WHEN I WAS A SMALL BOY, I was obsessed with pencil sharpeners. Though my obsession lasted a couple of years, I acquired a large collection of them within that time frame. I had several pencil sharpeners that were in the shape of airplanes and rocket ships; another group of them was made up of different animals. I would rotate bringing different sharpeners to school with me; as you might expect, I never had a dull pencil at my desk. There was a game I used to play with myself when sharpening a pencil. I would try to turn the pencil continuously to see if I could get one long shaving off of it. Yes, I was an intense child at times. One of my favorite pencil sharpeners was a flying saucer, the top half white and the bottom gray. The pencil hole was right in the center on the top, which allowed the pencil shavings to spin around the interior circumference of the round saucer. There was always a good chance I could get a long shaving with this pencil sharpener. At home, I would keep this sharpener in a desk drawer and whenever I needed it, I would take it out and hold it high in the air, pretending it was flying. AS I GREW UP MY OBSESSION faded away and the pencil sharpeners were relegated to an old shoebox that resided up on a shelf in a closet. Through the years, I had other things that became my new obsession. In one of my recent reviews I talked about my thing for wristwatches; so, you see I have been visited by obsessions through my whole life. Whenever I have had conversations and talked about an obsession, I always say I prefer shaking hands with the obsession instead of trying to wrestle it. The thing I am grateful for (if there is something to be grateful about) is my obsessions never involved other people. They were always things that only had an affect on me, whether it was pencil sharpeners, wristwatches or dance music CDs. I had a friend who became obsessed with someone she met online. This altered her daily life to the point it put a strain on her friendships. She would cancel dates with friends so she could drive to finally meet this individual at a central location, only to receive a last minute text that he was called into work or some other excuse like that. Yet she would do the same thing over and over to the point some of her friends refused to make plans with her. I could see their point, but I tried to stay neutral; her obsession was preventing her from coming to terms with the reality of her situation. I could say the same thing about the main character in this dramatic movie. WRITER AND CRITIC MORTON VINT, PLAYED by Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The 12th Man, The Tudors-TV), wanted to know everything he could about the famous poet Jeffrey Aspern, played by Jon Kortajarena (The Cliff, A Single Man). He would even pretend to be someone else if it meant getting more information about his favorite poet. With Vanessa Redgrave (Letters to Juliet, Howards End) as Juliana Bordereau, Joely Richardson (Event Horizon, Maggie) as Miss Tina and Lois Robbins (Girls Nite Out, One Life to Live-TV) as Mrs. Prest; the only reason to see this film would be to watch Vanessa and Joely working together. They were wonderful to watch as they powered their way through the weak script. I thought Jonathan’s character was not believable; he came across so odd to me that I found him uninteresting. The scenery and sets were pleasing but due to the direction and script I felt many opportunities were lost to add drama and back-story. It was sad to see Vanessa and Joely being wasted in this misfired picture. I only wished the writers would have been obsessed with telling a good story as much as Morton was obsessed with the poet Jeffrey Aspern.
1 ½ stars
For some people the loud sirens entice them like the same named creatures from Greek mythology. Drivers slow down in anticipation of witnessing a car crash. I honestly do not know what attracts them; is it the contorted metal of the vehicles, the sight of injured bodies sobbing in pain or maybe the splattering of blood at the scene reminds them of the crime show they follow on television. Whether it is on the road or a city sidewalk, I find it upsetting to see individuals gawking and milling about at an accident. And to those bystanders straining to snap pictures, they disgust me. Not often enough but I have witnessed a ray of shining light in the middle of an accident and it is that individual who is not thinking about themselves. They run up to see if there is anything they can do to help; wow, what a concept. I remember when I was assigned to drive the visiting owner of a health and fitness company from her hotel to our fitness convention. On our way we came upon a car accident that had just happened. As I pulled over to the side of the road, she jumped out and ran to a man who was sitting in the middle of the road, leaning on his van with the crumpled front end. It was obvious to us he was in shock. I called 911 while she gently wrapped her jacket around him. Once we continued on our way she asked me not to mention the accident to anyone. I remember thinking at the time she was a wonderful example of selflessness. HIND Husseini, played by Hiam Abbass (The Visitor, Munich), quickly realized there was no place to protect the poor orphaned children who were victims of the Middle Eastern conflict. She did not care about their background; she only wanted to protect and teach them so they could continue to have a life. Unfortunately when divisions form sides become drawn. Directed by Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly), this film festival winning drama had an interesting story to tell. Based on the book by Rula Jebreal, the acting had a true emotional ring to it. Besides Hiam the cast included Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Trishna) as Miral, Willem Dafoe (Out of the Furnace, John Wick) as Eddie and Vanessa Redgrave (Howards End, Deep Impact) as Bertha Spafford. Sadly the script tried to do too much with the story lines. I felt the characters never had a chance to develop; remaining in predictable situations. Granted this did not stop me from watching this DVD; however, for a timely story that could easily be in the news today, I wished there had been more substance.
2 1/3 stars — DVD
During tragic times there are some people who ask themselves what they can do to help. One of the most selfless groups of people I have ever witnessed are those individuals who do hospice care. To me they are a rare breed of humans who give of themselves without expecting something in return. I have a saying I use that goes, “For every plus in life there is a minus.” What I mean by this is the world is made up of people, things or events that can be either a plus or minus, positive or negative, or you can even say good or bad. Here is an example: my car’s windshield got chipped from debris on the highway. The following day my company handed out holiday cash bonuses and the amount covered my deductible. The negative act was cancelled out by the positive act. With that being said it saddens me to say with all the positive folk we have in the world, it appears we have almost as large a group of negative ones. They can prey on others; not only during tragic events but even on those individuals who may be less fortunate. The “criminals” in this crime drama inspired by a true story were utterly despicable. I will tell you it was hard watching this film festival winning movie. Rachel Weisz (The Mummy franchise, The Deep Blue Sea) played American police officer Kathryn Bolkovac, who took a position as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia. Working on an investigation she discovered young women were being trafficked for the pleasure of men. Though she would encounter obstacles, Kathryn was determined to have her voice be heard for these victims. This certainly was Rachel’s film and she owned it, making an amazing character come to life. She was backed up by some real star power with Vanessa Redgrave (Unfinished Song, Blow-Up) as Madeleine Rees and David Strathairn (Lincoln, L.A. Confidential) as Peter Ward. As I watched the story unfold I really was outraged witnessing the scenes that were filled with such desperation. I was aware the director and writers probably took liberties with the story, focusing more on the cruelty; but it still bothered me. Though there was drama, personally I wanted more back story to the main characters. With this being such a vehicle for Rachel, some of the supporting cast was lost in the frame. At the end of the picture I had to stay seated and thought about the negative people in the story. I just wondered what kind of childhood did these people have to carry out the things they did in this gripping film.
3 stars — DVD
If you really want to learn something about the area you are in then talk to a local person. I discovered many hidden treasures this way when I traveled to new places. This is one of the reasons why I use public transportation when visiting a new city. With advice from local residents, I was able to experience the best pecan pie in Charleston, South Carolina and a wonderful BBQ meal in Dallas, Texas. In case you were wondering if I am only concerned about food when I travel, I do ask local residents about places that a guide book may not cover. One of my best trips took place in Minneapolis, Minnesota simply because of a woman who was standing next to me at a bus stop. She gave me some wonderful tidbits about local spots. When a story is being told by the person who lived through it, it allows us to relate to it on a personal level. This was a wonderful device that was used impressively in this dramatic film, inspired by a true story. Forest Whitaker (Phone Booth, Repo Men) played Cecil Gaines, a White House butler who served through eight different presidents’ terms of office. The viewer was a witness to numerous historical events, told through Cecil’s eyes. Aware the script took creative license with facts; this review is based on the movie’s entertainment value. Forest was outstanding as the stoic, quiet butler who took to heart the advice given to him on his first day of employment: The White House was not a place for politics. Oprah Winfrey (The Color Purple, Beloved) as Cecil’s wife Gloria, showed us she can be known as an actress who has a talk show. I was impressed with David Oyelowo (The King of Scotland, Lincoln) as Cecil’s increasingly militant son, Louis. The actors used to play the various presidents came across more like a stunt to me; the only convincing one was John Cusack (Martian Child, High Fidelity) as Richard Nixon. For their brief scenes I felt Vanessa Redgrave (Howard’s End, Blow-Up) as Annabeth Westfall and Jane Fonda (Nine to Five, Coming Home) as Nancy Reagan were the only ones who stood out. I thought the story’s flow was well done, despite several scenes being too syrupy for me. Strictly speaking on the entertainment factor, this movie provided a glimpse into historical events, using both drama and humor to tell the story. And what a story it told; my interest never waned. There were a couple of scenes where blood was shown.
3 1/4 stars
There are times when it is better to be the patient than the doctor. When you see the one you love in discomfort or pain from an illness, it can break one’s heart. I was in a long term relationship where at one point they were sick for 2 consecutive months. The doctors could not find the cause of the sickness; my heart would crack a little further each time I looked into their eyes. Gratefully, things turned out fine; but I know how hard it could have been if it was something that turned fatal. Everyone handles sickness and death differently. The beauty of this touching film festival winner was watching Vanessa Redgrave (Letters to Juliet, Coriolanus) and Terrence Stamp (Wanted, Yes Man) play long time married couple Marion and Arthur Harris. In a previous review I talked about the attraction of opposites. This couple perfectly showed how two strikingly different individuals built a loving and supportive life together. Marian was the bubbly, outgoing joyful one; while Arthur was the dark, brooding sourpuss. The story showed how two people handled the intrusion of illness into their lives. Though there were no surprises with the story; the acting from Vanessa and Terrence was something to behold. More drama than comedy, I was surprised with the turn of events in this musical movie. Regarding Gemma Arterton (Hansel & Gretal: Witch Hunters, Quantum of Solace), this was a different type of role for her as she played choir director Elizabeth. I actually found her character to be undeveloped; there was not enough information to understand what motivated her. A puzzling side note has to do with the audience sitting around me. I was the youngest person in the theater; the majority of patrons were senior citizens, several being assisted by walkers. I have no explanation for it. The story may not have been special, but watching Marion and Arthur brought tears to my eyes. To have someone special in your life is truly a gift; I just wish it could last forever.
2 3/4 stars
It could happen at a business meeting, a party, or even at the grocery store; when you see an older version of someone you were in love with years ago. For me it happened at a holiday party. I had seen them across the room. It was obvious they were a happy couple, but I could still remember each happy event when it was me standing there and not him. I do not have the answers on the how and why it did not work out; the timing was not right, I was not mature enough, they easily could be one of many reasons why it did not last. But I wonder, if we had the opportunity to see a past love, how many of us would want to seek them out? Claire, played by Vanessa Redgrave (Anonymous, Coriolanus), was fortunate to have such an opportunity in this romantic comedy. Amanda Seyfried (Les Miserables, Mamma Mia!) and Gael Garcia Bernal (No, Bad Education) played engaged couple Sophie and Victor. On a pre-honeymoon trip to Verona Italy, Sophie stumbled upon a group of women known as the “Secretaries of Juliet.” They were entrusted with the job of answering letters left by lovelorn individuals seeking advice from Juliet Capulet aka Romeo and Juliet. Asked to join them, Sophie answered a recently found letter that Claire had written back in 1957. When Claire showed up with her grandson Charlie, played by Christopher Egan (Eragon, Resident Evil: Extinction); Sophie joined them on their search to find the love of Claire’s life from decades ago. Though there were no surprises in this movie, it was beautiful seeing the countryside of Italy. There was nothing offensive or rude in this film nor did it have any foul language. Vanessa’s acting never goes bad; however, it showed the other actors were not as convincing as she was with her character. Overall there was nothing great or bad about the movie, perfectly suited for viewing on a lazy day. I will say if I had the opportunity to meet a past love, even if the relationship had ended badly, I would absolutely go if it meant going to Italy.
2 1/4 stars — DVD
It has been said that outside of divorce, moving is the most stressful thing in one’s life. I remember gaining 15 pounds on my last move. Having lived in the same area my whole life, I cannot imagine how much more anxiety ridden it would be, to move out of state. There was a time when I was planning to move out of state; the saving grace being it was my choice, for a happy reason. It has to be awful when one is being forced out of their home. And what must it be like if you had to leave the country of your birth? Set in Shanghai, China during the 1930’s; Russian Countess Sofia Belinskya, played by Natasha Richardson (The Parent Trap, Maid in Manhattan), was the sole income earner for her displaced family. She worked at a bar, entertaining the male clientele. One day she noticed Todd Jackson, played by Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter franchise, The Reader), a blind American ex-diplomat. When Countess Sofia noticed two men plotting to jump Mr. Jackson outside of the club; she interceded, guiding him to safety. From this chance meeting, the two sad individuals formed a working relationship. The countess would be the centerpiece to Mr. Jackson’s new business venture, a nightclub called The White Countess. This beautiful period piece was good because of the acting. It is sad that we do not have Natasha in our lives anymore; for she was wonderful as the melancholy woman of royalty, reduced to degradation and worry, as Japanese forces began exerting their presence in the city. Ralph Fiennes did an outstanding acting job with his role. However, I found it disappointing that Natasha’s mother and aunt, Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave were underutilized. The story dragged in parts, in need of some tightening up. If you are not familiar with Natasha Richardson’s work, you would be well served by seeing her in this movie.
2 3/4 stars — DVD
The words spoken came from the 1600’s, but the story was timeless. For Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter franchise, The Reader) not only did he portray Caius Martius Coriolanus in this dramatic film; he was also the director. For a first effort Ralph did a beautiful job directing; having a good eye for lining up each scene for maximum visual effect and pacing. Set in modern Rome, Coriolanus was a war hero who protected the city from the forces led by Tullus Aufidus, played by Gerald Butler (P.S. I Love You, The Bounty Hunter). With battle scars from the bloody fighting, the world of politics became Coriolanus’ next battleground. There was enough backstabbing, forged alliances and manipulation that one could easily make comparisons to present governmental systems. As the political tide turned against Coriolanus, he joined forces with his archenemy to overthrow the country. Vanessa Redgrave (Anonymous, Atonement) who played Coriolanus’ mother Volumnia was outstanding as the matriarch of the family. I had a hard time listening to Shakespeare’s words being spoken in a modern setting. My brother found it easier to turn the subtitles on the DVD. There were bloody violent scenes in this dynamic version of a classic story.
3 stars — DVD
To be or not to be Shakespeare’s own words, that is the question in this political thriller. It was an interesting premise that completed the story line trio with the Essex rebellion and the succession of Queen Elizabeth I, played by Vanessa Redgrave (The Whistle Blower, Letter to Juliet). The idea that the Earl of Oxford, played by Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill, Hannibal Rising), was the real author of the famous works we know today, was a curious concept. In a brilliant casting move, Vanessa’s own daughter, Joely Richardson (The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo, Event Horizon) was given the role of playing the queen at a younger age. I had a hard time following the story as it jumped back and forth through time. It took me some time to figure out who was the younger version of the older character. Once I did figure it out, the movie was fun to watch with its steady pace and great look. The action was worthy of a daytime soap opera. By the time you are done watching this movie, I cannot say parting will be such sweet sorrow. Maybe a slightly confused piece of entertainment.
2 2/3 stars — DVD