I DID NOT CRINGE UNTIL SHE attempted to speak. She had assistance walking across the stage of the awards show; it was expected considering her frailty and advanced age. In her day, decades ago, she was a top billing major star. Now as I watched her trying to talk, it was obvious to me she was quite confused. I had no idea if the producers of the show requested her or her management team offered her; either way, I felt uncomfortable and sad. Growing old is harder when it is done in the public eye; I think about myself with the classes I teach. Will I know when it is the time to hang up my cycling and yoga apparel? Will I graciously retire when I realize, if I even realize, I am not teaching class at the same level as I have in the past? These are things I have given thought to as I have grown older. I look at some people who have obviously had extensive plastic surgery and wonder why they did it. There has never been a time I have seen an older celebrity and not known they had altered themselves simply by looking at their semi-paralyzed face or their skin stretched tightly like plastic wrap sealing a bowl of leftovers. What is it they are trying to do? ONE OF THE ANSWERS I CAN come up with is they do it because they still need to get adulation and compliments from people. I would like to know how having a wrinkled face would stop someone from admiring you. I went to a concert that was being held in a small movie theater; the headliner was a celebrity who was past his prime. What I mean is their voice could no longer handle their song catalog and their dance moves were reduced to a simple swaying side to side. He was only one of the musical acts; so, there were some people in the audience who had no idea who this man was and what songs he had sung that brought him fame. If it were me I could not get on stage and perform unless I categorically knew it would be at the same caliber as before. As I write this I am reminded about former celebrities who either do advertisements or shall we say low-brow projects. I always wonder if they need the money or they are so starved for attention. Regarding this film festival winning biography, I haven’t yet decided which one the comedy duo needed. AFTER THEIR FAME AND FORTUNE HAD dimmed in the world Laurel and Hardy, played by Steve Coogan (Philomela, The Dinner) and John C. Reilly (Holmes & Watson, The Sisters Brothers), decided they would re-capture it by doing a live tour. It didn’t matter to them that they were older and maybe not as wise. This comedic drama’s story was based on actual events. Without a doubt this picture’s fate was dependent on Steve and John. Gratefully, the two of them were stupendous. I might have to tip the scales more to John’s Oliver Hardy being more authentic, but it still would be a tight race between the two of them. With them front and center the other actors like Shirley Henderson (Transporting franchise, Bridget Jones franchise) as Lucille Hardy and Nina Arianda (Midnight in Paris, Florence Foster Jenkins) as Ida Kitaeva Laurel; though good, were more in the background for me. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this picture. Seeing some of the original comedy acts Laurel and Hardy used to perform and getting the back story on them was a treat. I thought the script and direction worked hand in hand to produce a well-rounded bit of comedic history. Make sure you stay through the credits to see actual clips of the two the producers reproduced in this wonderful film.
3 ½ stars
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
THERE was something white and fluttering at my windshield as I walked back to my car. I was hoping it wasn’t an injured bird that had flown into the glass. As I came up from behind I saw it was a sheet of paper that someone had slipped underneath the windshield wiper. My first thought was it had to be some type of advertisement. Wow was I ever wrong when I removed the paper from the wiper and saw what was written on it. Someone had left me a note with their phone number, explaining how their car door flew open from the wind and nicked my car door. I took a look and there was a white mark on my car where the edge of their door chipped the paint. I could not get over someone was kind enough to let me know what happened, since I have never been notified before of all the mysterious nicks and dents my car has received in parking lots all these years. Reading the phone number, I called the person to thank them and refuse their offer of compensation; I kept a bottle of touchup paint for such occurrences. SOME years ago I remember sitting in my car in a parking lot and hearing a loud bang. The parked car next to me had been nudged by a person pulling out of a space across the way. I got out of my car to examine the damage and saw that car’s fender was pushed in. The driver of the car that backed up was starting to drive away. Running up to the driver side window I waved at them to stop, which I was surprised they did to tell you the truth. The person rolled down their window and I told them they dented the fender of the parked car. When they tried to tell me they did not do it I explained I was sitting in the car right next to it and saw the whole thing. From that short delay of time, it was just enough for the driver of the dented car to come out of the grocery store. I explained what happened and gave them my phone number before driving off to leave the two of them to figure it out. It was the right thing to do. ONCE the video of the horrific prank was downloaded to a social media site brothers Stan and Paul Lohman, played by Richard Gere (Norman, Days of Heaven) and Steve Coogan (Philomena, The Trip to Italy), met with their wives for dinner to discuss what they should do next. This film festival nominee had an important theme and message here. However, the script was such a mess I lost interest in this movie pretty quick. I am not a fan of jumping back and forth to pick up fragments of a story to create a complete piece and this dramatic mystery was doing it until nearly the end. Speaking of the end, it was not until this picture was nearly over that I started to care about the story. The acting was excellent, including Laura Linney (Sully, Mr. Holmes) as Claire and Rebecca Hall (The Gift, The Prestige) as Katelyn, for what they had to work with but it was not enough for me. I consider this review an act of kindness in warning you about this film.
1 2/3 stars
Keep the luxury cars, the big mansions, the designer clothes and the fancy restaurants; true luxury for me is taking a vacation. Being able to leave the daily responsibilities of living behind me, a vacation is a time where I can let the rigors of my days’ requirements melt off of me like spring’s first thaw. When away on vacation I always seek out meals from local establishments. It is funny, I am a picky eater who rarely orders something off a menu without asking for something to be changed; however, I thoroughly get a thrill when I can recommend a restaurant by taking a friend to it to see if they will enjoy the place as much as I did. Away from home, traveling with a friend, sitting and enjoying the local cuisine; the bonds between us become infused with a new joyous future memory. Talk about being relaxed and being able to let our minds wander together in our present surroundings; visiting new or old places in our minds, thoughts, ideas and just re-enforcing the bonds that made us friends in the first place. This to me is pure luxury and this dramatic comedy only reaffirms my beliefs about vacationing and eating. ITALY was the setting for this sequel about two friends Steve and Rob, played by Steve Coogan (Philomena, Tropic of Thunder) and Rob Brydon (The Trip, MirrorMask), who headed out across the countryside to seek out and review new restaurants. Traveling to places such as Tuscany, Rome and Capri; the two buddies were able to sit back and relax, while offering their thoughts and comments about life and food. I suspect a good portion of the dialog was ad libbed as the two men would spontaneously break out into celebrity impersonations, jokes, comments; all the while being able to keep the bantering between them flowing evenly. I had a hard time getting into this film at first because I was waiting for something to happen. Since I had not seen the first film “The Trip,” I have to guess for those who did, they would get into this movie quicker. On the flip side from what I have read about this picture afterwards, it is pretty much the same as the previous one except for the locale. It was hard for me to think of Steve and Rob as actors, since they were pretty much being themselves. The cast included Rosie Fellner (The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, Nine Lives) as Lucy and Claire Keelan (Hush, The Trip) as Emma. What made this comedic drama more palatable for me was the gorgeous scenes of Italy and the pictures of the amazing meals.
2 2/3 stars
Once the heart loses a loved one it never fills up the same way. The empty space in the heart gets filled with memories like air in a balloon until it almost resembles its former shape. But as time goes by the area shrivels due to the memories fading. The heart never deflates completely; as recollections withdraw to the deeper recesses of the mind, it takes more effort to keep the heart aloft. Though it may not be felt right away, life does go on as the heart seeks out a new or different type of love to nourish and return it to a higher place of consciousness. I have experienced such loss (who hasn’t, right?) and understand we each treat loss in different ways. Inspired by a true story, the main character in this dramatic film had been secretly carrying her loss for 50 years. Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal, Ladies in Lavender) was stellar in the role of Philomena, the Irish woman who had her out of wedlock son taken away from her and given up for adoption. Steve Coogan (Ruby Sparks, Tropic Thunder) played investigative journalist Martin Sixsmith who would take and document Philomena’s journey to find out what happened to her son. This film festival winning movie used Martin’s book, “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee,” as a source. First and foremost let me start with the acting in this film. Judi was amazing in the role. It was a different type of character for her, where she gave the impression of being naive, but underneath had a solid core of strength. As for Steve, I was impressed by him taking on a cynical, smart aleck type of character who had a protective fondness for Philomena. Because of their chemistry and acting skills, they never let the script fall into a sentimental mushy state. I was surprised with the turn of events and I have to say it was hard not to become emotional. This was an adult story that captivated the audience to the point I was able to hear people’s emotions welling up. There is a good chance Judi and possibly Steve will get nominated for an Oscar, besides the director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity). None of us may ever experience what Philomena did, but each of us will certainly be able to relate to the love and loss she endured.
3 2/3 stars
One of the purest forms of innocence can be found in a small child. Without the opinions, prejudices or hatred that can be found in adults; children have the ability to be all inclusive. For that reason it is tragic when a child pays the price for an adult’s war. There is one kind of war that involves bullets and bombs, which is horrifying enough. But there is another type of war and this one involves only two adults–the mother and father of the child. It saddens me when I see one parent using their child as a pawn in a fight against the other parent. I cannot bring to mind anything uglier than a couple sacrificing their child for their own personal gain. Because of the excellent acting in this drama, it made watching this film harder for me. Updating this Henry James story to modern day New York City; the plot was about aging rock star Susanna’s, played by Julianne Moore (Being Flynn, A Single Man) bitter divorce battle with her husband Beale, played by Steve Coogan (Ruby Sparks, Our Idiot Brother). All of this is seen through the eyes of their young daughter Maisie, played by relative newcomer Onata Aprile. For such a young girl, her face easily conveyed the emotions she was feeling. A surprise for me was watching Alexander Skarsgard (Battleship, True Blood-TV) as Lincoln. Familiar with his towering vampire role on True Blood, I was impressed with his acting ability in this film. Alexander’s character was one of the strongest in the cast. I could have used more background information on the characters, but it was a minor complaint. It would be hard not to get involved in the story with the strong emotions playing out on screen. All one could do is hope Maisie does not become another casualty of war.