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Flash Movie Review: Slow West

There has only been one person in my life who made me consider moving away from the city of my birth. Having friends from childhood and family around me, I never considered moving out of state before. In my past relationships I have met many people from different parts of the country and even world. I always asked what motivated them to wind up here and the answers went from the practical to the whimsical. No matter what the reason may have been, I thought anyone who could leave their job, pack up their home and move to a different part of the world was a courageous soul. I am especially fascinated by the influence love has on some people’s decisions to relocate. There was a friend of mine who met someone and within 4 weeks knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with them, so agreed to change jobs and move out of state with them. I of course was wondering how they even knew they loved the person after a few dates. Love really is a powerful force; I guess it has a way of holding and calming any fears similar to what one does to sooth a crying baby. I recall reading a comment left on my movie site where the person mentioned she moved from Europe to the United States and I immediately assumed there was solid strength inside of her. It was the same type of strength I found in this movie.    LEAVING Scotland to come to America Jay Cavendish, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In, The Road), had only one thing on his mind. He wanted to find his true love Rose Ross, played by Caren Pistorius (The Most Fun You Can Have Dying, Offspring-TV). Outlaw Silas Selleck, played by Michael Fassbender (X-Men franchise, 12 Years a Slave), agreed to take Jay across the country for a price, realizing Jay would never survive crossing the American frontier on his own. This Sundance Film Festival winning western thriller was an interesting movie. I have seen films about finding long lost love but this one was different for me because it took place in a 19th century wild west setting with a young foreigner. The entire cast which also included Ben Mendelsohn (Killing Them Softly, The Place Beyond the Pines) as Payne were rock solid with their characters. Visually this picture had some beautiful scenery and the camera work helped keep the story fresh for me. When there was action it was well done but I hesitate to call this an action film; the pace leaned more to a slower one. This picture provided a curious tale of love that could leave you thinking about your past relationships. There were a few scenes that showed blood.

 

3 stars

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Flash Movie Review: God’s Pocket

I feel very fortunate that I grew up in the city, in an established neighborhood. Before I knew our neighbors they already knew me. You see, everyone knew each other from the block. My first playground was essentially the hallway of the apartment building where I was born. I used to crawl up and down the staircases, visiting any neighbor who happened to have their front door open as I came by. Once I was able to go outside to play, I quickly became friends with the other kids who lived on the block. Unbeknownst to us at the time, there were always at least a couple of mothers watching us while we played. We felt we owned the streets and alleys as we would set up forts made of snow in winter and during summer we would use any bushes or leaves as a cover for our secret spy meetings. It constantly baffled us how each of our mothers already knew what we were doing before we would come in to tell them about our day. As they say a mother always knows and the proof can be seen in this dramatic film.    GOD’S Pocket was a tough, gritty neighborhood of Philadelphia. After she found out her son Leon, played by Caleb Landry Jones (No Country for Old Men, Antiviral), died at work Jeanie Scarpato, played by Christina Hendricks (Drive, Life as We Know It), was convinced it was not an accident. She wanted her husband Mickey, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (A Late Quartet, Capote), to find out what really happened to her son. This Sundance Film Festival nominated movie captured the look and feel of a rugged, economically depressed area during the 1960s. There was a general heaviness that weighed on everyone including the viewer. Besides Philip and Christina performing on a high level, I thought John Turturro (Fading Gigilo, Barton Fink) as Arthur “Bird” Capezio and Richard Jenkins (The Cabin in the Woods, The Visitor) as Richard Shellburn stood out in the cast; though everyone did a convincing job of acting. The downfall to this picture was all in the script. The story was filled with cliches, did not offer anything original. There were moments where I wondered if the writers intended the scene to be funny, but it only created a messiness that left me perplexed. What a shame for this to be one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films; the story did no favors for anyone. It boiled down to tough luck in a tough neighborhood. A couple of brief scenes with blood.

 

2 stars 

Flash Movie Review: The Internet’s Own Boy

Survival of the fittest has always been the mantra regarding the animal kingdom. It used to be for mankind but I am not so sure of it these days. Our gene pool has taken so many hits from various sources. In fact, I recently saw a television program where a scientist was talking about the overuse of antibiotics in our society. He said as a species, mankind has had good bacteria inside of them that dates back eons. With the constant ingestion of antibiotics we are killing off these defense fighters and they will not be passed down to future generations. I find it scary. As it stands now our gene pool produces people that fall on the spectrum from one extreme to the other. I remember there was a kid in elementary school who was different from the rest of us. The questions he would ask in class went over all of our heads and would even stump the teacher. There were students who were book smart, were good at memorizing and testing; but he was so different from us, talking about things that we did not even hear the adults around us ever talk about. I know a 3 year old boy, who when told he had 5 more minutes of playtime before he had to go to sleep, asked what was 5 minutes in a lifetime; it just makes you wonder doesn’t it?    This biographical documentary written and directed by Brian Knappenberger (Into the Body, Life After War) was about a boy from one extreme of the human scale. Aaron Swartz was pivotal in the development of basic internet protocol, what we refer to as RSS. He also was the co-founder of Reddit. At a very early age Aaron was already far advanced from any of the other kids around him. This Sundance Film Festival nominee traced Aaron’s life from childhood prodigy to internet activist. I had never heard of Aaron Swartz before; only recently becoming aware of him due to seeing his name in the news. The layout of scenes in this film provided me a clear and easy picture of Aaron’s life. I found the home footage of him as a child quite fascinating as you could see he was someone special. The interviews of family members, friends and peers painted an amazing picture of Aaron’s life; it made watching this movie a highly interesting and fascinating experience. After watching this film is when I really started thinking about the gene pool we all share. What I assumed to be a random process in our development I now question when I see someone like Aaron.

 

3 1/2 stars

Flash Movie Review: Cold in July

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I am in total agreement with the man who came up with this law, Sir Isaac Newton. The way I describe it is by saying our lives are made up of pluses and minuses. Where Mr. Newton’s law is used in a physical context, mine emphasizes the cause and effect from the choices each of us make in our daily life. If one tries saving money by buying the cheapest frying pan, it may not last as long and force you to buy a replacement sooner. Driving faster than the speed limit on a highway increases the chances of you being stopped by the police, receiving a speeding ticket from them. A person who breaks into a house with the intentions of robbing it may startle the owner who accidentally shoots them with a pistol. It is true for every action there is an equal reaction and in this excellent dramatic thriller this is what happened to homeowners Ann and Richard Dane, played by Vinessa Shaw (The Hills Have Eyes, 3:10 to Yuma) and Michael C. Hall (Kill Your Darlings, Dexter-TV), when a man broke into their house. A few days later the dead robber’s father Russel, played by Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff, Mud), happened to show up in town. Richard was sure he knew exactly what Russel was looking for and would do whatever was needed to protect his family. This Sundance Film Festival nominated movie had a great film noir vibe to it. The scenes had a sparse, atmospheric quality that only heightened the tension in the story. Michael C. Hall and Sam Shepard were outstanding in their roles. As for Don Johnson (Machete, Nash Bridges-TV) who played Russel’s friend Jim Bob, I thought this was one of his best roles on film in a long time. Set in Texas during the late 1980s, the sets were a perfect accompaniment to the overall process of telling a story. Now let me say a couple of things about the story. I felt I was watching one of those old time films that was free of any special effects, had a no nonsense way of conveying emotions and just let the actors take the script to create a truly believable performance. Add in some unexpected twists in the story and the movie studio had a complete exciting, tense movie thriller on their hands. There were several scenes where violence and blood were shown.

 

3 1/3 stars

Flash Movie Review: Terri

I never understood why adolescence needed to be a long process. It was such an awkward time as things started to change on me. I would hear my voice and wonder who was talking for me; the cracking noises coming out of my mouth sounded like a venetian blind covering an open window on a windy day. Due to an army of acne that started to invade my skin, setting up campsites on my face, I went to a dermatologist who told me to stop eating chocolate. I remember asking him why I now had to be miserable besides being upset over these stupid pimples. Then there were the names kids would call me. Besides making comments on my face; my hair that was already wavy took on a new persona and looked like the twisting thorny vines that tried to prevent the prince from saving Sleeping Beauty, became a new source for nasty remarks. I just wanted to go to sleep and wake up the following day being fully grown as an adult. As you may guess, I easily sympathized with the main teenager in this Sundance Film Festival nominated movie. Jacob Wysocki (Pitch Perfect) played 15 year old teenager Terri. Not knowing what happened to his parents, Terri was living with his uncle James, played by Creed Bratton (Mask, The Ghastly Love of Johnny X), who was beginning to show signs of dementia. After meeting with Principal Fitzgerald, played by John C. Reilly (The Aviator, Carnage), weekly meetings were set up so pajama clad Terri and Mr. Fitzgerald could check in with each other to see how the week was going. The strongest part of this comedic drama was the scenes that involved Terri and the principal. I thought Jacob and John did the best with their characters. The classroom scenes had enough teenage angst going on that I would think a majority of people could easily relate to them. This film was listed as a comedy and drama but I hardly found anything that I would consider funny; maybe humorous with touching moments. Possibly this had to do with me remembering what my high school years were like, but I could not get into portions of this movie. I felt the character of Terri’s uncle was never fully developed into the story. In a way I felt this film was in its adolescent phase, not fully grown into a complete picture.

2 1/3 stars — DVD 

Flash Movie Review: Afternoon Delight

It is so much easier to help people fix or solve their issues than one’s own. I fall into that category of people who do not like change for myself. It is simple for me to stick with a known routine instead of trying to alter it, even if I find it taxing. You never know what the unknown has to offer. Regarding someone else, I can easily dole out the advice that I believe can help them. Isn’t that like being a doctor because I have heard they make the worst patients? Having a streak of doom and gloom inside of me, I at least am aware how easy it is for me to remain in a rut. This is why it was so easy for me to understand where the main character was coming from in this dramatic comedy. Kathryn Hahn (Step Brothers, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) played frustrated stay-at-home mom Rachel. Tired of the monotony in her life with her husband Jeff, played by Josh Radnor (Liberal Arts, How I Met Your Mother-TV); Rachel decided to take in exotic dancer McKenna, played by Juno Temple (Killer Joe, Atonement), to become their son’s nanny. There was an interesting switch of sweetness and sourness among the scenes in this Sundance Film Festival winning film. It took little effort to go from a humorous situation right into a poignant predicament. Part of the reason for that was due to the excellent directing. Kathryn had perfect comedic timing as she delivered some smart fun lines. I thought her interaction with Juno was in flawless balance; each of them was able to play off the other’s energy. Jane Lynch (Role Models, Glee-TV) played a great character as Rachel’s therapist Lenore. The script provided a twisted, keen take on suburban living; allowing secondary characters to have a bit of time in the spotlight. There were a few scenes that were uneven, but they did not last long. I do not know if I really believed the ending to this film but that may be due to my own way of looking at things. Each of us handles our issues in our own way. I find it fascinating how we react to them so differently.

 

2 1/2 stars

Flash Movie Review: In a World

I was stunned the first time I heard my recorded voice; it did not sound anything like me. One of my friends received a tape recorder when we were in 7th grade. Sitting in his room we played around with the device, recording a variety of sounds we made with anything we could get our hands on. After listening to the different noises we created, we recorded each other talking. I could not understand why his voice sounded the same yet mine sounded like it came from a different human being. It was not until college that I finally got comfortable listening to my own voice. With all the discussion groups I had to attend in conjunction with my class lectures, I learned to slow my speech down and enunciate each word. Even with these changes I never found my voice to be anything special; nothing like the announcers’ voices on television or in movies. Though a good voice is needed for promotions or reporting the news, I bet many of us do not give a second thought to the person who is speaking. It is for that very reason I found this quirky comedy worked on so many levels. The idea to do a film about the never seen players in the voice-over world was something different and fresh. All the credit had to go to Lake Bell (Black Rock, No Strings Attached).  She wrote, directed and starred as Carol in this Sundance Film Festival winning movie. Making a meager living as a vocal coach, Carol wanted to break into the tightly knit good old boys club of voice-over announcers. Her challenge would not be easy since her father Sam, played by Fred Melamed (The Dictator, A Serious Man), was one of the top voices in the country. Though the story started out slow for me, I found myself being drawn into Carol’s world. The script was filled with satirical humor, drama and romance; similar to many other movies that were done before. However, it felt new and real due to Lake’s skewed observations on relationships. Michaela Watkins (Wanderlust, The Back-Up Plan) and Rob Corddry (Warm Bodies, What Happens in Vegas) as Carol’s sister Dani and her husband Moe were wonderful. I enjoyed how each story line was treated with respect. This being Lake’s debut as a writer and director of a film, she certainly made a point to make herself be heard; I for one was listening.

 

3 1/4 stars

Flash Movie Review: Blackfish

His sobbing was only disturbed by his deep intakes of air as sadness dripped off of him. I felt helpless as I stood nearby. Quietly entering into my field of vision was his pet dog, slowly walking towards him sprawled across the bed. The dog stopped to look at me, as if to tell me he would take care of it, before jumping up onto the bed. Carefully stepping across the thickly quilted bedspread, the pet came up to my friend and settled alongside him. Then the most startling thing happened next. The dog stretched his front right paw out onto my friend’s shoulder. It looked like the dog was comforting him, staying right by his side; I began to tear up. I was witnessing this dog’s empathy towards his master. One could see how easy it would be to place human emotions on animals. Unfortunately this documentary showed what the consequences could be by doing such a thing. After seeing the film The Cove which was about the capturing of dolphins, my feelings toward animal attractions changed. Seeing animals doing tricks for human entertainment now upsets me. I am not referring to one’s pet but to big corporations that take intelligent creatures and exploit them for profit. February 24, 2010 was when the news broke that senior trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by an orca killer whale at SeaWorld of Orlando, Florida. The whale was named Tilikum and he was the main focus of this upsetting movie. As a reviewer it was hard for me to write this piece. I wanted to do two; one review based on the emotional reactions to the film and the other towards the technical aspects used in making it. The way the director interviewed former trainers while old film clips were used to show their performances in front of thousands of spectators made for some powerful movie moments. It was heartbreaking to have fishermen explain the footage that showed baby whales being captured in the open seas, only to be subjected to cruel training methods. This Sundance Film Festival nominated film had its moments where I felt I was sitting in a classroom lecture; however, the scenes and the emotions came across as real for me. Before you decide to book you vacation to an amusement park with animal attractions, I suggest you watch this movie. It has changed me forever.

 

3 1/2 stars

“American Masters” Troubadours: The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter

If one is fortunate enough they can spend years on an intimate journey with one of their favorite musical artists. The path, lined with stepping stones of shared memories, sings of the joyful times as well as the moments of grief. I have been lucky to have witnessed the “birth” of a few musical stars. Spotting them first as a warm-up act or in a small nightclub, there was something about their voice and the songs they sang that resonated inside of me. As I followed their careers they would have songs that reminded me of particular times in my life. We shared many a night as I played certain songs over and over, depending on my mood. The history I share with my favorite artists made watching this musical documentary extra special. It was between the late 1960’s to early 1970’s when musicians who were singer/songwriters came to prominence. Doug Weston ran a Los Angeles nightclub called the Troubadour, where he would show new talent. He certainly had an ear for music since early performers at the club were Joni Mitchell, Jackson Brown, David Crosby, Steve Martin and Elton John, to name a few. The main engine driving this film’s story was following the special bond between Carole King and James Taylor through their long musical careers. It was awesome to see early film clips of them performing, besides the other clips of various artists. The variety of people interviewed for this project helped to provide a larger perspective for the events discussed. Looking at this from a historical perspective, this documentary provided more of a light overview than an in depth look into the creation of the singer/songwriter genre. However, it did not take away any of my enjoyment in watching this Sundance Film Festival selection. Granted I am a huge music lover, but I think anyone would enjoy seeing or should I say hearing this fun retrospective.

 

3 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: Dirty Wars

There was a time when newscasts were the place to get the news of the day. They were hosted by trusted individuals, who felt like family for some of us. Out of this group the most popular ones were Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite. When they retired a new breed came to the forefront, with names like Rather, Jennings and Brokaw. For me they were the last keepers of an era where news was meant to inform, not garner ratings. I will say I have the utmost admiration for today’s news reporters who risk their reputation, career or possibly life to get to the heart of a story. In this Sundance Film Festival winning documentary Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation magazine and author of the bestseller book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army; traveled to Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia to put the pieces together of a covert operation that led to collateral damage. In the movie there was a film clip of a television show where talk show host Jay Leno asked Jeremy why he was still alive and I felt the same way. It was nerve wracking to see Jeremy go into some of the most troubling hot spots in the world. Watching his reporting process was fascinating; he looked like a jigsaw puzzle master as he tried fitting together snippets of news. Some scenes did seem as if they were used for a dramatic effect, but the pacing remained consistent. There were some interviews Jeremy conducted that were unbelievable to me, regarding his ability to sit down and talk to those individuals. Considering the topic I felt there could have been more suspenseful and engaging scenes. If for no other reason, I have to give Jeremy credit for his courage in traveling to such places. Compared to him it is almost silly that I am afraid to go into some parts of my own city. There were several graphic scenes with blood.

 

2 1/2 stars

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