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
The random clicking sound became deliberate, attracting my attention. It sounded as if it was near the kitchen door. My hand slowly slid around the dining room wall, looking for the light switch before I would enter the kitchen. As the fluorescent fixture soaked the room in white light, I intently stared at the back door. The transom window was closed and what light spilled onto the back porch did not reveal anything lurking outside. A sigh of relief passed through my dry lips just as the floor behind me groaned under a sudden added weight. I spun around to a vacant room, shaken up by the noticeable sounds. Walking over to the television, I turned the sound up louder and waited for the return of my parents. You see, it was the first time I was left home alone without a babysitter. It was surprising how my imagination took those familiar sounds from my home and turned them into something sinister and threatening. That feeling of oncoming dread slithered its way throughout this thrilling film. After Carolyn and Roger Perron, played by Lili Taylor (The Haunting, High Fidelity) and Ron Livingston (The Cooler, Drinking Buddies), moved into their new home with their 5 children, unexplained incidents began to occur. When they seemed to turn aggressive, paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren, played by Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, Source Code) and Patrick Wilson (Insidious, Watchmen), were asked to find an explanation for these hostile events. Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) did a beautiful job of crafting an old-fashioned horror movie. The acting was formidable, especially from Vera and LIli. I was swept into the story partially because it did not use blood and gore to scare the audience; it made the viewers use their imaginations. For me, the middle of the movie played stronger compared to the beginning and end. This was a good old-time, scary film that will have you gripping your arm rests. A couple of brief scenes had blood in them.