ONCE I WALKED INSIDE THE BUILDING, I was even less convinced I would have a good time. The building was on a commercial street, in the middle of the block. There was no signage out front except for its address and a small sign above the door that said, “THEATER ENTRANCE.” When we opened the front door, we were surprised there was a long hallway in front of us with a string of lights strung all the way down the ceiling to another door. When we got to and opened the 2nddoor, we found a rectangular shaped room with support columns going down the center of it. There was a dresser to one side with its top drawer open and filled with snack bags of pretzels, popcorn and potato chips. A young-looking man was standing behind it. He asked us if we were there to see the play and I said yes. Asking for my last name, he rifled through what looked like a recipe box to retrieve our reserved tickets. From there he directed us to walk thru a black curtain that looked like it had gone through the wash one too many times, to find seats in the theater’s auditorium. CALLING IT AN AUDITORIUM WAS A bit of a stretch, based on what I was seeing. The area, no bigger than a neighborhood bakery shop, had black painted brick walls. Along one side was a makeshift wooden stage and by stage, I mean it was raised one foot off the floor, looking like a large box. There were metal folding chairs lined up in rows, 6 rows to be exact. I was already uncomfortable knowing I was going to be sitting on an unpadded chair for two hours approximately. Hanging from the ceiling were a row of spotlights that looked like metal cocoons that were in the middle of hatching. The only other thing in the room was another black curtain that was covering a doorway next to the stage. As we took our seats, I remembered the time I was involved in a school play. It was a barebones operation, similar to what I was presently seeing around me. I remembered an argument took place between two of the stagehands, over what color to paint a backdrop. A cast member refused to talk to another cast member, only speaking to them if it was dialog from the script. Up until our opening night, I was not sure we could pull off putting on a production. With me sitting in this odd space with my friends, I could not imagine what was in store for me and would it even be any good. It is funny, I felt the same way as I started to watch this comedic drama. INDEPENDENT FILMMAKER NICK REVE, PLAYED BY Steve Buscemi (The Death of Stalin, Norman), has one day to film a powerful piece. It seemed as if everyone else around him had their own agenda. With Catherine Keener (Get Out, We Don’t Belong Here) as Nicole Springer, Dermot Mulroney (Young Guns, August: Osage County) as Wolf, Danielle von Zerneck (La Bamba, Dangerous Curves) as Wanda and James Le Gros (Drugstore Cowboy, Certain Women) as Chad; this film festival winner was a surprise for me. The story was a strong satire about independent filmmaking. Despite Steve’s yelling getting to me after a while, I thought the cast was fun; Catherine was exceptional with her role. The humor was sly, where one had to pay attention to the dialog closely. Now granted, some scenes seemed way over the top in craziness; however, having it all revolve around the making of a movie made it more plausible to me. All I can say about this picture is that it was quirky and funny; and maybe, that is because it reminded me of that time back in school, when we were trying to put on a play.
SOME OF THE BEST CONVERSATIONS held are the ones between a pet and its owner. I am here to tell you there are a whole bunch of humans who could learn a lesson on communication, if they would watch and listen to owners talking to their pets. First off you would be hard pressed to find someone more compassionate and attentive than a dog or cat. I love both but I must say dogs have more facial expressions and possibly more empathy. Several years ago this happened but it is just as vivid in my mind now as it was when I saw it originally taking place. A friend of mine was going through a crisis; crying while curled up on their sofa. Into the room came their dog who took one look at its owner, came up to the edge of the sofa and jumped up onto a small open space by my friend’s feet. The dog walked behind my friend and plopped itself down between my friend and the back of the sofa, while putting a paw up on his shoulder. I was speechless as I saw the dog placing his head down on my friend’s back and its leg stretched out as far as possible into a hug. SO YOU CANNOT TELL ME OUR pets do not understand our feelings. Simply look into your pet’s eyes and you will find pure love and affection. It is an unconditional love that makes your pet greet you when you get home; even if you were gone for 2 minutes, to them it seems like it was hours. Maybe you have had conversations where you are sharing your feelings with your friend and everything you say elicits a response from them, telling you they experienced the same thing. They may feel they are being compassionate but that does not always produce such results. I know someone who no matter what you say to them they always respond with a story that is worse than the one you told them. It is like they are in competition with you to see who has the most serious ailment or hardship. Sometimes we just need someone to listen to us and that is where pets make the perfect attentive listeners. They never judge us; all they want to do is love us. Though I have been focusing on dogs and cats, this film festival winning drama will show you another pet that helps someone through a crisis. WITH HIS LIFE IN TURMOIL CHARLEY, played by Charlie Plummer (All the Money in the World, King Jack), finds comfort working at the rundown stables of owner Del, played by Steve Buscemi (The Death of Stalin, Norman). It is here he finds a true friend. Not since the movie My Friend Flicka have I seen such a beautiful connection being made between a boy and a horse. Charlie was nearly mesmerizing in his performance; one could feel his emotions and plight. With Chloe Sevigny (Love & Friendship, Big Love-TV) as Bonnie and Steve Zahn (A Perfect Getaway, Rescue Dawn) as Silver; I thought the cast did a wonderful job in bringing this story to life. The minimalist script created a slow and steady unfolding story; it felt like I was watching a novel come to life. I am a sucker for a movie with an animal in it; despite that, this was a worthy piece of work with believable characters who showed a true slice of life. Be prepared to experience your emotions as you watch Charley’s and Pete’s journey.
3 ½ stars
THE PHRASE “TOO MANY COOKS SPOIL the broth” came to mind as I sat there listening to everyone’s opinion. I was a volunteer at a citywide event and wound up being placed into the set up crew’s group; we were responsible for preparing the ballroom for guests, decorating and preparing the auction tables. Thirty minutes had passed already and we still did not have a game plan in place. I felt frustrated as I observed several individuals vie to become the leader of our group. It was obvious, at least to me; no one would back down and allow one of them to take charge. It was a shame because time was ticking away before the doors would open for the event. After remaining in my seat for a few more minutes I had heard enough; I got up and started carrying the items for the auction over to several tables set up in the corners of the room. I heard someone yell out to me but I did not acknowledge them until I came back to the group. They wanted to know what I was doing so I simply said putting things out so we do not look like (fill in the blank). I made my point and it was strong enough to knock some sense into those leader wannabes. IT FLOORS ME ON HOW many people proclaim themselves to be generous, a people’s person; who want to do the best for everyone, yet think of themselves first. I have seen it happen in so many places besides what I mentioned above. From companies to non-profit organizations to government, you will always find someone who cares more about how they are being perceived instead of doing the right thing. I have to say when it comes to government officials I am the most offended by their actions. These individuals are for the most part elected into their positions and yet they come in with their own personal agenda. The phrase about putting their “stamp of approval” on an issue tells me they want to take credit for everything and agree with it. To me a good politician is one who can approve something they are not a fan of, but realize it is the correct procedure. In my city we are dealing with a politician who put his relatives on the payroll though they are not necessarily qualified. Who benefits from it? Trust me you will be asking yourself many times that question as you watch this satirical, film festival winning comedy. UPON THE DEATH OF DICTATOR Joseph Stalin, the members of his cabinet were free to explore their deepest desires. It would be a battle of wits to see who would climb to the top and take over the Soviet Union. With Steve Buscemi (Norman, 30 Rock-TV) as Nikita Khrushchev, Simon Russell Beale (Into the Woods, Penny Dreadful-TV) as Laurenti Beria, Jeffrey Tambor (The Accountant, Arrested Development-TV) as Georgy Malenkov and Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace, Hitman) as Maria Veniaminovna Yudina; this movie produced smiles and laugh out loud results. The acting was formidable from the cast, especially Steve and Simon. I do not know how much of the story was based in truth but I have to tell you everything I watched seemed plausible, even when scenes were close to buffoonery. The sets had an authentic look that added a layer of excitement, while the script was filled with fun one-liners that one needed to pay attention to as they flew by. Who knew in the middle of such dismal times one could find humor among the events.
3 ½ stars
LIFE as you know it can burst apart in a seismic moment when you are introduced to your new baby sister or brother. If you are the first born it probably is a bigger adjustment than it would be for those born after you. When you are the only one, you benefit from your parents devoting their attention solely on you. With multiple children in the family the parents may feel as if they are spending equal time with each child; but the perception from the child’s point of view may be totally different. It stands to reason before that baby arrived the only child was the sole focus; now 2 siblings will vie for the attention of Mom and Dad. It does not stand to reason that the scope of your parents’ attention will double with each new child coming into the household. If that was not enough then there is the whole issue about birth order and the characteristics associated with it; such as the middle child gets the least attention and the youngest of the siblings gets spoiled. THE thing that stuns me the most about families with more than one child is how these early, shall we say, landmines can lead to the deterioration of family ties. I recently was talking with someone who expressed they do not talk to their brother. When I asked what they meant, they told me they have not had any communication with their sibling for years. Personally I cannot understand how siblings could dissolve to a level where it was preferable to end all communication between each other. One has to wonder where the parents and their involvement in the upbringing of these children were during the siblings’ formative years. The answers may be found in this animated family comedy. THERE was something different about the baby, voiced by Alec Baldwin (The Departed, 30 Rock-TV), who came into the life of Tim, voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi (Shrek franchise). For starters the baby was dressed up in a suit. This movie was geared towards the older siblings of a family. I felt part of the humor and sight gags were pointed more to the 6-10 year olds; however, a good portion of the script had the parents in mind, with the type of jokes and references on display. I am not sure if younger children will have as much fun watching this film. Alec was perfect in the role, though Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs, Fargo) as Francis Francis, TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel as Dad and Lisa Kudrow (Easy A, The Comeback-TV) as Mom held their own. What I enjoyed about this movie besides the humor was its retro look; the visuals reminded me of some of the cartoon shows I used to watch when I was a kid. Underneath all of this I thought the writers did a wonderful job in introducing the lesson of the story. Maybe parents will see the lesson to learn early on, but for children it came across in an imaginative way. Pitting this against other recent animated films, this one may not have all the bells and whistles; however, as the baby of the family I refrain from making such comparisons. There was a brief extra scene in the middle of the credits and another extra scene at the end.
2 3/4 stars
Someone, please hand me a breath mint because I still have a bad taste in my mouth from this wretched film. Usually a sequel will show some kind of growth for its characters, but not this one. Coincidently, I recently attended my high school reunion. Visiting with former classmates was real special. We shared memories and laughed at some of the crazy things we did while attending school. The thing that separated us from the characters in this movie is we grew up. The closest I found to a story line in this celluloid catastrophe was Lenny Feder, played by Adam Sandler (The Waterboy, Happy Gilmore), moved his family back to his hometown, where he grew up with his old friends Eric, Kurt and Marcus; played by Kevin James (Here Comes the Boom, Paul Blart: Mall Cop), Chris Rock (Head of State, Down to Earth) and David Spade (The Benchwarmers, Tommy Boy). The lack of a story made for a dull series of infantile jokes and gags; some that had no relevance to what the characters were doing. In fact, I found some of the jokes offensive. With Adam being credited as one of the writers, all I can tell you is the writing was lazy. It seemed as if the characters were thrown into the story just to give Adam’s friends a job. What I did not understand is why someone like Steve Buscemi (Rampart, Boardwalk Empire-TV) would agree to do a cameo as Wiley. I thought he was successful and making decent money. As for some of the other actors in cameo appearances, it was obvious they needed a paycheck. There was nothing I found redeeming about this film. I did not find anything funny about people with flatulence or indigestion. There are two reasons why I gave an extra 1/4 star to my rating of this so called comedy. The first has to do with the cast. Without naming names, this film is doing taxpayers a favor because it included several actors who would otherwise be collecting unemployment benefits. The second reason is for the complete shock I had that Rob Schneider (The Hot Chick, Deuce Bigalow franchise) was not part of the cast.
1 1/4 stars
An evil presence lived in my bedroom closet. I would only hear it at night when I was a little boy. It would make a creaking sound as if a giant’s foot was stepping out of the closet to eat me. One of my defenses was to hide under my blanket and be very still. The other was to make pretend spiders out of black construction paper and place them on the floor, in front of the closet door. They used to do a good job; so good, that I accidentally scared one of my brothers, when I left one of the spiders on the floor. As I grew up it dawned on me that what I was really afraid of was the unknown. It would have been a big help if this animated comedy had been around back then. A film that showed monsters going to school to learn how to scare humans was a wonderful idea. For those of us who saw Monsters, Inc this was the opportunity to visit with a younger Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan, voiced by Billy Crystal (Parental Guidance, Analyze This) and John Goodman (Argo, Flight). If you are not familiar with their story, it will not be a major factor in watching this film. A few sly references would be missed. However, the charm and originality of the previous movie was also missing. The story took a little part from the movies Carrie and The Hunger Games, minus the frightening parts. I believe young children will still enjoy this movie; though, I did notice the kids were noisier here than at other animated family films I have seen. Billy and John were perfect voicing their characters again, as was Steve Buscemi (Rampart, Broadwalk Empire-TV) as Randy. The addition of Helen Mirren (Red, Hitchcock) as Dean Hardscrabble was my favorite character. Though there was a little less magic and a little less fun in it for me, I still enjoyed finding out how monsters learned to be scary. Stay through the end of the credits.
2 3/4 stars
Magic gives us the opportunity to believe there is something else around us that may explain the unexplainable. For some our 1st encounter with magic occurred when we were babies. A face would appear from behind a covering of hands and say peek-a-boo. I remember my older brothers playfully grabbing my nose then showing it to me sticking out from their clenched fingers. It took me a while to figure out they were sticking the tip of their thumb up between those rounded fingers. Some type of magic can be found almost every day if you look hard enough. No matter how much you look though, you will find no movie magic in this dull comedy. Childhood friends Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton, played by Steve Carell (Hope Springs, Date Night) and Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Boardwalk Empire-TV), grew up to be famous magicians of a Las Vegas show. When street performer/magician Steve Gary, played by Jim Carrey (Mr. Popper’s Penguins, The Truman Show), gained enough public interest to steal the two headliners’ thunder, a competition began to see who would become the top magician to lead a new show for hotelier Doug Munny, played by James Gandolfini (Welcome to the Rileys, Killing Them Softly) in his new hotel. From the entire movie I believe I chuckled four times. If you have never seen Jim Carrey you will enjoy his performance. For the rest of you who have seen him, it was the same old stuff from rubber faced Jim. Both Steves were lackluster, uttering infantile lines; it made the scenes drag. The only one who was good but did not have much screen time was Alan Arkin (Argo, Stand Up Guys) as Rance Holloway. Olivia Wilde (The Words, In Time) as Wonderstone’s assistant Jane was forgettable. However, part of the reason was the undeveloped role given to her. I am afraid this film created no magic for me. They say “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” in the promotional ads for the city. No truer words have ever been spoken; this film should not have left the editing room. I had more fun making a pint of ice cream disappear over the weekend.
1 2/3 stars
A storyteller takes something ordinary and makes it interesting. With an added twist of words the mundane can be transformed into an extraordinary tale. Before I even began my schooling, I was exposed to a master storyteller–my father. Out of the entire family, my dad was the person who provided tall tales and comic relief for everyone. Anyone who was within ear shot would be drawn into my father’s fabrications. As a salesman, he covered the entire city and always found fodder for his next anecodote. The story of my dad stopping by to surprise my mother and me at the grocery store was completely transformed when he retold it. He would say he went into the store and found me crying at the service desk, separated from my mother. When the service manager asked him who he was, my dad said he was my father. The manager turned and asked me if that was my dad and all I could cry for was my mother, never acknowledging my father. It was these tall tales I grew up with and why this touching movie resonated with me. Albert Finney (Erin Brockovich, Annie) was the colorful character Ed Bloom. After being diagnosed with cancer; his estranged son Will, played by Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, Watchmen), returned home to reconcile with his dad and find out the truth behind the wild stories he had heard growing up. Told in flashbacks the younger Ed Bloom was portrayed by Ewan McGregor (The Impossible, Beginners). Director Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Planet of the Apes) surprised me with this touching, imaginative story. The entire cast blended together so well, that I had no trouble going from fanciful stories to current reality. Jessica Lange was wonderful as she played Ed’s grounded wife Sandra. It was fun to see a younger Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Reservoir Dogs), Danny DeVito (Batman Returns, Twins), Marion Cotillard (Inception, Contagion) and Helena Bonham Carter (Les Miserables, Harry Potter franchise) make up part of the ensemble. This charming movie is being turned into a Broadway play. I believe it will easily transfer to the big stage and do quite well for this simple reason: if you cannot exaggerate the story, then it just isn’t worth telling.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
Guilt is that off colored shadow that quietly attaches itself to your future decisions. It can be the insidious force that feeds on your insecurities as it devours your organs. There are people who can tame their guilt with the deliverance of forgiveness; I wish it could be that easy. It takes a large amount of work for me to let go of guilt. On the other hand, I have had better success in being forgiving though my percentages are not high. This dramatic film presented an interesting character study on the topic of guilt and forgiveness. The impressive cast swayed me to this DVD. Thomas Kelley’s, played by Steve Buscemi (Fargo, The Big Lebowski), dying wish was to be forgiven. In order for that to happen, Kelley and his old naval buddies would have to break their code of silence and revisit painful memories from over 30 years ago. Jamey Sheridan (The Ice Storm, Syriana) played conflicted naval friend Harry Sweeney, who took Kelley’s wish to heart. Carrying out the wish meant Harry having to locate the others from their group: Peter Reems and Professor Porter, played by John Savage (The Deer Hunter, Hair) and Aidan Quinn (Unknown, Sarah’s Key). For the most part the story was interesting though predictable in places. A series of flashbacks were used to give the viewer hints of the guys’ naval past. The actors performed well with what they were given, though I found a couple of the scenes unrealistic. As for guilt and forgiveness, I felt the writer and director handled it in a believable and even way. When I was done with the DVD I experienced no guilt for spending my time sitting and watching this intriguing film.
2 1/2 stars — DVD