the wedding party; the groomsmen would have to lift a groomsman from the other family. It was fascinating to see young and old men trying to lift each other; usually in a bearhug, but sometimes over the shoulder or in outstretched arms as if they were newlyweds about to walk over the threshold of their new home. Through the years, I have known several individuals who would give up a certain type of food for a short time. I enjoy learning about other people’s customs because I feel it gives me an opportunity to not only get a glimpse of their history but also their heritage. Besides customs/rituals based on religious beliefs, I have known a variety of people who have a custom or tradition that is unique to their family. Though I am not adventuresome when it comes to trying different foods, I enjoy learning about the types of food a family eats that are directly related to the region of the world their family came from. Learning about the customs/rituals and region of the main character was one of the charms that motivated me to watch this film festival winner. TRAVELING TO THE UNITED STATES FOR a medical opinion meant Scotsman Rory MacNeil, played by Brian Cox (The Autopsy of Jane Doe, X2: X-Men United), would see the life his estranged son Ian, played by JJ Field (Third Star, Captain America: The First Avenger), was living in San Francisco. Rory already had an opinion formed before he even arrived. With Thora Birch (Hocus Pocus, Patriot Games) as Emily, Rosanna Arquette (The Whole Nine Yards, Desperately Seeking Susan) as Claudia and Treat Williams (The Hideout, Deep Rising) as Frank Barron; this drama went beyond its script thanks to Brian’s performance. I found myself becoming involved with Brian’s character due to the acting skills of Brian. If not for that, this film would not have kept my interest throughout because the script was predictable. Gratefully it had at least a deeper level of emotion to it. Because I am a fan of traveling and seeing other places, I especially enjoyed the outdoor scenes. If this had been currently playing in the theaters, I don’t think I would have liked it as much as I did in the comfort of my own home. And, I felt as if I was on a private tour with this Scottish man Rory.
2 ¾ stars
IT TOOK ME A LONG TIME to realize dreams are not written in stone. They are more like clouds; they do not necessarily have definitive edges and they are never static. Part of living my life is having dreams hanging ahead of me. Think of it like a carrot hanging in front of a horse. I am always trying to make my way towards my dreams. Having lived in rental apartments for most of my life, my dream of home ownership was a large one that had a hold on me. Working two jobs for extra income was tolerable, because I knew there would be more money to devote to building a hefty down payment for a house. It took me some years to reach this dream, but I finally did it. Another dream of mine was to have a brand-new car. The only cars I had to drive were used ones. One of my earliest cars cost $500; it had over 90,000 miles and a houndstooth interior. So, after driving many hand me down autos, I was able to buy a new car. Seven weeks later while parked in front of the post office, a man backed into my car while trying to get out of his parking spot in front of mine. My front bumper was dented and my thrill of having reached my new car dream evaporated in front of me. FROM MY SUCCESSES AND FAILURES IN achieving my dreams, I never judge someone else’s dreams. I may feel the person will have a tough challenge to get to their dreams, but I would not discourage them from trying at least. An acquaintance of mine contacted me about fitness. They wanted to change careers from finance to fitness. Partially based on their comments to my questions, I felt they were not completely aware of the work needed to become successful and earn a decent living. All of their questions I answered to the best of my ability without any judgement. I, also, did not gloss over anything; expressing the work it took to meet club members’ and clients’ needs. When I reached my dream of being a fitness instructor, I had no idea of the amount of preparation and planning it took to conduct a safe, fun class. The training and studying were nearly overwhelming for me. Learning about all the safety protocols alone was a monumental task. However, from a kid who flunked PE class twice to becoming a fitness instructor; I never let the naysayers discourage me and that is why I was rooting for the main character in this musical drama. THOUGH SHE HAD A GOOD VOICE, the idea of Rose-Lynn, played by Jessie Buckley (Beast, The Tempest), moving from her home in Glasgow to Nashville to become a country singer sounded crazy to most; but, that wasn’t going to stop Rose-Lynn from fighting for her dream. With Julie Walters (Harry Potter franchise, Mama Mia!) as Marion, Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda, Martian Child) as Susannah, Jamie Sives (Let Him Talk to the Greek, Valhalla Rising) as Sam and Craig Parkinson (Four Lions, Control) as Alan; this film festival winner took me by surprise. Not spending much time listening to country music, I was moved by the songs and vocals, which were provided by Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves. The acting from Jessie and Julie came across with depth and emotion; I was brought into their world. I will say there were periods of time where I had a tough time understanding the dialog when the Scottish brogue got thick. Yet, it did not distract me enough to lose my connection with the story. There have been previous films about a nobody becoming a somebody; however, there was a freshness to this picture that made me smile and tap my toes to the beat.
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
MINIATURE golf covers my experience with playing the game of golf. For those of you who know my love of travel, you will especially appreciate when I tell you about a miniature golf course I used to play at when I was a small boy. The majority of the holes each had a replica of a national or world landmark that you would have to negotiate, to get your colored golf ball to the cup. For a kid who had not yet seen the actual structures, this was a big deal. I remember one hole that had a tall skyscraper which would light up at night. The goal was to hit your ball between the elevator doors so you could watch your ball rise up to the top of the building where it would be dropped off and disappear for a moment. By the time you ran to the back of the skyscraper you would just see the ball coming out of an exit door right by the cup. My favorite was a reproduction of a famous amusement park roller coaster. If you could get the ball up the entrance ramp, you could watch your ball take a ride on the coaster before it was dropped off at the cup. This was the extent of my golfing prowess. FROM the different comments I have heard about the game of golf, there are a lot of people who consider it a rich man’s sport or a gentleman’s game. Whether it is or not does not make a difference to me. I can appreciate the dedication, raw talent and competitiveness on display; but because I have a hard time justifying the amount of money given to professional athletes compared to school teachers, I find the large sums going into prize money, advertising and betting very odd, troubling. I know this is not exclusive to golfing by any means; at almost any given time I will hear about someone betting on such and such game or being a part of an office pool. Little did I know that this practice has been going on for a long time. SCOTSMAN Tom Morris, played by Peter Mullan (War Horse, Tyrannosaur), had been the groundskeeper and golf club maker of the St. Andrews golf course for many years. The club members assumed his son Tommy, played by Jack Lowden (A United Kingdom, Denial), would take over the family business; however, Tommy had something different in mind. This film festival winning drama based on a true story also starred Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Jurassic Park franchise) as Alexander Boothby and Ophelia Lovibond (Guardians of the Galaxy, No Strings Attached) as Meg Drinnen. The story was the fascinating part for me in this biography; watching how the game of golf was originally played truly was a trip back in time. Unfortunately the script caused this movie to be a bogey instead of a hole in one. For such a game changing story, this script really needed to get gritty and make the characters more than one dimensional. The thing that kept me interested was the historical value the events had in this picture. I may not have any interest in playing golf, but at least I now know how it came to be.
2 ½ stars
The words coming out of his mouth never quite settled down in my head. I understood each word, but strung together they were like sheets flapping in the wind. All the individuals in my tour group sat attentively with their heads moving from side to side, as if they were watching a tennis match. We were in a museum and our tour guide was giving a lecture about the large, abstract art piece that was squatting in front of us. The people around me kept looking back and forth between the guide and the art piece, as if they were witnessing the creation of a new species. I sat there perplexed because I was evidently not seeing the things that everyone else were focusing on when gazing at this large, colorful mass of steel and paper. To me the object looked like a massive teepee that was starting to lift up its skirt as a front porch wrapped partially around it, with odd shaped geometrical flags sticking out that had been starched to stiffness. I guess I am not an art connoisseur like the others because I was not getting the whole thing. Everyone reacts to art in different ways; I understood it having grown up in an artistic family. But as I looked around it appeared I was the odd man out. Gratefully that was not the case with this science fiction thriller. From director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) the visual aspects of this film festival nominated drama was both curious and enticing. It was this component of the movie that kept my interest. Some of the scenes were fascinating due to the camera angles and the effects. Filmed in Scotland, Scarlett Johansson (Hitchcock, We Bought a Zoo) played an alien who preyed on lone single men. There was very little dialog and I gave Scarlett credit in her ability to convey the emotions of her character. I am willing to bet there will be people who sit through this unusual movie and afterwards spend hours debating the symbolism they felt was there. I, on the other hand, do not want to work that hard when I go see a film. So I must tell you I had no idea what the movie was about and when I typed the word “gratefully” earlier it was because the viewers around me said the same thing at the end of the picture. I could come up with things I assumed but they would only be my take on the film and everyone will have their own opinion; so what is the point?
2 1/2 stars
I do not have children; but if I had, my hope would be that I raised them to be free thinking, independent adults. My parents did, even if that was not their intentions. With that being the case, the story in this Pixar animated movie was a success. Princess Merida, voiced by Kelly MacDonald (No Country For Old Men, Nanny McPhee), was not going to grow up in the traditions of her mother Queen Elinor, voiced by Emma Thompson (Love Actually, Last Chance Harvey). Merida did not want her parents deciding who she could marry or how she should act. If only she could make her parents understand; the young princess was determined to break the traditions of her family. What I found different in this movie was the presence of a strong conflict between mother and daughter. In my opinion it was about time an animated movie dealt with deeper real life issues, yet still have the elements of a funny Disney movie. There was conflict, a challenge and a consequence; but for the broader audience, there were elements of humor, adventure and fantasy. It was like having a smorgasbord of emotions spread out for the viewer to sample. Visually this movie was stunning; the amount of detail was breathtaking. I was mesmerized by Merida’s beautiful, flaming red hair–it looked so real. Overall I felt the film had a split personality. There seemed to be a shift in focus that dulled the story for me, when the witch’s spell came into play. But like any relationship, one could not pick and chose the parts they liked. The entire movie experience for me was good, not great and I almost felt as if I had just been to Scotland.
2 3/4 stars