AFTER THE MEAL WAS DONE AND the dishes were washed, the lights would be turned down and the show would begin. Except for dessert, this was my favorite part of family get togethers. The first movie projector I ever saw was at a relative’s house. I cannot remember how young I was when I saw my first home movies, but I know it was before I was in kindergarten. The movie projector would get set up in the living room; opposite of it, my relative would unroll a movie screen that was perched on top of a tripod. All the kids would be sitting on the floor while some of the older relatives squeezed together on the sofa. The other family members would either sit on one of the various chairs that were set up around the room or simply lean up against a solid surface. Every time the movie projector was turned on, I enjoyed hearing the film reel being spooled through the projector because it sounded like the sound I would get when I clipped a playing card to the spokes of my bicycle wheel. With the tick, tick, tick sound steady in the background the first few frames of each movie reel always had what I took to be static; random scratches and lines briefly appearing on the screen before family members would materialize. MY COUSINS AND I WOULD GIGGLE whenever we saw a much younger version of one of our relatives. No matter where or what was being filmed, every reel always had scenes of family members waving at the camera. I discovered that waving usually meant they did not want to be filmed, especially anything that required any physical exertion beyond waving. Then there were some relatives who loved to perform in front of the camera by either singing, dancing, demonstrating a tool, cooking or some other type of activity. To me, I did not care what they did because I was just excited to see a piece of family history. I had this fascination with studying the relatives who had died before I was born. It was one of my ways to find a connection to the past. Not that I wanted to live in the past, I just wanted to see the same things my older relatives had seen. Being able to see a past relative in one of these movies brought life to the photos that we had in our old family photo albums. I can not only appreciate what the subject in this documentary has done throughout his life, I can also relate to it. THROUGHOUT HIS ENTIRE LIFE VAL KILMER (The Doors, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) filmed everything he was doing, even when he was the one being filmed. Directed by first time directors Ting Poo and Leo Scott, this biography was a fascinating study of an actor’s life. Spanning approximately 40 years, I enjoyed the cameos from movie actors such as Kevin Bacon and Marlon Brando. The idea of Val having not only filmed so much of his life, but to have saved all of it was remarkable; but seeing it in contrast to his life now was especially emotional. I felt I was getting a history lesson in multiple subjects and I mean that in a positive way. Seeing a brash young actor at one moment, then realizing the scope of his acting journey as it unfolded in this movie provided a solid base for Val to touch on many subjects which I appreciated. Hearing what he wanted to make a particular scene more authentic gave me new insight into his capabilities and insights. Even if one is not a movie fan, this film provides enough entertainment along with poignant moments for any type of viewer.
3 ½ stars
I WAS FRIENDS WITH ONE OF THE two brothers. Though I did not know much about the older brother, it was apparent the two brothers were quite different. My friend had an idea what he wanted to do when he grew up. Maybe the brother did too; but I was not aware of it. I do remember whenever the brother would mention a career path he was interested in doing, his parents would usually nod their heads and mention something else they thought was better suited for him. Now granted, a lot of the times I would hear these conversations taking place from a different room while my friend and I were doing something in an adjoining space; so I could not see the physical reactions that I am sure were accompanying the dialog. If someone were to ask me how I thought the conversations were going, I would say they sounded more combative than a calm discussion. Whether these talks had an affect on the brother, I do not know. The only thing that was quite apparent to me was how dark the older brother seemed compared to his younger brother. By dark, I mean he was more of a moody soul that rarely cracked a smile; heck, he barely said hello to me whenever I came over to their place. ONE OF THE REASONS I REMEMBER THESE two brothers is because they were the first set of brothers I knew who were so different in almost every aspect of their lives. I always assumed my friend was much smarter, though he was not athletic like his brother. The younger one never got into a fight with his parents (at least while I was around) like the older one. There were a couple of times I was over at their house when the older son and his parents would get into a screaming match that nearly made the walls shake. The yelling would end with the son either slamming the door as he went into his bedroom or slamming the front door as he ran out of the house; it was always an awkward moment for me. I would look over at my friend and all he could do was shrug his shoulders with a sheepish grin on his face; I felt bad for him. As long as I knew them, nothing ever changed in that family. The last I heard about them was that the older son had moved out during high school and hasn’t talked to his parents since. I wondered if the family in this film festival winning drama had a similar dynamic that made their sons so different. RETURNING TO THE SMALL TOWN HE GREW up in, a Vietnam vet’s brother hopes he can convince his brother to settle down and enjoy what life has to offer both of them. The returning brother did not see it quite the same. Written and directed by Sean Penn (Gangster Squad, Milk), this movie starred David Morse (The Hurt Locker, The Green Mile) as Joe Roberts, Viggo Mortensen (Green Book, Captain Fantastic) as Frank Roberts, Valeria Golino (Hot Shots franchise) as Maria, Patricia Arquette (Boyhood, Medium-TV) as Dorothy and Charles Bronson (Death Wish franchise, The Magnificent Seven) as Mr. Roberts. This was a slow to start story for me. It was wild to see some of the actors in their younger versions, since this film was nearly 20 years old. I thought Viggo, David and Patricia were especially strong with their acting. The script provided me a glimpse into a different world, set in a rural town at a time where things moved slower. There was a bit of repetition with the scenes dealing with the brothers; however, as bits and pieces was being revealed I found myself becoming more interested in where they were going in the story. If nothing else, it was interesting to see how 2 brothers who were raised in one house turned out in life.
2 ¾ stars
Everyone has their own way of offering penance to right a wrong. There are some people who will say they are sorry so many times that it begins to sound like a standard salutation. When I have to I will usually use the word “apologize” instead of “sorry” because for some reason I have it in my brain that the word sorry should be saved for important occasions. I want the word to have deeper meaning when I use it. Instead of verbalizing one’s regrets there are some individuals who will perform an act of kindness to represent the regret of their actions. After the disintegration of an important relationship, where I kept starting my heated sentences with the word “you” instead of sharing my feelings, I spent months volunteering at a few non-profit organizations that represented us. A goal I have for this lifetime is not to leave with any regrets. Sure there are times I feel guilty about something that happened; but before I act upon it I look back to see how I could have handled the situation differently. When someone tells me they wished they did not feel guilty I point out that feeling guilt is a good thing; it shows that we are aware and in touch with our feelings. On the other hand there are people who know how to manipulate others by placing a guilt trip on them. FORMALLY part of a Congo based assassination team Terrier, played by Sean Penn (All the King’s Men, Milk), did not realize when he returned after several years that he would become the target. This action drama film assembled a capable cast. Besides Sean there was Javier Bardem (The Counselor, Eat Pray Love) as Felix, Jasmine Trinca (The Son’s Room, The Big Dream) as Annie and Ray Winstone (Hugo, The Departed) as Stanley. It was obvious Sean put a great deal of time into this role since he bulked up for the character, removing his shirt several times to show it off. This may sound odd but the story was easy to follow; it just did not make much sense. Sadly the script was poorly done where I found myself being bored several times. The truth is once I understood the story I realized the writers had a perfect opportunity to create a compelling, tight script. They failed miserably because there was no tension, suspense or connections between most of the characters. If they thought the violence and bloodshed would suffice, I have to say they were completely wrong. I tried finding good things to say about this crime movie but I could not come up with anything else. There is nothing I have to apologize for with this review. There was blood and violence throughout the movie.
1 1/2 stars
Along with the required classes I took, there was included courses on peer pressure. There was no financial cost. I had never signed up for them, but I quickly learned about it during my schooling. During our younger years, where we may not have yet built-up a base of self-confidence, it was the more assertive pupils who staked out claims to yield power over fellow students. Those kids who were not strong enough (either emotionally or physically) would follow the assertive/aggressive leaders of the class. Now I have seen it time and time again, those who seek out and gain power strictly with brute force tend to have a weak moral compass. It starts out slowly with an odd request or weird command before things escalate and the leader has his own personal lynch mob at his beck and call. The saddest part of this equation is seeing those individuals, who on their own would never act out in such a way, having to participate in a wicked attack goaded on by their fierce leader. There is an ugly addition to this scenario which involves those students who refuse to participate. Chances are they will become the hunted as the aggressive head of the group directs his minions at the innocent. DURING wartime there were horrors one expected but Eriksson, played by Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future franchise, Family Ties-TV), never imagined he would be involved in the kidnapping of a young innocent girl, instigated by his platoon leader Sgt. Tony Meserve, played by Sean Penn (Fair Game, All the King’s Men). This film festival wining war drama was directed by one of my favorite directors, Brian De Palma (The Untouchables, Dressed to Kill). He has an eye for setting up scenes similar to Alfred Hitchcock. I say this because I want you to be aware of the backgrounds during scenes; Brian places other forms of action behind the actors. The pairing of Sean and Michael would appear odd at first, but it actually was a brilliant choice and they were amazing together. So were other members of the platoon like John C. Reilly (Chicago, Step Brothers) as PFC Herbert Hatcher and John Leguizamo (Romeo + Juliet, Chef) as PFC Antonio Diaz. Inspired by true events, the story offered a different view of military life during the Viet Nam war. One other thing I wanted to mention about Brian’s directing; the way the scenes were filmed really amped up the intensity of them. After recently reviewing the movie American Sniper, I found it interesting that this DVD should show up soon after. There were scenes that included blood and violence in them.
3 1/2 stars — DVD
I do not know what you would call it exactly, but there is a certain freedom in being able to say anything I want when reviewing a movie. All I am doing is expressing my opinions and feelings, the same as any other reviewer. No matter what I write, I know there will be no retaliation from the movie studio. It would never occur to me that someone associated with a movie that I rated would go after me or a member of my family. I am fortunate to live in a country that gives its people the right to speak their mind. I have to tell you though, after seeing this film I am not that sure anymore. It was one thing to be familiar with the story when it actually was in the news; but it was another to watch the story unfold on film. In the capable hands of director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), this political thriller was frightening to me. Using each of their books as a basis; Doug created a taut suspenseful film about CIA operative Valerie Plame, played by Naomi Watts (The Impossible, J. Edgar) and her American diplomat husband Joe Wilson, played by Sean Penn (Gangster Squad, Milk). After Joe wrote a disparaging article, critical of the current political administration, government officials decided to expose Valerie’s cover. Naomi and Sean were so good in their roles and in their relationship to each other; I felt they were channeling the real individuals. By showing the couple’s home life with their children, it only added more intensity to the horror of their situation. After watching this movie I was left thinking about what life would be like if no one was allowed to speak their mind. We would be left with what George Orwell told us about, a world ruled by Big Brother.
3 1/4 stars — DVD
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
Ultimately one must lead the life they choose for themselves, not the one someone has chosen for them. I remember years ago when I was between jobs, I received a great piece of advice: Do what you love and the money will follow. My mother always wanted me to be an accountant; yet, I knew I could never be one. The creative side of my mind would have shriveled up. Even when it comes to one’s personal tastes; do not let people impose their tastes on you. It is funny, no matter what length my hair was, my dad would always tell me to wear it differently. If it was long, he would tell me to cut it and if it was short, he would tell me to grow it out. It was maddening at times. Based on a true story; Chris McCandles, played by Emile Hirsch (Killer Joe, Speed Racer), had to live life the way he felt it was meant to be lived. Seeing the life his parents Billie and Walt McCandles, played by Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River, The Mist) and William Hurt (The Incredible Hulk, Vantage Point), were living; Chris did not want any part of it. After graduating from Emory University, Chris decided to get rid of his material possessions and hitchhike to Alaska, to live with nature. His journey would lead him to unexpected adventures. Written and directed by Sean Penn (Milk, 21 Grams), this was a stunning movie. Sean slowly brought out an amazing performance from Emile; both in acting and with the incredible physical transformation that took place. The supporting cast never felt out of place; they added shading to the adventures. Some viewers may think Chris McCandles was crazy to do what he did. I felt it was better to try something, even if it were to fail; than go through life wondering what would have happened, if I had only tried.
3 1/3 stars — DVD