THE ONLY WAY I COULD TELL the twins apart was one of them was heavyset. They wore their hair the same way and personally, I think they dressed the same at times just to throw their teachers off. The heavier twin was not a nice (I wanted to use a slang word here) person; essentially, he was a bully. His twin brother was the opposite; he always had a smile on his face, and he was friendly to everyone. I had classes with both. It seemed like every other week the mean twin would cause a disruption in the classroom. To complete the picture for you, the nice twin had more friends than his brother. After a couple of years, the heavy twin started to lose weight. It took almost one year for him to get down to the same weight as his brother; now, it was nearly impossible to tell the two brothers apart—at least on the outside. I had wondered if his losing weight would have made the heavier twin a nicer person but that was not the case. He was still ugly on the inside. Not knowing what the motivation was for him to go on a diet, I did not know if he had any expectations about how different his life would be being skinnier. I so badly wanted to tell him a cosmetic change was not enough to really make a change in his life. WHERE THE HEAVIER TWIN ONLY CHANGED his appearance, there was another boy at school who changed on the inside. He and I had gone to the same elementary school. Periodically we would be on the same team in gym class; plus, I would see him after school in the neighborhood from time to time. He was not a troublemaker in class; but if some prank or disruption did take place in the classroom, he would be part of the group of kids who were laughing about it. Outside of that, there was nothing else noteworthy about him; he pretty much just blended in with his surroundings. When we graduated into high school, a big transformation took place within him. He started hanging out with a group of students who were on the fringe. At the time I did not know what the bond was between them. However, it first became clearer to me when he changed his style of dress. It was confirmed when I saw him participate in a fight with a group of minority students; he was a white supremist. I was stunned when I saw him and had to wonder if he always had those feelings inside of him. I had the same question when I started watching this dramatic, crime film based on true events. THOUGH HIS CHOSEN FAMILY RAISED AND NURTURED him to be a top leader of their white supremacist group, his love for a woman was making him question his actions. This film festival winning biography starred Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool) as Bryon Widner, Danielle Macdonald (Patti Cake$, Dumplin’) as Julie Price, Daniel Henshall (Ghost in the Shell, The Snowtown Murders) as Slayer, Bill Camp (12 Years a Slave, Love & Mercy) as Fred “Hammer” Krager and Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, Captive State) as Shareen. This film started out on a high level of disturbing intensity. It was almost to the point of me being uncomfortable as I felt I was sitting in the middle of the action. Jamie Bell was incredible in this role; the best I had ever seen him. My major complaint was the script; I never understood the character’s motivations, the how and why. Despite this flaw, I was kept engaged in the story by the top acting performances and the incredibleness of the story itself. I did have a question near the end of the film; can a leopard really change its spots?
IT WAS A SIMPLE MOTTO THAT I did not need repeated multiple times. It went like this: “Our house, our rules; their house, their rules.” Nothing more needed to be added to it. When I was home there were things I was expected and allowed to do; but, when I went to someone else’s house I had to be respectful and act according to the rules of their place. Even with my young mind back then, it made perfect sense to me. I would never go to someone else’s place and make myself comfortable without following the lead of the hosts. Even today before I walk into a person’s house I ask if they prefer I take my shoes off. I am always amazed at people who walk into someone’s place with their shoes on when they are wet or dirty from the outside. You can see where they stepped on the floor by the residue from their shoes, but they are oblivious to it somehow. I would be mortified to track in dirt from the outside into someone’s house! All I could think about is what that person’s house must look like if they are so unaware as to what they are doing. WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO FOR me is “respect.” If a person is not instilled with the importance of respect, they are susceptible to more of life’s challenges. I know such an individual. When they are over at someone’s house, it doesn’t occur to them to ask if it would be okay to do such and such. They will just go ahead and turn on an electronic device, like a television or stereo. That right there is rude to me, but there is more. Not only will they turn on something, they will fool around with the device’s settings if they feel something is not right; I was told this by the owner of the house. When the owner went to turn on the TV they could not get a station to come up on the screen; their guest at some point during their visit had made changes without informing the owner. Not that I want to step onto a soapbox right now, but right there is what I see wrong with our current times; the lack of respect. I do not expect anyone to accept my way of doing things; however, all I ask is for them to respect it. As I said earlier it all comes down to respect and it is because of that I was annoyed with one of the characters in this horror, mystery thriller. THE ONLY THING THAT WOULD PREVENT Annabelle from inflicting horror on others was to keep her locked up in a glass case that was blessed by a priest, according to husband and wife demon chasers Lorraine and Ed Warren, played by Vera Farming (The Front Runner, Source Code) and Patrick Wilson (The Commuter, Insidious franchise). Never open the case was the only rule; now if only everyone would follow the rules. With McKenna Grace (Gifted; I, Tonya) as Judy Warren, Madison Iseman (Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) as Mary Ellen and Katie Sarife (Abel’s Field, Teen Spirit) as Daniela Rios; this latest installment of the film franchise left me wanting more. I found it less scary than the ones before it. However, I will say I enjoyed McKenna’s performance the most then the other 2 young actors. There were opportunities where I felt the scenes could have been creepier, but they never went beyond a certain level. It almost felt as if the picture and story were put together quickly to cash out, while people are still aware of the Conjuring film series. I did not feel, as a viewer, I was being given much respect by the choices the movie studio made to get this movie out.
BEFORE THE INNOCENT CREATURE COULD SEE the threat, I was silently sitting nearby to watch what was about to happen. The gigantic monster was deftly making its way down the wired girders. Because I could not hear anything, I assumed it was making its way in the quietest of ways. The prey was fidgeting and twirling around trying to escape once the monster came within eye sight. I was fascinated by the operation as it smoothly went like clockwork or at least that is how I perceived it. To the victim I am sure it was terrifying to see its immediate demise, once it got a sense of its predicament. Its wings were batting the air, trying to lift itself off the screen. It was no use; the enormous, dark predator descended over the prey to the point of nearly covering it from my view. I imagined there were screams of writhing pain being emitted but all I heard was silence. In my mind I was picturing the movie I had seen last week where a monster was on the brink of destroying Tokyo, Japan. The final battle pitted the monster with one that could fly in the air. What I was seeing was a re-enactment of that battle done by a fly and a spider on my window screen. AS A KID I WAS WELL VERSED with all the creatures that were trying to destroy our cities. There was Rodan, Mothra, Hedorah and Gigan to name a few. For some reason they each seemed to be attracted to Tokyo; or at least that is what I am remembering now. I never saw any of these creatures at the movie theater. Instead, they would be seen on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, television program. As a kid I was not very impressed with the special effects in the movies, but I also did not care. The monsters were never agile, always seeming to lumber and stumble their way through the scenes. At some point in time, I do not recall all the details, I discovered some of the monsters were actually men dressed up in costume; I was so disappointed at the time. It did not, however, make me stop watching these movies. There was never any deep thought put into the script. Essentially, every one of the monsters was destroying our planet whether it was their intentions or not. Some things still hold true no matter the time. AFTER A PERIOD OF PEACEFULNESS, A disruption brings out a new creature to threaten our world. The only hope is to combat this creature with another one. Could the earth withstand such a battle between these titans? This action, adventure fantasy starred Kyle Chandler (Game Night, First Man) as Mark Russell, Vera Farmiga (Captive State, The Conjuring franchise) as Dr. Emma Russell, Millie Bobby Brown (Strange Things-TV, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland-TV) as Madison Russell, Ken Watanabe (Inception, Transformers: Age of Extinction) as Dr. Ishiro and Bradley Whitford (Get Out, Saving Mr. Banks) as Dr. Rick Stanton. There were 2 glaring issues I had with this picture. Many of the fight scenes were dark in nature was one of them. The other problem was the script. I could not connect at all with this story. The script was so ridiculous and unemotional that I kept wondering if there was something worthwhile to focus on. I found many of the characters’ decisions crazy and unrealistic, especially the arc of Vera’s character. The monsters looked good which was a plus compared to those old-time films, I used to watch on television; but, this movie was not fun. I could not wait for it to be over. If this is what the film studio is going to produce these days, I hope there is a triumphant movie exec who kills the idea.
1 ½ stars
MY FIRST WARNING WAS WHEN HE did not ask me how I was doing. I have noticed over time when I engage with a person and they do not ask any questions back, they pretty much are only interested in talking about themselves. In this case we were sitting next to each other at a lecture. We had seen each other in other classes and workshops, acknowledging each other with a nod of the head or a “hello.” Before the lecture had started I asked how his experiences were so far at the convention. He started talking about the classes he had taken, making a point to tell me what he would have done differently if he was leading it. I was just trying to make small talk and was not looking for a detailed description of his classes. As I listened to him it soon became apparent that everything he was saying was negative; he kept telling me he would have done a better job as the instructor or lecturer. Not once did he ever ask me about my time at the convention. I could not wait for our lecture to start because he talked non-stop; but even when the class started, he made a point to interject his take on what the lecturer was discussing with us. I felt like I was being held captive. THERE IS NOTHING WORSE THAN BEING stuck with someone who is sucking the air out of the room. Whether it is a business or personal function, I cannot tell you how excruciating it can be to be the sole audience member to a person’s soliloquy of their life and experiences. There was a salesman who used to always come around and all the employees would scatter whenever they saw him drive up. Whoever he made eye contact with would then be forced to listen to all his family stories, mentioning relatives as if the stuck employee knew who he was talking about. What made matters worse was the slow way he would draw out his stories, pausing at points just to see the reaction from his audience. I used to tell him I had a meeting scheduled or I was needed on a conference call, just to get away from him. And like I said earlier, he would never ask how you were doing; because it was all about him. The reason I am talking about this is due to today’s science fiction thriller. I felt like I was being forced to sit and listen to everything going on whether it made or not any sense. DESPITE BEING UNDER ALIEN RULE FOR some years, there still was a resistance to the occupation of Earth. One of the problems was the humans who were doing the extraterrestrials’ bidding. With John Goodman (Atomic Blonde, 10 Cloverfield Lane) as William Mulligan, Ashton Sanders (Moonlight, The Equalizer 2) as Gabriel Drummond, Jonathan Majors (White Boy Rick, Hostiles) as Rafe Drummond, Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, The Conjuring franchise) as Jane Doe and Kevin Dunn (Warrior, Veep-TV) as Commissioner Eugene Igoe; this was a dark film that had bold ideas. Filmed in Chicago, the story started out intriguing. There was little information given for the backstory. I sat through most of this movie feeling perplexed and bored, besides wondering why the more seasoned actors agreed to take on such a dismal production. The CGI was nothing special which made the clunky script all the more drab. I did not find anything exciting despite the twists which I assumed were supposed to be thought provoking. If I was the type who ate in the theater I would have gone and gotten some popcorn or candy. Unless you want to be held captive yourself, I suggest you save your money on this one by avoiding it.
1 ½ stars
NO MATTER WHERE ONE PLACES THE “BAR” there is always someone or something to cause it to be raised. Just look at the evolution of television. We started out with the Riccardo’s from I Love Lucy; they were not allowed to sleep in the same bed, despite being married to each other on the show and in real life. The censors would not approve them being filmed in the same bed. From that point in time there were a few television shows that had partial nudity if it was in the context of a documentary or historical event. The show that comes to mind is the mini-series Roots. Things took a bigger change in the 1990s when the TV shows “NYPD Blues” and “Once and Again” had episodes that contained nudity. For some viewers this was a big shock. Let me also add while this evolution was taking place there was another one going on that pertained to language. Scripts started showing up with slang and curse words in the dialog. I can still remember my shock hearing a TV character uttering a curse word; it took me by surprise even though I was a user of the word. Little did any of us know the explosion of nudity and swear words would be amplified upon the arrival of cable television. HONESTLY, I HAVE NOT GIVEN IT A lot of thought, but I wonder if there might be a connection between this viewing evolution, which by the way has led to reality shows, to blurring the lines between personal and professional lives. The reason why I am bringing it up is from my observations on how people focus their attention on other people’s personal lives. Look at some of the reality shows where people are being filmed 24 hours a day or the dating and swapping partner shows; I have no interest in such things. Two things I learned growing up; first, curse words were just adjectives. Derogatory words about race, gender, ethnicity and sexuality were the “bad” words. Secondly, if no one is being hurt, held against their will or abused; I do not care what they do in their private life. This fascination with people’s personal lives is weird to me. With the aggressiveness of photographers and reporters, there evidently is a market to sell intimate stories about celebrities and such. People judging and making decisions essentially about strangers is a waste of time and money, in my opinion. The reason I have been pondering this is due to today’s biographical drama. As I was watching it, it occurred to me that the events in this film were the beginning of people’s obsession with other people’s personal lives. APPEARING TO BE RIDING A WAVE OF popularity Senator Gary Hart, played by Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman, Eddie the Eagle), had his eyes set on the White House. A simple photograph would cause a detour in his campaign. This film festival winning movie also starred Vera Farmiga (Boundaries, The Commuter) as Lee Hart, J.K. Simmons (I’m Not Here, The Bachelors) as Bill Dixon, Mark O’Brien (Arrival, Bad Times at the El Royale) as Billy Shore and Molly Ephraim (Cricket, Last Man Standing-TV) as Irene Kelly. Set in the 1980s, what I found the most curious was the idea that Gary’s election campaign was the beginning of tabloid journalism. In fact, it was this aspect of the script I found the most interesting. I did not think the script otherwise was well written; it seemed as if events were broken down into cause and effect without much time spent on learning about the characters. I think a political junkie would enjoy this picture more than the average moviegoer. Maybe it is due to my disinterest in a person’s personal life, but I did not find this film very exciting, sordid details and all.
IF THERE IS SUCH A survey then I do not know about it. I am curious to see; when asked, how many children want to grow up and be like their parents? Back from my school days I remember reading a book that focused on parents who were toxic. Several of the families that were discussed in the book were shocking to me. There was a set of parents who had two sons. The older son committed suicide using a shotgun. For Christmas the following year, the parents gave their remaining son the same shotgun as a gift. What sort of message do you think that mother and father were trying to convey to their only remaining child? I still remember this example from all these years and have wondered from time to time whatever happened to that younger son. My guess would be he never wanted to grow up and be just like his parents. Now on the other hand, this past week I read that Heinrich Himmler’s daughter died recently. He was the architect of the Holocaust and she became known as the “Nazi Princess.” She denied the existence of the Holocaust, even after visiting a concentration camp. It sounds like she chose to grow up and be like her Dad. ANOTHER ASPECT ABOUT THE CHILD/parent relationship I find fascinating is the similar traits that get established. I am not talking about the physical features; my interest is in the mannerisms, such as speech patterns, movement and quirks. I knew a family that had 2 children. Assuming both kids were treated equally, only the older child had the same mannerisms as the father; the younger one had no similar traits to either parent. This makes me wonder if there is something genetic that scientists have not discovered yet. Of course, I have considered learned traits; but certain things show me that may not always be the case. I have wondered if a child who has the same tastes in food as a parent was trained to be that way or maybe they came to their own decisions based on their own taste buds. Possibly they received the same genes as their parent when it came to their perceptions of flavors. The whole parent/child relationship thing is such a minefield in many ways. It reminds me of this line I heard a psychiatrist say once, “Just because they birthed you does not mean you have to love them.” I certainly thought of this while watching this comedic drama. DUE TO HER FATHER BEING kicked out of his nursing home Laura, played by Vera Farmiga (The Commuter, Up in the Air) was forced to drive cross country to drop him off at her sister’s place. Little did she know there were going to be some unexpected stops. This film festival nominee starred Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World, A Beautiful Mind) as Jack Jaconi, Lewis MacDougall (A Monster Calls, Pan) as Henry, Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future franchise, The Addams Family franchise) as Stanley and Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man, Blue Jasmine) as Leonard. The acting was good overall but Christopher’s was exceptional. I enjoyed the dynamics that were created between him and Vera in this story. There were a few powerful scenes between them. Unfortunately, the script did not provide something new to this estranged family story that I have seen done before. It was not too hard to figure out where the story was going most of the time. Adding in the repetitive scenarios of Laura being upset, I soon found myself getting periodically bored at times. This movie is proof that a family’s dysfunction can be handed down from generation to generation.
2 1/3 stars
WHAT I AM ABOUT TO tell you is not written in any rule books. It is observational, helpful guidelines I have made over the years while riding trains in different cities. There is something about trains that has always attracted me. They are not as fast as planes but sitting back and literally seeing the countryside pass by is a thrill for me. I remember on one vacation a friend had told me to make sure I sat on the left side of the train car for a better view on a scenic train ride through the mountains and they were absolutely right. This train was geared more towards tourists so all the train cars were clean inside and out. On public transportation systems I have sat in seats where the windows were smeared with something I preferred not knowing what it could be; so make a note to yourself, you never want to lean your head against the window even if you should happen to doze off. When you are sitting in a train car where there is an agitated passenger talking nonsense it is best to exit the train car and go to another one. IF YOU ARE CURIOUS to learn about the local cuisine of a new city, I suggest you never sit next to a passenger who is eating. Chances are you will have crumbs or liquids spilled on you; it is best to sit across from the person if you want to ask about the food balanced on their lap. I have walked onto some train cars where there was such a strong stench of stale food that I immediately turned around and found a different car. On one trip I was sitting in my seat trying to listen to the conductor calling out each train stop. After some time I found the conductor to ask him how much longer to the stop I needed. They looked at me with concern as they told me I missed my stop and I better stay with him for the rest of the trip, until he could put me on another train to take me back to where I needed to belong. It was an odd exchange at the time but I soon realized what the conductor was implying as the neighborhood we were traveling through was changing. From what I have told you now, do you want to take a chance by riding on the train in this dramatic, crime drama? BY RIDING THE SAME train to work every day Michael MacCauley, played Liam Neeson (Run All Night, The Grey), was familiar with most of the passengers in his train car. However when the stranger Joanna, played by Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, Orphan), sat next to him she struck up a conversation that would change his life. Along with Liam and Vera the cast included Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring franchise, The Phantom of the Opera) as Alex Murphy, Sam Neill (Tommy’s Honour, The Piano) as Captain Hawthorne and Jonathan Banks (Gremlins, Breaking Bed) as Walt. As this passenger train rolled down the tracks the story and script got loonier and loonier. Liam played the exact same character he has portrayed in most of his recent films. The beginning of the story interested me but soon scenes were becoming farfetched and not making much sense. I did not connect to any of the characters. In a way this film was a cross between Liam’s Taken film franchise with Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. One would have been better off to have taken a different train all together.
1 ¾ 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
The spoken language is not an exact science. Sure there are rules we follow to aid us in communicating with each other; but some choose their words carefully, others say the first thing that pops into their mind. Then there is the inflection, the way we speak our words; some do so with conscious intentions. However, there are times where the intended remarks may come out in a veiled way that leaves them open for interpretation. By using tone, volume and speed to accentuate the words; they can caress a person’s soul like a velvet blanket or prick their heart with the tip of a sharp dagger. Adults seem to be better equipped to decipher what a person is saying to them. Children on the other hand are a whole different matter. They do not have the skills to navigate the convoluted road of language yet. A child proudly handing his parents a report card filled with all A’s and one B for grades thinks something is wrong when he is asked why he received the B and the A’s are ignored. Being told you are not drawing correctly because you are coloring outside the lines can plant the seeds of doubt in the child’s mind that they will never be an artist. WORDS hit their mark with precision accuracy in this dramatic movie. Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man franchise, The Soloist) played high-powered lawyer and estranged son Hank Palmer. Robert Duvall (Secondhand Lion, The Godfather franchise) played Hank’s father, Judge Joseph Palmer. When evidence from a crime pointed towards his father, Hank’s conflicted feelings would spill out as he tried to determine if his father was guilty. To this film’s credit the cast chosen for the story was ideal. Besides both Roberts, having Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade, Armageddon) as lawyer Dwight Dickham and Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket, Law & Order: Criminal Intent-TV) as Hank’s brother Glen Palmer on board helped to sustain the story. I found all the actors were believable with their characters. The issue I had with this picture was the script; it was uneven and stale. I found some scenes were memorable, filled with high drama; but then, the drama would fall down into sections of boredom. It did not help that the film was way too long. The whole story line involving Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring, Up in the Air) as Samantha Powell went nowhere for me; I thought she was wasted here. From the trailer it appeared this drama would be filled with high tension and intense chemistry between the characters. Sadly, the evidence proved otherwise.
2 1/3 stars
I do not know what it is about talking to a casual acquaintance or a stranger that enables people to open up about their feelings. There have been several occasions where a member from my class has divulged information of a more personal or intimate nature. I have heard of hairdressers being a personal confidant to their clients but I have not heard anything about fitness instructors. Possibly it may have to do with knowing there is a finite amount of time available or that I am not a member of the health club, just an instructor. From my own experiences I will say there is something about visiting a new place that for some reason makes me more comfortable talking to strangers. I have no problem sharing my feelings or thoughts to the point where it creates an immediate sense of intimacy. It just seems like the opposite way of doing things; where you would want to create that budding closeness with someone you know or are interested in, not a total stranger. I am sure I can dig inside of myself and talk about feeling less pressure or being unguarded due to the foreign surroundings; however, I will forgo adding more length to this review and just say I have experienced something similar to the story in this romantic comedy. Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring, Up in the Air) and her real life sister Taissa Farmiga (The Bling Ring, American Horror Story-TV) played mother and daughter Edith and Audrey Martin. Andy Garcia (The Untouchables, City Island) and newcomer Spencer Lofranco played father and son George and Conrad Hartman. During the college tour for their children, Edith and George found themselves on a different tour than the one their kids were on. I was fine with the setup for this film festival winning movie. The good acting was certainly a plus to the uneven script. The concept of two strangers spending the day together I got; but I thought some of the scenes were forced and somewhat ridiculous. An example would be the marijuana scene. There were some parts in the movie that were predictable, but since I was enjoying the acting I was a bit more forgiving. This does not have to be a movie you need to run out and see at the theater; waiting for the DVD would be good enough. Maybe because I have had a couple of long distance relationships in the past, this film was easier for me to digest.
2 1/3 stars