GROWING UP, I HAD A FRIEND who was embarrassed of her father. Without knowing his age, all of us felt he was the oldest out of any of our dads. Not that it was a big deal to any of us, but to her she felt uncomfortable by it. He did not participate in any of the school functions that involved any physical activity. I do not think that was an issue for my friend because I knew what bothered her the most about her dad; he spoke with a heavy accent. Being the oldest of his siblings, he tried taking care of them in their war-torn country after their parents were killed. Some of the siblings did not make it out when he was planning for all of them to immigrate to the United States. Out of all the fathers I knew, he was the only one with an accent. It did not bother me at all; I thought he was a sweet, quiet man who despite the circumstances dealt to him and his family, he did a wonderful job of providing for his children. They owned the apartment building they lived in, and the dad had other real estate holdings, so there was some sense of security for all of them. I can say as we all grew older my friend learned more about her family history, which instilled in her a strong sense of pride for her father. SHE WAS NOT THE ONLY FRIEND I had who was embarrassed of their parents. There was the friend whose mother enjoyed participating in school functions. However, she would always come dressed inappropriately. Added to that was her over the top, loud personality. Many of the other parents tried to avoid her. Either she was oblivious or just did not care, because she never wavered in her choices of clothes and level of outrageous loud bantering. My friend would try to steer us in a different direction to avoid her mother anytime she showed up at our school. I remember one time at a school carnival, I spotted her manning the ball toss booth. From my spot away from her, I could see what she was wearing had to be upsetting some school officials. And sure enough, as I was walking towards her to say hello, our principal walked up to her and said she would have to cover herself up. I do not know if she expected it or not, but she bent over and took a sweater out of her bag. The principal told her to keep it buttoned up or she would have to leave the school. I never mentioned this to my friend. I am sure many of us at one time or another found something our parents were doing that was embarrassing; however, I do not think it was on the scope of what the young boy was experiencing in this dramatic, horror mystery. WHEN MIDDLE SCHOOL TEACHER JULIA MEADOWS, played by Keri Russell (Dark Skies, Free State of Jones), notices one of her students withdrawing more and more from the classroom lessons, she takes it upon herself to find out what is going on. However, she does not understand there is a reason why her student doesn’t want her to get involved. With Jesse Plemons (The Power of the Dog, The Irishman) as Paul Meadows, relative newcomer Jeremy T. Thomas as Lucas Weaver, Graham Greene (Wind River, Dances with Wolves) as Warren Stokes and Scott Haze (Venom, Child of God) as Frank Weaver; I found this film played out more like a suspense story than horror. However, there were a few gory scenes with blood. There is something about Keri that I always find believable, and in this story, she was quite good. Add in Jesse and I did not mind the slower pace because the 2 actors were excellent together. The buildup of tense suspense was well done, and I feel it helped as two story lines were vying back and forth. Compared to other movies in this genre, this one is not the greatest; but it still entertained me. There was nothing here that the writers and director would find embarrassing.
2 ½ stars
IT WAS A MONTH AFTER HER death when we came together for a memorial service of her life. She chose to be cremated; so next to a poster sized photograph of herself, sat a simple carved urn filled with her ashes. I had only met her once; she was my friend’s mother. The memorial service was being performed in a chapel that barely held all of us attendees. I knew very few people so when I arrived I immediately went to sit down after paying my respects to my friend. Being a people watcher, I watched as the guests eventually walked in to take a seat. They came from all walks of life, I must say. Some stood out by the outfits they were dressed in. I cannot say they were inappropriate; let me just say I would never have associated their clothing choices with a memorial service. With that being said, the service was touching as various individuals stood up to give eulogies and share funny stories about the deceased. It was fascinating to see the different facial expressions people had on their faces; if you did not know why everyone was gathered, you couldn’t figure out if it was a sad or happy occasion. AFTER THE SERVICE I ACCOMPANIED my friend back to her mother’s house. She wanted me to help move and store some of her mother’s items and furniture. As we drove up to the house the first thing that struck me was that it looked like it was hand made. The house was tiny and a bit rundown. It needed a paint job and the front stairs sagged in the middle, giving off an eerie sneering appearance. When we entered the house, I was immediately struck by the assortment of either items or devices that were placed in every room. In the living room was a wooden staff leaning up against the wall, that was carved entirely with elephants stacked on each other. On the wall was a framed mirror that caught my eye. The entire frame consisted of tiny human faces that were either carved into the wood or glued on top; it was an odd piece to me. I must tell you I found the whole place somewhat weird. There was a variety of different items; whether they were relics or newer I could not tell. All I know is I was glad when we finally finished and could get out of the place; though after seeing this dramatic mystery horror film, I would rather live in my friend’s mother’s house than join this family in theirs. AFTER HER MOTHER HAD DIED estranged daughter Annie, played by Toni Collette (Please Stand By, Little Miss Sunshine), and her family started to experience odd feelings and occurrences in and outside of their home, as if Grandma never left. With newcomer Miley Shapiro as Charlie, Alex Wolfe (Patriots Day, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) as Peter, Gabriel Byrne (Miller’s Crossing, Endless Night) as Steve and Ann Dowd (Compliance, The Manchurian Candidate) as Joan; I found this suspenseful story creepy and twisted. That was a compliment because I was easily drawn into the film by Toni’s unbelievable acting, along with the rest of the cast and the non-typical script. There were some surprises in the way the story turned and I thought the filming and directing worked in synch to create this foreboding atmosphere. Some of you know I am not a big fan of horror films that have lots of blood and violence; this picture did have a couple of scenes with blood but the majority of it was more of the suspense genre, which I enjoy more. It is funny how you think you know someone then find out later something completely different about them.
A TINY POOL of liquid was growing larger in the bowl of guacamole the longer the night went on. The offer of food and drink had ended a long time ago as one host sat and watched the secondhand tick around the clock dial. The other host was keeping busy by tidying up around the room, washing glasses and plates from time to time when hopefully her absence would not be detected. After dinner and dessert the small group of people played a couple of games before settling into their spots to chill out and talk among themselves. As the evening wound down the guests started to leave until there were only 2-3 guests left. These remaining guests had a reputation for always being the last ones to leave a party. Somehow they did not or chose not to pick up the telltale signs hosts would enact to signal they were tired and wanted the party to end. MAYBE I MENTIONED this in an earlier post but all the clocks in my house show different times. How it started was when I pushed the time on my alarm clock ahead in the hope of never being late for work. From there it expanded to the rest of the clocks because I discovered many people do not pay attention to the actual time. From the parties I have thrown there were times where I was dead tired by the end of the evening. By having the clocks set ahead I could make a comment about how late the evening had gone; guests would look at the clock and be surprised by how fast time had passed by. Now before you say anything I do want to tell you that after I found my voice I no longer needed to depend on my false clock times to get late night guests out of the house; now I just tell them it is late and I am tired. It is a shame I could not have invited the homeowners in this dramatic, mystery horror film to one of my parties so they could take a lesson. WHEN THE UNEXPECTED man, played by Ed Harris (A Beautiful Mind, The Rock) was invited in by the homeowners, played by Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games franchise, American Hustle) and Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men, The Sea Inside), they had no idea how their lives would change. This film festival nominated movie written and directed by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Fountain), also starred Michelle Pfeiffer (Batman Begins, Dark Shadows) as the wife to Ed Harris’ character. The first part of the story was suspenseful and I immediately enjoyed everyone’s acting. However as the script continued this film got weirder and weirder. I became irritated with all the close up shots Darren was doing of Jennifer. The thing about this movie was I appreciated what I felt was the allegories the writer was trying to show. However as the story descended into a pseudo horror film I could not wait for the picture to be over. Because of the stark shift from suspense to horror I experienced a stronger negative reaction. Despite the acting from a cast I admired, I could not find justification for the amount of time I wasted watching this movie.
1 1/2 stars
YOU can plan, contemplate and imagine every scenario but it will not make a difference. The first time you meet the parents of your significant other is a stressful experience. One wants to be at their best; perfectly dressed and groomed, remembering any stories you heard about them; in a way it is not so far removed from a job interview in my opinion. As to location I guess there are pluses and minuses to meeting the parents, either on your home turf or their surroundings. Personally I have experienced both ways and I prefer hosting parents instead of being their guest for the first meeting. At least for me when I do not have to focus on my surroundings I can be more attentive to the parents’ needs. When I have to travel to visit the parents I have to take into account my eating restrictions, my privacy and remembering my place as a guest. This takes a lot of energy to do, at least for me. On the plus side I can decide to leave which I could not do if the parents were visiting us. There is nothing worse than realizing early on you are not connecting with the parents for whatever reason but you still have to remain civil and pretend like everything is okay. They say when you marry the person you love you are also marrying their family. FROM a causal meal together to a weekend away, I have experienced a variety of different ways to break the ice. I honestly cannot recall ever feeling calm about the experience. In one relationship I wound up meeting the parents over the internet when a mobile device was shoved into my hands and I was told to say hello to their parents. Talk about not being prepared, I had to try and calm my nerves while making small talk which was never my forte. So while I am communicating back and forth I sit and wonder if I am sounding like a babbling fool as I try to come up with conversation points; heaven forbid there should me a dreaded moment of silence. However I would rather experience this over and over compared to what the boyfriend in this suspense horror film had thrust upon him. CHRIS Washington, played by Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario, Kick-Ass 2), was already nervous meeting his girlfriend Rose’s, played by Allison Williams (Peter Pan Live-TV, Girls-TV), parents because she did not tell them he was black. Upon arriving at her parents’ estate it turned out Rose’s parents Missy and Dean Armitage, played by Catherine Keener (Captain Phillips, Into the Wild) and Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods, The West Wing-TV), were very interested in him, a little too interested. Written and directed by Jordan Peele (Keanu, Key and Peele-TV), this mystery satire was a big shock for me in a good way. The satire was biting and edgy while Jordan built up the suspense in a creepy intense way. I thought the story was great along with the script. This was the type of movie that takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions; one only has to give in and go with it. Along with the fun visuals and the good acting coming out of Catherine and Bradley, this was a fun and exciting movie watching experience. I have to tell you I would do FaceTime or Skype anytime compared to this meeting of the parents experience.
3 1/3 stars
The reason I enjoy a good suspenseful horror film is to experience the visceral emotions they produce inside of me. It is an adrenaline rush that gives me more energy; I find it comparable to the testing of the security alert system they do periodically on the radio. I feel a good fright from time to time keeps the body tuned up for life’s daily challenges. In the comfort of my theater seat I know what I am watching on screen has no actual bearing on my daily life. What I am seeing is not real to me so I know the feelings I experience during the movie are fleeting. I have been fortunate and hope I never have to personally experience actual horrors in my lifetime. I do not see how I could not mention the horrific tragedy that took place in Orlando, Florida this past weekend. It seems trivial for me to sit here and talk about a horror movie when I know many lives have been affected by the nightclub shootings. I am uncomfortable writing my review today when I know whatever things I mention about this film seem almost ridiculous to the realities of life presently. No matter the event, I am sure each of us has encountered some form of horror. Let us face it, life can be challenging. I thought I was done seeing the ugliness humans can inflict once I settled into middle age. Sadly it is not the case and in my opinion it appears to have increased in size. May love, kindness and acceptance for each other make us strong during this time. Thank you for listening to me; I felt I had to acknowledge the reality before delving into my escape into this picture. STRUGGLING as a single parent raising her children Peggy Hodgson, played by Frances O’Connor (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Bedazzled), did not know what was happening to her daughter Janet, played by Madison Wolfe (The Campaign, Joy). Her daughter’s actions would affect the entire family. This sequel grabbed the viewer immediately thanks to director James Wan (Saw franchise, Furious 7). Multiple scenes were ideally set-up to produce suspenseful results. Another reason why I was drawn into this movie was due to Vera Farmiga (Source Code, Up in the Air) and Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy, Watchmen) as Lorraine and Ed Warren. They really pulled as much as they could from the script which at times got bogged down in a repetitive mode. I felt the story went on too long; they could have cut out a couple of scenes that were just there to show another example for a similar event. From the first film I knew this story was based on a true story, but I had a hard time believing it because of the things I saw in this sequel. Yet when at the end of the film they showed the actual people the actors portrayed, it made for an eerie feeling inside of me. It is not often a sequel is better than the first film but overall this movie provided a good escape from the horrors of reality.
2 ¾ stars
My feet could not completely fit on the stairs; I felt like I was walking on tiptoe as I made my way up the spiral staircases. The echoes from my steps reverberated off the stone walls so it sounded like I was climbing with a crowd of people around me. I had left the outside of the centuries old structure with its marble panels of white, green and red; to slowly make my way up the inside of its dome. The fact that this building was completed in 1436 did not escape me; I could not stop taking photographs of everything that came into my sight. It was almost hard to process that I was making my way through a building that had been standing already for over 500 years; if it was not one of the oldest things I had seen, it had to be pretty close then. My goal was to reach the top and venture outside to look over the city of Florence, Italy. This building is known as the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers aka il Duomo di Firenze and to this day its dome is the largest brick structure in the world. As I finally reached the top and ventured out into the daylight, the sun flashed into my face. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the brightness and when they did, I was horrified to see the walls of the observation balcony had spray painted graffiti all over them. I felt it was incredibly disrespectful and plain old ignorant; why would someone do such a thing? Just watch this horror thriller and see what could happen when someone is disrespectful towards ancient objects. AFTER returning from vacation the Taylor family began to experience odd occurrences around their house. Husband and wife Peter and Bronny, played by Kevin Bacon (Cop Car, Black Mass) and Radha Mitchell (Finding Neverland, Man of Fire); noticed their son Michael’s, played by David Mazouz (The Games Maker, Touch-TV), behavior was being affected. What I liked about this horror film was the use of suspense instead of using graphic and bloody props to scare the audience. It also helped that the characters were placed in a typical setting and reacted in a way that was easily relatable. However, the script did not do anything new or different from the multitude of horror films I had seen before. I did not mind the acting but I felt there could have been more opportunities to increase the tension level or even scare factor if the writing was better. This production came across with a connect the dots story line that incorporated bits and pieces of stuff that had been done before; sort of like the writers were following a recipe where you add a little of this and a little of that, if you know what I mean. Even the briefest of an extra scene at the end of the credits essentially provided nothing for the viewers, so why did the writers add it? They should have left well enough alone in more ways than one.
1 ¾ stars
The first thing I quickly noticed was how tiny the doors were to all of the houses. It was my first trip to the area of Salem, Massachusetts after having just visited a historic area that was recreated to show how pilgrims lived when they settled in America. As I walked around the town of Salem I imagined humans must have been shorter back then based on the size of the doorways. I wondered how they would react to seeing the sizes of us currently. If you have never seen Salem it is a picturesque town, filled with detailed wooden houses and hearty foliage. For such a pretty place I tried envisioning what it must have been like here during the witch hunts. Though we studied the time period in school, I was always curious how the townsfolk described, even defined, someone they felt was a witch. Was it a person who did not have faith, who did not act in the same ways of others or maybe had a different diet? Throughout history there have been incidences where certain groups of people have been persecuted; it could have easily been based on their looks, besides other factors that have already been recorded in history. It must have been terrifying not only for the accused but for the citizens whenever someone was accused of being a witch. Especially at that time when there was less knowledge about the world, just imagine an eclipse or earthquake taking place and everyone panics, looking for a culprit. I know presently there are individuals who say they are witches; for all I know I may have met one or two of them in my life. If I did know for certain then they were nothing like what was found in this suspenseful mystery, horror film. HAVING agreed to leave the town and settle in a remote wooded area William and Katherine, played by Ralph Ineson (Harry Potter franchise, Kingsman: The Secret Service) and Kate Dickie (Prometheus, Red Road), felt they found the perfect place to raise their children. It was soon after settling that one of their children went missing. This film festival winning movie had an interesting stark style to it. Scenes were carefully framed as the story took the viewers along. I was taken in by the suspense, appreciating the way the script did not employ the usual scare tactics or gruesome shots filled with blood and violence. The direction was good though I will tell you the pacing tended to be methodically slow. This allowed time for the sense of dread to weigh heavier on the characters and I have to say the viewers. Set in New England during the 1630s I had a hard time with the speech; it was Old English and softly spoken. At times it sounded to me like a character was mumbling. This was not your usual horror fare; there were no jump out of your seat moments. But there was a style and simple story that worked well together in creating the ideal atmosphere for this type of genre.
At home, it is easier to turn up the music volume than to figure out the unexplained noises. This also works when I am driving my car. I think it is due to my imagination. When I hear an unfamiliar sound, my mind comes up with creative reasons to explain it that may not be based in reality. These days when I am home I either have the television on for background noise or I have music playing throughout the house. Unfortunately the suburban family in this suspenseful movie did not have such an option. Keri Russell (August Rush, Waitress) and Josh Hamilton (J. Edgar, Outsourced) played Lacy and Daniel Barrett, parents to two young boys. When a series of unexplained events began taking place in their home, Lacy and Daniel would eventually have to take extreme measures to protect their family. This scary film caught my attention right from the beginning. I liked the way the director built up the suspense, starting out slow with some creative ways of displaying the unexplained occurrences. As with Keri’s past performances which I have always enjoyed, I found her convincing in this role. What was a letdown for me was her chemistry with Josh. For some reason it seemed slightly restrained; I felt they could have been more dramatic as a couple. The use of J.K. Simmons (Juno, The Words) as Edwin Pollard was a lost opportunity. With his acting skills his role should have been bigger. As the story progressed in the last half of the film, I became disappointed with the way the suspense never increased. Based on the beginning of the movie I thought there would have been at least a couple of jump out of your seat type of scenes–it never happened. This film may not make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, but it was entertaining as a mystery. Two brief scenes with blood.
2 1/2 stars
Every single person born has the capacity to do good or evil inside of them. I came to this conclusion from personal experience, not from a religious belief. There was a family I knew that had two daughters. The oldest girl was the perfect child; a combination of Miss America and a Barbie doll. Her younger sister was the exact opposite; she was unruly and mean. I remember seeing the girls playing with their cousins when the younger sister grabbed an umbrella and purposely poked a cousin in the eye. The girls’ father jumped up to discipline his youngest child. She simply laughed at him. From that moment I always kept a wary eye on that girl, whenever I was around her. How does one explain two girls who grew up in the same environment, but were so completely different? From the bullying I received to the neighbor boy who tried setting his pet on fire, I have seen many evil beings. One of the most lethal types of bad seeds was the little girl in this movie. Rhoda Penmark, played by Patty McCormack (The Master, Frost/Nixon), could be the most perfect child when she wanted to be. After the son of Hortense Daigle, played by Eileen Heckart (Bus Stop, Heartbreak Ridge), was found drowned; suspicions began to surface. Did Rhonda’s parents Christine and Colonel Kenneth Penmark, played by Nancy Kelly (One Night in the Tropics, Jesse James) and William Hopper (Rebel Without a Cause, 20 Million MIles to Earth), harbor a secret about their young daughter? The original cast from the Broadway play reprised their roles for this suspenseful film. Needless to say the acting was outstanding. It was scary the way Patty McCormack would alter her demeanor with a simple look. Some of you may find this black and white film a bit campy; however, it will not take away from the dramatic story. Ironically, when I worked at the same company as my father did many years ago, he used to introduce me as his bad seed son. I now understand why some customers were hesitant to shake hands with me.
3 1/4 stars — DVD
Conjuring up the directional spirit of Alfred Hitchcock, this intelligent suspense movie was beautifully directed by Roman Polanski. Atmospheric scenes added to the thrilling story as Ewan McGregor (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Miss Potter) introduced himself as the Ghost aka the ghost writer. He was hired to complete the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang, played by Pierce Brosnan (Die Another Day, Mamma Mia), when the previous ghost writer died from an accidental drowning. As Ewan’s character delved into Mr. Lang’s past, he discovered something unusual. My attention was totally captured by this exciting film. Without the use of explosions or hi-tech wizardry, this movie steadily built up the anticipation with the aid of a smart script. The characters were all believable to me and with Mr. Polanski’s trained eye for making each frame appear full, I loved the way the tension kept a steady pace throughout the movie. The casting of Pierce in the role of prime minister was bloody brilliant. The only complaint I had about this film was my disappointment in the way it ended. However, it was not traumatic enough for me to have lost my enthusiasm for having been a witness to this gripping movie.
3 1/3 stars — DVD