ONE IS EITHER BORN INTO the role or is trained by default to be the neutral party aka buffer zone between conflicted family members and/or friends. It takes a particular temperament to handle groups of people who have opposing opinions; a person needs to be calm, sensitive, thoughtful and most importantly strong enough to never offer an opinion. Even in the face of an evil, belligerent person; one needs to maintain a serene exterior, even if they are thinking the extreme thinking friend or family member is hateful or bigoted. If the social event is being held in a large space chances are there will be less drama and little policing of the opposing combatants. However if the meeting place (feel free to replace meeting place with the word arena) is a small space such as a restaurant booth or a person’s dining room, then things could be trickier to maintain some semblance of peace. THROUGH THE YEARS I have been exposed to various events and locations where I was able to witness the buffer zone person in action. I am actually familiar with the dynamics of an occasion where 2 people are not seeing things eye to eye. It can be quite stressful for the other people around. There was a party I attended where such a scenario took place and I agree it was a challenge trying to stay neutral with both sides while each one of them was making their case to me that they were right. The thing I find interesting is when this type of behavior plays out during a special occasion such as a holiday or birthday. Wouldn’t you think in respect to the person celebrating or the special significance to the gathering people could put their differences aside? I do not know if it is an ego thing, a stubborn thing or lack of confidence that makes a person act out in public in such a way. If you are interested there are several examples of people acting ridiculous in this comedy film. TIRED OF DIVIDING THEIR children’s time up during the holiday between each of them Dads Brad and Dusty, played by Will Ferrell (The House, The Campaign) and Mark Wahlberg (Patriots Day, The Gambler), came up with a brilliant idea; to spend the Christmas holiday together. The idea would have been perfect if not for the visit of the grandfathers. With John Lithgow (Miss Sloane, Betriz at Dinner) as Don, Linda Cardellini (Grandma’s Boy, Avengers: Age of Ultron) as Sara and John Cena (Trainwreck, The Marine) as Roger; this sequel for the most part followed the same formula as the original movie. I found the script was predictable and some of the humor had a negative edge to it. If you happened to see the trailers you pretty much saw what the whole film was going to consist of: physical comedy mixed with stereotypical acting. Some of the scenes rang somewhat true to the point I could appreciate what the writers were trying to convey; but, there were times I thought the story was diving into a ridiculous slapstick form of comedy. Having seen the first movie, I did not find much being offered with this picture in the way of new, fresh ideas. Maybe those of you who are in a similar situation as the characters in this picture will enjoy this film. For me I could not be positive or even neutral in my review of this formulaic written movie.
1 ¾ 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.
CHANGE seems so much easier after one experiences a loss. If my use of the word “change” causes anxiety in you then let me substitute the word with “evolve.” I knew this guy who was a friend of a friend; we would travel in the same circle of friends. He always talked about his relationship, how they never lasted long. Being curious I asked him if he knew why that kept happening to him. After a moment he listed off his good attributes. I then asked if there was something all of his dates had in common. Taking a long minute he finally said they were all young. When I asked him what the average age was among them he told me the age difference was 20-25 years between him and them. From that little bit of information I realized or maybe I should say assumed he was attracted and focused on the person’s age instead of the whole person. After a casual but insightful conversation, I finally had to suggest that maybe it was time for him to look beyond one trait since none of the relationships he had lasted very long. From where I stood I felt if this guy would not expand his horizons in the dating world he would continue to get the same results. LET me be the first one to say “change” is not easy, at least for me. I find comfort in routines. However, I have become more comfortable the older I get with evolving. I know if I had not changed from my previous behavior I would continue to attract people who did not put the same value on trustworthiness that I did. You want to talk about a painful lesson; imagine setting the groundwork to a long term relationship together where one day it all falls apart. Now I used to always blame the other person but I started to take a hard look at myself and see where I could have contributed to our demise. This is something that one of the main characters in this romantic sequel was experiencing. BEGINNING with her new job everything was falling into place for Anastasia Steele, played by Dakota Johnson (How to Be Single, Black Mass). She had her dream job, a nice apartment and a sense of peace. That is until a former boyfriend showed up offering to make some changes. Starring Jamie Dornan (Anthropoid, Marie Antoinette) as Christian Grey, Eric Johnson (Legends of the Fall, The Knick-TV) as Jack Hyde and Marcia Gay Harden (Into the Wild, Miller’s Crossing) as Grace Trevelyan Grey; I can only assume this film was following the 2nd book in the series. This picture had some things in common with the previous one; there was still no chemistry between Dakota and Jamie, though at least they did not have the same intense dislike for each other like they had before. The script was just as manipulative, even more so here. There were times the audience around me was laughing at some of the cheesy dialog. If they had a pop up window of a trumpet blaring, it would not have been as blatant as the way the writers foretold a character’s actions. There was less kinkiness in this installment but still there simply was no passion, nor were there any scenes that delved beyond the surface. An extra scene appeared in the middle of the credits; now excuse me I need to go wash my hands.
1 ¾ stars
SCOURING the shelves in search of something that no longer is being made can be an exhausting process. He went from resale shops to charity stores looking for a VCR. For those of you not familiar with the term it was an abbreviation for “videocassette recorder.” Prior to streaming and DVDs, the first time we were able to watch a television program at a time that was convenient for us was on the videocassette tapes these machines used to record on. The poor man had a collection of movies and shows that had been recorded and his recorder had broken. Going to an electronics store he found out they no longer make such machines, so he had to seek out a used one. As technology gets more advanced it seems as if more things become obsolete quicker. Do not even get me started about the financial cost to keep up with all of it. In addition, think about all the waste for example when one upgrades to a new technology. As an example going from VHS to DVD; what does one do with all the things they have on the tapes? HAVING said that I have recently noticed things that were considered old are becoming new; an example would be vinyl records. Talk about one heck of a technical journey from vinyl to 8 track tape to cassette tape to DVD to digital; I am sure music aficionados were having a nightmare over all the changes taking place with their equipment so they could continue listening to their music. I remember when I was converting my music library to a new format; there were songs that I used to play that over time I lost interest in as my tastes evolved. My decision was to leave that music and not spend any time or money to establish them into my new listening devices. I can honestly say I felt the same way about this dramatic horror sequel. AFTER several years, an old video resurfaced that had deathly consequences to those who watched it. When her boyfriend Holt, played by Alex Roe (The 5th Wave, The Fugitives-TV), was not responding to her messages Julia, played by Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz (Summertime, L’Universale), decided to travel to his college to find out what happened. For the life of me (no pun intended) I cannot understand what the point was for the movie studio to dig up this film franchise and do such a poor job of a sequel. The script was utterly void of originality and used the familiar scare tactics of quick cut away scenes and sudden loud noises to try and scare the viewing audience. I was bored throughout the picture. Seeing Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory-TV, In Time) as Gabriel and Vincent D’Ononfrio (The Magnificent Seven, Pele: Birth of a Legend), as Burke was simply embarrassing; what in the world were the two of them thinking to take such a role? It made me wonder if they even read the script before accepting the job. There might be a chance those who were fans of the original films may find a couple of redeeming qualities with this latest installment; but in my opinion, this is one film that needed to stay buried in the past.
1 ½ stars
ENTERTAINING is what I want movies to be. They need to sweep me up and carry me into their story. If you have been reading my previous reviews you know that request is a tall order, since many films I have seen were abysmal. Now just because I want to be entertained doesn’t mean I only want light and bright stories. I walk into a theater with the assumption that the movie I am about to watch has some redeeming quality. Whether it is a documentary, horror, romance or science fiction film; I simply want to be engaged with what I am seeing on the big screen. LIKE any other medium films can be made with an ulterior motive in mind. A picture may have a humorous bent to it; but underneath the surface, the writers had a serious message or topic they wanted to convey to the movie watching public. I have learned many things by watching documentaries; they are usually written in a straight forward manner which at times comes across like visual lectures to me. That is a compliment by the way. This does not mean I have not learned something from films with fictional stories. Any movie genre can provide a learning experience in my opinion. I have seen some sensational cinematic stories that appeared to be total works of fiction; however, the stories paralleled actual events covered in the news. This is no different than some of our great novels that were written as satires to shine a light or poke fun of real situations. The reason I am mentioning all of this is because of today’s movie. I found the story curious because it seemed to reflect the current political environment throughout the country. ALLIANCES needed to be formed if Alice, played by Milia Jovovich (The Fifth Element, The Three Musketeers), was going to have any chance to put a stop to the undead once and for all. This latest installment to the Resident Evil franchise starred Iain Glen (The Iron Lady, Game of Thrones-TV) as Dr. Isaacs, Ali Larter (Final Destination franchise, Heroes-TV) as Claire Redfield, Eoin Macken (The Forest, The Night Shift-TV) as Doc and Shawn Roberts (Jumper, X-Men) as Wesker. Out of the entire cast Milia had the strongest screen presence, since the script was mainly written for her character. I thought she did a good job. Despite having a fuzzy memory of the previous films, the story was easy to follow. Unfortunately the numerous action scenes were filmed in such a quick, choppy way I had a hard time figuring out who was fighting. The scenes were literally just a blur of shapes and colors; it became quite annoying early on. As for the story all I can say is it was typical for this type of video game based movie. I lost my interest at various times and to tell you the truth it was not until the last part of the film where I felt I was getting my money’s worth. For the video game players out there this chapter will appeal to them; to the rest of us it will only be a brief distraction to the world around us.
1 ¾ stars
The reason I enjoy a good suspenseful horror film is to experience the visceral emotions they produce inside of me. It is an adrenaline rush that gives me more energy; I find it comparable to the testing of the security alert system they do periodically on the radio. I feel a good fright from time to time keeps the body tuned up for life’s daily challenges. In the comfort of my theater seat I know what I am watching on screen has no actual bearing on my daily life. What I am seeing is not real to me so I know the feelings I experience during the movie are fleeting. I have been fortunate and hope I never have to personally experience actual horrors in my lifetime. I do not see how I could not mention the horrific tragedy that took place in Orlando, Florida this past weekend. It seems trivial for me to sit here and talk about a horror movie when I know many lives have been affected by the nightclub shootings. I am uncomfortable writing my review today when I know whatever things I mention about this film seem almost ridiculous to the realities of life presently. No matter the event, I am sure each of us has encountered some form of horror. Let us face it, life can be challenging. I thought I was done seeing the ugliness humans can inflict once I settled into middle age. Sadly it is not the case and in my opinion it appears to have increased in size. May love, kindness and acceptance for each other make us strong during this time. Thank you for listening to me; I felt I had to acknowledge the reality before delving into my escape into this picture. STRUGGLING as a single parent raising her children Peggy Hodgson, played by Frances O’Connor (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Bedazzled), did not know what was happening to her daughter Janet, played by Madison Wolfe (The Campaign, Joy). Her daughter’s actions would affect the entire family. This sequel grabbed the viewer immediately thanks to director James Wan (Saw franchise, Furious 7). Multiple scenes were ideally set-up to produce suspenseful results. Another reason why I was drawn into this movie was due to Vera Farmiga (Source Code, Up in the Air) and Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy, Watchmen) as Lorraine and Ed Warren. They really pulled as much as they could from the script which at times got bogged down in a repetitive mode. I felt the story went on too long; they could have cut out a couple of scenes that were just there to show another example for a similar event. From the first film I knew this story was based on a true story, but I had a hard time believing it because of the things I saw in this sequel. Yet when at the end of the film they showed the actual people the actors portrayed, it made for an eerie feeling inside of me. It is not often a sequel is better than the first film but overall this movie provided a good escape from the horrors of reality.
2 ¾ stars
This review comes with a disclaimer; I may have been influenced due to events that were out of my control. The evening had started out ideally for me since this movie was starting right after work. Luckily there wasn’t a big crowd buying tickets for this showing so my favorite seat was still available. I nestled into my seat before the start of 16 minutes worth of previews. We were 50 minutes into the movie before the screen suddenly went dark, followed by the light fixtures that were perched on the walls between the speakers. I looked up towards the projection booth that was steeped in darkness. Not sure what was happening I stayed in my seat like everyone else in the theater. It was no more than one to two minutes before the entire theater turned pitch black as all the remaining lights, including the running floor ones, lost power. Before anyone had time to take out their cell phone to use as a flashlight, several piercing bright strobe lights started flashing around the theater and a recorded voice announced there was an incident in the theater. The recording told us to walk not run in an orderly fashion to the nearest exit and leave the building immediately. My first reaction was annoyance that this was interrupting my movie watching experience. But as I noticed several patrons running to the exits, I was hit with a new reality. Since the exit to the main hallway was closest to me I made my way to it and slowly stuck my head out. There were people coming out of the multiple theaters, heading towards the main lobby. The building had lost power. We were ushered out the main doors where we stood for 20-25 minutes until power was restored and then allowed back in to finish watching our films. WITH the districts forming alliances Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle, X-Men franchise), had to convince them to direct their energy towards the capital and President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland (The Italian Job, An American Haunting). For the final installment to this science fiction adventure it was fortunate that Jennifer was the lead. Her acting along with Josh Hutcherson (Red Dawn, The Kids Are All Right) as Peeta Mellark kept me interested through the long script. I think it would have been better if the movie studio had not decided to split the last book into 2 films because I felt this one had a lot of filler in it. The 2nd half of this adventure picture was more exciting to me, though I enjoyed the mixture of emotions Peeta and Katniss were displaying in their roles. The movie as a whole was bleak where it felt as if it was going through a checklist of things to include in the story without going into much depth. Maybe due to my disruption, but this finale did not go out with a bang.
2 3/4 stars