THOUGH THE CLERGYMAN TOLD ME HIS tragic story years ago, it all came back to me as I was watching this emotional film. I was friends with this clergyman, not a person who attended his church. I do not recall how we wound up talking about this individual, but our conversation was about relationships. Let me first say I have not had much exposure to individuals with addictions. Sure, I have some friends who drink in excess from time to time, but they tend to only get that way at a celebration event or weekend party and not on a consistent basis. The clergyman started telling me about a couple he knew, never divulging how or where he knew them. They were together for something like 15+ years, both employed with no children. At some point in time the husband started experiencing mood swings. At first, they were not so dramatic; but as time went on, they became more intense. The husband was losing weight and he was away from home for longer periods of time. I am not sure if the wife tried to find out what was going on, but the outcome was so sad. It turned out the husband was addicted to drugs. Not only did he wipe out their savings account, he lost their house. WHEN THE CLERGYMAN TOLD ME THIS story I could not believe such a thing could happen. On the one hand I wondered how the wife did not know bills and past due notices were being ignored; but then on the other hand, if his responsibilities were the financial dealings, how could the husband let things get so out of hand. You see, I did not know addictions could be that debilitating. I did not, nor do I still know, how dangerous addictions can be. Granted, my exposure to this type of disease pretty much revolves seeing it on the big screen, but still I do have an inkling. Since it has not touched me personally, I feel I have this buffer zone around me that isolates me from experiencing the horrors of addiction. For me, I have always looked at addiction as being a tool to fill a void in one’s life. Something is lacking so the person focuses on trying to fill an emotional need. Drugs and alcohol are the first 2 things that come to mind, but I guess almost anything done in excess can be considered an addiction. This dramatic movie based on a true story allows you to experience the tragedy caused by addiction without being a part of it. NEVER IN HIS WILDEST DREAMS DID David Sheff, played by Steve Carell (Battle of the Sexes, The Big Short), ever think the beautiful boy he raised would wind up being someone he no longer understood. This dramatic biographical film also starred Timothee Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name, Lady Bird) as Nic Sheff, Maura Tierney (Insomnia, Forces of Nature) as Karen Barbour, Amy Ryan (Escape Plan, Gone Baby Gone) as Vicki Sheff and Jack Dylan Grazer (It; Me, Myself and I-TV) as young Nic Sheff. The best part of this picture was the acting, hands down. Steve and Timothee were exquisite together as father and son. Timothee’s acting in particular is something special to watch. His transformation throughout this story was mesmerizing. Not that any of the other actors were slouches; they all did a fine job here. My only complaint was I felt for the topic the emotions on display could have been rawer. There was a slight repetitiveness to the script that came across without much variance. Still I could not look away at what I was seeing on the big screen. Truly a command performance of a brutal addiction.
THEY were from the same parents but you would never know it. Two brothers only a few years apart in age, yet they had nothing in common. Even when we were younger I rarely saw the older of the two siblings. If I was over at their house and the older one happened to be present, there was a good chance an argument would take place between the family members at some point during the day. I believe it was after high school when the older brother enlisted in the army and that was the last time the parents would ever have contact with him. I never understood what happened between the family members that would lead one child to stop interacting with the rest. The parents went on with their lives; whether they were upset with the situation they never showed it. WHAT I just described was my first exposure to such extreme actions between family members. From that period of time going forward I have seen situations from both ends of the spectrum; from a family who had little contact with people outside of their own family members to families who resorted to violence. Recently a news article crossed my desk about a family owned company. One relative was using legal means to force an issue, making claims of inappropriate behavior and illegal business activity. As I read the article I was surprised by the level of hatred that was motivating the lawsuit. I did not know how many of the accusations were true, only that the company did business with my company. These scenes always remind me there is no such thing as a “normal” family. Every family or should I say every human being is different, who come with their own unique set of issues and quirks. If you do not believe me just take a look at the characters in this animated, action adventure film. AFTER all these year Gru, voiced by Steve Carell (Café Society, Freeheld), discovered he had a quite successful twin brother. If they were to meet, what would they possibly have in common? This 3rd installment in the franchise included Kristen Wiig (The Martian, Ghostbusters) voicing Lucy, Trey Parker (Run Ronnie Run, Orgazmo) voicing Balthazar Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove (School of Rock, Icarly-TV) voicing Margo and Steve Coogan (The Trip to Spain, Tropic Thunder) voicing Fritz/Silas Ramsbottom. For me the best part was the inclusion of the Minions; they are one of the best cartoon characters today. As the previous sequels this one had fun animation and a great soundtrack. The story initially was fine to me; however, as the story progressed and veered off in different directions I found myself not as interested. I believe the issue was due to having three different directors working on this picture. It almost seemed as if there was not enough time to cover one plot before something else was happening. Additionally the humor was sort of low key; it was geared towards young children and even then not much in the laugh out loud category based on the audience’s reactions during my viewing. Sitting through this movie I felt the Minions were overall the biggest draw because the story lines were not that unique to the characters. There was a sense as if I had seen each story before in a different film. It may be time to let these characters leave the coop so to speak.
2 ½ stars
The two had grown up in the same small city, got married and had adequate jobs. Upon first look their life together looked fine. Truthfully there was nothing wrong except their dreams and hopes eventually outgrew the city. Each of them wanted something more. They knew it was time to make a change; so they pared down their belongings and moved out of state to a large metropolitan city. Going from a quaint colonial style house to a 2 bedroom walk up apartment was an adjustment; but it was worth it because their new city could support their dreams. After finding jobs and settling into the rhythm of their new life they explored the city, started doing volunteer work and signed up for various meet up groups; all in the hopes of expanding their social network. As time went on one of them was earning some success at their job, advancing up the ladder as they say. The other did not have such luck and started to feel they were reaching a dead end. With all the expenses of living in a big city compared to their hometown, quitting a job was not in the cards just yet. The two maintained a strong supportive bond between each other, but their shared responsibilities started to go out of alignment. As the one was gaining financial success the other only had incremental raises. The financial divide kept growing to the point where a discussion ensued about remaining in the city. Where one was finally reaching some of their life’s goals, the other felt the city could not offer them what they needed to succeed. It was a conundrum. HOPING to find success Bobby Dorfman, played by Jesse Eisenberg (The End of the Tour, Now You See Me franchise), left his home in the Bronx and moved out to Hollywood. It could not hurt having an uncle out there who was a famous agent. Written and directed by Woody Allen (Midnight in Manhattan, Magic in the Moonlight) this comedic romance had a spectacular look to it. The 1930s décor and style made this film a real treat to watch on the big screen. The perfect accompaniment to the visual aspect was the soundtrack; I thoroughly enjoyed the jazzy music. Starring along with Jesse was Steve Carell (The Big Short, Freeheld) as Phil Stern, Kristen Stewart (American Ultra, Still Alice) as Vonnie and Blake Lively (The Shallows, The Age of Adaline) as Veronica. Though I enjoyed all of them I have to say if they ever decide to do a film biography of Woody Allen then they need to cast Jesse. Using Woody’s words Jesse was perfectly cast in this film. There were parts in this movie where Woody was doing narrations and when the scene moved to Jesse talking it was almost identical in speech. The script was fun with some excellent lines in it, though I did find it somewhat predictable. For a Woody Allen comedy this was more like a light version. I felt there could have been more to mine in the story. It was great film to watch and listen to; I just wish it would have succeeded more in telling a good story.
2 ¾ stars
My first piggy bank started out its life as a jar of chocolate syrup. With a lid that had a plastic bear’s head on top with a coin slot in back, once the syrup was gone and the jar washed I would save any money I would get inside of it. I had a total of 6 banks before I got a new type of bank; a metal rocket ship with a spring loaded docking port. Putting a coin on the catapult device, all I had to do was press the red launch button and the coin would be jettisoned into a slot just behind the rocket ship’s pilot cabin. As I got older all my change found its way to an actual bank with friendly tellers. I grew up in a time when banks were staffed by local residents; it was a place you could trust to hold your money and if lucky earn a little interest on those funds. As one bank started buying another bank which would then buy another bank, the small local banks became satellite locations for large nationwide banks. Some of the employees were replaced and though the new ones were friendly, it was a scripted friendliness as their goal was to sell you one of the bank’s new financial products. So they were not as personal as I remembered, but I still trusted them. It was not until later in life when I refinanced my place that I lost all trust with the banking institutions. And the fact that this happened around the same time as the story in this biographical film only made me angry all over again. FUND manager Dr. Michael Burry, played by Christian Bale (The Flowers of War, Public Enemies), discovered something that no one else realized about the housing market. The banks thought he was crazy. Based on Michael Lewis’ (The Blind Side, Moneyball) best seller, this comedic film festival winning drama had such a great cast that included Ryan Gosling (Gangster Squad, Half Nelson) as Jared Vennett and Steve Carell (Freeheld, Foxcatcher) as Mark Blum. I have a new appreciation for Steve’s dramatic acting abilities. The script was laced with numerous funny moments as three stories were running parallel to each other. What I found to be a brilliant stroke of genius was the way the writers used plain talking speech in a humorous setting to explain some of the business products and practices discussed in this film. In fact, I learned more from this excellent movie than numerous articles and publications I have read about the economy. Now before you say you get bored when people start talking about business, let me tell you this film kept things interesting, moving along with the help of the film editor and director; there was not a dull moment. However, there is a chance you may get angry after you see what took place in this well done picture.
3 1/2 stars
As I get older there are less things and less times I say I hate something. As a kid there were fights I had with other kids where I would say I hate them. These days I cannot imagine ever saying that to another human being. My eating habits were a big challenge for my parents when I was a child, though I still am considered a picky eater by everyone who knows me. When I was younger I would never eat tuna or broccoli; I thought they were disgusting. It wasn’t until years later that I started introducing these items back into my diet. The reason for this was due to all the articles I was reading about how good they were for you. I have come to terms with them and do not even remember how much I hated them. Hate is such a strong word that can be fueled by judgements. There are so many things that were in my hate column that now I may say, “I am uncomfortable with it or it is not to my tastes.” I think one of the most important lessons I learned was realizing I do not have to accept anything just respect it. It is like the time I was out on a date and they ordered oysters. When the appetizer came to the table I took one look at the oysters and said it looked like snot from a runny nose. It sort of killed the mood. Who was I to judge and make such a statement? And yet I see so many people making judgements against other people. WHEN New Jersey police detective Laurel Hester, played by Julianne Moore (Seventh Son, Carrie), discovered she had cancer; she wanted her pension to go to her partner Stacie Andree, played by Ellen Page (Inception, The East). The city officials declined her request even though Laurel and Stacie were registered domestic partners. As far as Laurel was concerned this was not fair, but how could she fight them while her health was declining? This film festival winning drama was based on a true story. The cast which also included Michael Shannon (99 Homes, Man of Steel) as Dane Wells and Steve Carell (Foxcatcher, The Office-TV) as Steven Goldstein were excellent with Ellen and Michael as the standouts. They really did the best they could with the heavy handed script. I felt the writer was pushing the tough scenes to wring out every last drop of emotion out of them instead of letting the actors convey their feelings naturally. The other aspect I found troubling was the directing; scenes did not always flow from one to the other. It seemed as if I was only seeing parts of the story that in reality was a powerful one. After seeing this romantic biography I still do not understand how some people prefer making judgements instead of appreciating anyone who has the ability to love.
2 1/2 stars
It would be hard for some to understand the challenge if they did not know the burden. Living under the weight of expectations or in the shadow of an older sibling can add an unnecessary strain to one’s daily life. There have been studies that looked at siblings’ birth order as a means to understand the psychology behind each one’s actions. Quick examples would be the oldest one could become the caretaker or dominant one while the youngest had the least parental restrictions placed on them, becoming spoiled. I remember a college course where we dissected case studies of actual family dynamics. A couple had 2 sons where the oldest was their pride and joy; the other one was always being told to act more like his older brother. After the two boys reached their teen years, the first born was given a gun for hunting. Sadly a year or so later the boy killed himself with the very rifle his parents had given him. The parents were devastated as they plunged into despair and sadness. The living sibling was barely acknowledged at times. However, the following Christmas the parents presented him with a large gift wrapped present. When he opened it up he found the same rifle that his brother had used to kill himself. Think about the message the parents were sending their second child. SUCCESS was hard to acknowledge when trouble was brewing underneath in this biographical drama. Based on a true story, winning the gold medal did not translate into financial success for wrestler Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum (White House Down, Side Effects). Living under the shadow of his older brother David, played by Mark Ruffalo (Now You See Me, Begin Again); David felt he was going nowhere until he received a strange phone call from financial heir John du Pont, played by Steve Carell (Get Smart, Dan in Real Life). David was offered the chance to train and lead an elite group of wrestlers towards gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The acting was incredible in this film festival winning movie. Steve Carell was utterly creepy in this dramatic role. Vaguely remembering the story about John du Pont I found this movie to be more of a psychological sports drama. Though it was directed by winning director Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote); I thought the film dragged, especially in the first half of the story. There were times the screen went dark without sound where I thought something was wrong with the movie projector; it did not help in the entertainment department in my opinion. This film had a thoughtful dark story that did not come up to the same level as the acting.
2 3/4 stars
Luck is such a fickle, fluidic vehicle of fate. You cannot depend on it because it is unreliable, at least for some folks. There are terms you may have heard such as, “Born with a lucky horseshoe up their bum” or “If they didn’t have bad luck, they would have no luck at all,” that describe people who seem to be visited frequently by “Lady Luck.” I have noticed that when luck chooses to visit me in a negative way it usually returns in rapid succession once or twice immediately afterwards. Just this past weekend when I was trying to fly back home I wound up being stuck at the airport due to my flight being delayed. Upon the first delay I remembered thinking just my luck, I will have to find something to eat for dinner at the airport. Now someone could say I was lucky to find something to eat; but in my brain, I was upset because a mixed green salad, fruit cup, snack sized bag of chips and a small bottle of water cost me $21.00. When the flight was delayed for the second time I realized I would miss the opportunity to catch a film on the way home after landing. By the 3rd delay I was getting anxious because I did not know if public transportation would still be running. Finally arriving late at night, I missed the train as it pulled out of the station and had to wait 15 minutes for the next one. Finally exiting at my stop it started raining as I walked 20 minutes to my car, parked at my office. I could certainly relate to the main character of this family comedy regarding having a bad day. ALEXANDER, played by Ed Oxenbould (Puberty Blues-TV), was used to having a bad day. However, when his family members all began to experience one of his typical bad days Alexander was not sure they would be able to handle it. Based on Judith Viorst’s book series, this comedic drama stayed at a steady pace thanks to the director. With Steve Carell (The Way Way Back, The Office-TV) and Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club, Valentine’s Day) as Alexander’s parents Ben and Kelly Cooper, the cast was well suited to handle both the comedic and dramatic sides of the story. The trailer was a good representation of the film; the unlucky events were consistent. There was nothing major in a negative way in this movie; I just found it a bit too fluffy for my tastes and a bit predictable. As for the rest of my day afterwards, this movie did not contribute either way in making it a good or bad day.
2 1/3 stars
Credit has to be given to a person who believes their own convictions. Their dedication does not waiver during the low points in their life. When I was auditioning at several health clubs to teach aerobics, I still remember the reactions I got from several fitness directors. The most negative comments came from the director of one of the more prestigious health clubs in the city. As I drove home I went over everything I did in the audition, looking for something that I could have done differently, wondering what caused the sourness on that director’s face. Knowing my style was different with its choreographed movements; by the time I got home I decided I would not change, believing there was a place that would take a chance on me. The following week I had an audition where I did the same routines and this time the director not only had a smile on her face but joined in on the routines. I was hired on the spot. Since then whenever I applied to teach at another club I would insist the director come to my class to see what I was doing instead of me performing in their empty aerobic studio. Understanding a person’s dedication, I have to commend Will Ferrell (Elf, The Other Guys) in his desire to entertain audiences by bringing back his character, newsman Ron Burgundy. In this sequel a television station decided to launch a 24 hour news channel, looking at Ron Burgundy to be one of their announcers. Assembling his former news team Brick Tamland, Brian Fantana and Champ Kind, played by Steve Carell (The Way Way Back, Get Smart), Paul Rudd (Role Models, Wanderlust) and David Koechner (Thank you for Smoking, Balls of Fury), the news team came to New York City to make their mark with their own style of reporting. This comedy film had been hyped for so many months by the time I sat down to watch it I have to admit I was already a bit tired of it. The film trailers had the better jokes from the script because what I saw was not all that funny. Sure there were a couple of chuckles, due more to the outrageousness of the scene, but I did not find much creativity being used throughout the film. I did enjoy the variety of celebrity cameos, surprised by the actors who agreed to be in the movie. For those looking for some mindless fun, this would be the film to see. There was a brief extra scene at the end of the credits.
My tongue instinctively brushed the surface of my teeth looking for my braces that were made from the shiniest metal on the planet. I had to check my face to see if any angry pimples were about to burst out from under my skin. Then there was the vision of me seeing the first wave of facial hair spreading across my face like a brewing storm, warning me of the impending turmoil of adolescence that was coming over me. All of those awkward and confused moments swirled up from my pooled memories while I sat and watched this wonderful, coming of age film. Liam James (Fred Claus, 2012) was perfect playing the 14 year old character Duncan. A simple look from him easily conveyed those embarrassing emotions we all felt at one time or another during our adolescent years. Duncan was stuck going with his mother Pam, played by Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, United States of Tara-TV) and her overbearing boyfriend Trent, played by Steve Carell (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Get Smart) to Trent’s summer home during summer vacation. Uncomfortable with his surroundings, Duncan found refuge at a run down water park managed by the kid like Owen, played by Sam Rockwell (Moon, Seven Psychopaths) and his wife Caitlin, played by Maya Rudolph (Grown Ups, Bridesmaids). This was one of the best performances I have seen from Sam; his character was crazy and memorable. I loved the unexpectedness of this poignant film. Everyone’s acting was so strong and realistic; Allison Janney (Juno, Liberal Arts) was hilarious as Trent’s alcoholic neighbor Betty. The script offered up such ideal lines, I actually felt a bond forming between me and several of the characters. After experiencing many memories from my youth during this film, a shadow of my adolescence remained behind as I walked out of the theater.
3 1 /3 stars
The magic of cartoons is their ability to turn something real into the unreal. They can take a current topic and provide a different spin on it or turn it into a satire. Cartoon characters can be beaten and hurt multiple times, yet still come back for more, while providing us with a good laugh. And then there is the use of color and design; everyday items can suddenly defy gravity and physics in their twisted, illogical shapes and hues. I was raised on the classic Looney Tunes cartoons from Warner Bros. The foundation to any cartoon is a solid story and Looney Tunes was brilliant in their ability to play with a story. In this animated sequel I felt the story was disappointingly weak. Steve Carell (Hope Springs, Date Night) was back again, this time as Gru the family man to the three orphaned girls. Gone was Gru’s nastiness, though I thought Steve still did an excellent job voicing the character. New to the cast was Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, Friends with Kids) as agent Lucy and Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality, Catwoman) as club owner Edwardo. The story this time had Gru being recruited by the Anti-Villain League to track down a new super criminal. On the plus side the Minions were back and offered some fun gags. However, the issue I had with this movie concerned the lazy writing. I mean come on, did we really need to try and mine humor out of flatulence? It was just an easy way to piece the story together. Where some of this year’s recent animated movies entertained both children and adults; I think younger kids would like this comedy more than adults. Another issue I had with the movie was its predictability. Cartoons should be able to offer at least a surprise or two for the viewer; I did not find anything close to being shocking. Instead of creating magic with Gru and the girls, it seemed the studio was looking to make a quick buck; some magic act.
2 1/2 stars