MAGIC ACTS AND PRODUCT DEMONSTRATERS used to be the only things that amazed me when I was small. I would always become mesmerized by magicians performing things my eyes and brain could not believe. Making animals appear or disappear, cutting assistants in half or shooting flames out of extended hands; all of it was a total fantasy for me. As for those product demonstrators, I still can recall standing at the head of a small crowd of people gathered around a table as a man was talking about an amazing product that would prevent eyeglasses from steaming up. He would extend his hand out and slightly up just above his head while holding a pair of glasses and spray the lenses with this mysterious stuff. Next he would hold the glasses over what looked like a vaporizer that was spewing out steam. Miraculously the lenses never fogged up. It was pure magic to me. Anytime I was at a store and heard one of these demonstrators talking, I would make a beeline to them and wiggle my way to the head of the crowd of shoppers to watch the next magical feat being performed. MY AMAZEMENT OF THINGS HAS expanded as much as I have aged. Every day it seems I hear or see something that stops me in disbelief. I cannot recall a time where so many things happening around the world literally stun me. Gratefully not everything is of a horrific nature; there are some acts that are life changers and I mean that in a good way. Just imagine what it must have been like when the first microwave oven came into existence or when we had the first moon landing. I am sure it had to be a “heady” experience for many people. Sadly it seems to me currently the scale is tipping to the negative side more and more. An example that just came to mind is company advertisements that, for whatever reason, wind up having a racist or derogatory message. I believe it was the past week there was an alcohol commercial that looked as if it was making a prejudicial statement about races. Seeing an act of violence like commercial or religious buildings being blown up with innocent people inside just makes me stare at the news, trying to comprehend how such a thing could even be thought up; it simply boggles my mind. Many times I say to myself, “Did that just happen?” This same question crossed the mind of the main character in this horror thriller. FINDING HERSELF COMMITTED TO A mental institution Sawyer Valentini, played by Claire Foy (Breathe, The Crown-TV), could not tell at times if she was facing her biggest fear. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Magic Mike, Erin Brockovich), this movie also starred Jay Pharoah (Ride Along, Get a Job) as Nate Hoffman, Joshua Leonard (If I Stay, The Blair Witch Project) as David Strine, Amy Irving (Carrie, Traffic) as Angela Valentini and Juno Temple (Wonder Wheel, Killer Joe) as Violet. This viewing was somewhat unusual for me. The movie was filmed with the use of an IPhone which made some of the camera shots interesting. I thought Claire was convincing and it was good to see Amy Irving. My issue with this picture has to do with the script. There were several intense scenes within the story, but then all of a sudden everything would go flat. I found myself losing interest because during the film it felt like scenes were being repeated. It was not until close to the end where I got back into the story, though I did not like the way the movie ended. I was amazed this picture was done on an IPhone; too bad it wasn’t better.
SLIGHTLY BELOW AVERAGE height, you would not associate them with unusual let alone average strength. Bespectacled and unassuming, the couple easily blends into a crowd of people without any effort. As they say “looks can be deceiving” and with this couple no truer words have been spoken. For all of their quiet, mild mannered appearances no one would ever guess they both were experts in the martial arts. The only way one would even know that about them would be if you saw them mentoring the students in their classes. Dressed in their off white colored short pants and jacket with a black belt tightly tied around the waist, the two of them periodically demonstrate defensive movements. The speed of their punches and kicks nearly defies nature; they are precise and quick. For some people who would have such skills, they would telegraph it via their enlarged confidence and mannerisms; but for this tiny duo, they conduct their daily life with a sense of peace and calmness. I AM ALWAYS amazed by the amount of people who make assumptions about other people based solely on their outer appearances. And it seems like more and more people are doing that these days. I do not know if it has anything to do with our society’s desire for instant gratification that causes people to make snap judgments; but it seems as if less people want to take the time to learn about another person. It still amuses me to this day when someone finds out what I do for a living and activity. Either they think I am too nice to do one job or not buff enough to do the other job. Think about it; imagine someone freely telling you, you do not look fit enough to teach fitness. I do not believe this would fall into the compliment category; it does not bother me, I find it amusing and rather enjoy seeing the confusing looks given to me. To see what I mean feel free to check out this comedic crime drama directed by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven franchise, Traffic). AFTER LOSING HIS job Jimmy Logan, played by Channing Tatum (Magic Mike franchise, Jupiter Ascending), hashed out a plan to make his life easier and richer. He would just need help from strangers to pull it off. With Adam Driver (Silence, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) as Clyde Logan, Daniel Craig (Defiance, Cowboys & Aliens) as Joe Bang, Katie Holmes (Batman Begins, Phone Booth) as Bobbie Jo Chapman and Riley Keough (American Honey, We Don’t Belong Here) as Mellie Logan; the cast overall was fine in this film, though Daniel Craig was the stand out performer for me. His character was so different from what most of us “assume” him to be. I enjoyed the mix of characters in this story along with the side by side story lines; however, I have to tell you I was underwhelmed by this picture. With the buzz about Steven coming out of retirement and the favorable reviews I saw afterwards, I was left with a feeling of light amusement and enjoyment. For some reason the movie came across in a monotone way, without deep emotions attached to it. Some additional background information would have been helpful, but still I just felt I was watching a series of vignettes. It wasn’t like I assumed I was seeing a laugh out comedy or intense drama; I just thought, “Isn’t that a surprise.”
2 ¾ stars
There was something about the piano that attracted me to it. I did not play with musical toys as a baby, but I had two aunts who each had a piano in their home. Whenever we would visit these relatives invariably I would be found sitting at the piano, pressing the keys in different patterns. I never pounded on the keys; in my mind I thought I was actually playing a song, though I could not read a single note of music. What fascinated me was the infinite combinations I could create with all those keys at my fingertips. It was later when I realized other musical instruments had the ability to create the same combinations, but it did not have the same flourish like a pianist. I remember one of the first concerts I attended had a pianist front and center. The way his fingers rippled across the keys, creating sounds as soft as a cat’s purr to booming roars of harmonic fireworks; I wanted to play the piano just like him. For eight years I took piano lessons so I have an appreciation for any skilled musician. If you add outlandish outfits and lavish sets, you will have the star of this biographical drama. Michael Douglas (Falling Down, Wonder Boys) was amazing with his performance playing Liberace. The story was based on the autobiographical book written by Scott Thorson, who had a tumultuous relationship with the entertainer. Though Michael Douglas won an Emmy for his performance, Matt Damon (Elysium, Promised Land) as Scott was equally as impressive with his acting in this Emmy winning movie. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Side Effects, Magic Mike), there was a steady layout of scenes. It was during the quiet scenes where the story really shinned. To balance out the weighted dramatic parts, Rob Lowe (Wayne’s World, The West Wing-TV) as Dr. Jack Startz and Dan Aykroyd (The Blues Brothers, Trading Places) as manager Seymour Heller handled the comedic elements. One of the biggest surprises for me was finding out who played Liberace’s mother Frances. I am not going to mention her name in this review and I hope you do not try to find out before seeing her in this film. With the understanding we are seeing the life of Liberace through Scott’s eyes; this still was a glimpse behind the flash of rhinestones and sequins only to find a dark, troubled life from a different era.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
This past summer I was prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug due to an injury I had on an amusement park roller coaster. That turned out to be my last roller coaster ride. The drug wreaked havoc with my digestive system to the point I never finished the prescription. I decided to take matters into my own hands. Just as I tell my fitness classes, when it comes to our bodies, I believe in the use it or lose it philosophy. I see the body as a medicine cabinet stored with antidotes to a a variety of ailments. When I sense something is different, such as a stuffy nose or scratchy throat; I begin a battle plan of tried natural remedies to combat the invading bugs. I prefer taking the least amount of drugs as possible; but that is just me. After seeing this movie, you better believe I will stay with my methods. In this psychological thriller Emily Taylor, played by Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network), was prescribed a new antidepressant with side effects that drastically altered her life and the lives of the people around her. Channing Tatum (Magic Mike, 21 Jump Street) was Emily’s supportive husband Martin Taylor. Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes franchise, Cold Mountain) played Dr. Jonathan Banks, whose methods came into question for prescribing the antidepressant. Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago, Broken City) was Emily’s former doctor, Victoria Siebert. It has been reported that director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven franchise, Traffic) has said this would be his last movie to direct. Based on this film, it would be a shame if audiences were to be deprived of his keen sense of pacing and layering of a story. This movie had a few twists along the way that swelled into a a dramatic turn of events. I thought the cast did an excellent job, especially Rooney and Jude. If anything, I wished Soderbergh had pushed even more intensity out of his actors. This film may not be the ultimate pinnacle of Steven’s career; but he certainly can leave with his head held high for this spiraling mystery of a thriller. Brief scene with blood.
3 1/4 stars