PACKING up my homemade treats, looking over my predictions with the list of winners, using eyes that were strained and tired from staring at the television screen for hours; I was ready to go to bed. Another year is now in the record books for a lot of reasons. Of course the biggest surprise was the mixup for the last category, best picture. Reading and hearing about the different theories on the how and why it happened did not provide me with answers to a couple of simple questions. Assuming Warren Beatty has all of his mental faculties, I just do not understand why he did not say he had the wrong card. It was obvious to me he was flustered, looking back to the side stage and around; he did not know what to do. Of all things then why would he throw Faye Dunaway under the bus. He could have whispered in her ear to see if she agreed, but since the surveys said La La Land was going to win, Faye possibly saw that on the card first instead of Emma Stone’s name when he showed her. The two of them knew they were giving out the best picture award, wouldn’t seeing Emma Stone’s name on the card be the first clue something was wrong and it would be perfectly okay to say so? This is just my opinion.
THE opening was refreshing to me. Since host Jimmy Kimmel is not a song and dance type of comedian like Billy Crystal, I liked the way Justin Timberlake sang his Oscar nominated song which loosened up the audience. Because of this, I felt the crowd gave off less of “aren’t we great, idolize us” vibe and more of an earthiness if you will. In fact, I thought Jimmy did a wonderful job in being down to earth. He avoided the mean spiritedness that some jokes could have taken on while he kept things moving on. The candy drop and the busload of tourists were my favorite segments, though the Matt Damon feud thing was more outrageous on the big stage. My favorite part was when Jimmy was conducting the orchestra to drown out Matt during his presentation.
MAYBE it is me but I thought the speeches were shorter this year and surprisingly were more personal when politics was brought into them. My favorite speeches of the night came from Viola Davis and the reading of writer and director Asghar Farhadi’s acceptance speech. Viola was so passionate and sincere, I loved how she talked about actors taking on the lives for those who no longer can speak. I laughed at Jimmy’s comment that she would be nominated for an Emmy with her speech. As for Asghar’s speech, I had just seen his winning film The Salesman the afternoon prior to the show and appreciated his thoughtfulness and heartfelt words. Gael Garcia Bernal was one of the presenters that touched the perfect balance of personal without the hate. Speaking of presenters I felt Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae were lovely while on stage as they brought out Katherine G. Johnson, the NASA mathematician that Taraji portrayed on screen. It was such a touching moment.
EVEN with the long telecast, as I reclined across my sofa my desire to be a seat filler was just as strong today as it has been all the past years. Just once I want to be part of the red carpet pre show activities, the ceremony and just be able to walk around and soak up the whole atmosphere of the event. With that said it has been a year of ups and downs with movies. I feel I saw more poorly done films than wonderful ones; but I would not trade a minute of it since I still love the whole movie watching experience and the ability to write down my thoughts to share with you. So tomorrow we will start all over for the new Oscar year in search of that 4 star picture. I look forward to another year talking and commenting on the movies with you. Thank you for all of your support, I deeply appreciate it.
ONE’S former days of glory either chain the individual to the past or can springboard them forward through the future. I have experienced this with a particular style of aerobics I used to teach in my classes. Years after I was no longer doing the class, members would still come up to me to talk about the class, wishing it would come back on the schedule. This particular class took a lot of preparation to teach and provided a lot of fun for me and the members. I possibly could have gone a few more years teaching this particular class; however, I knew with the advancement I was achieving at my day job I would not be able to devote the proper amount of time to keep that class going at the level it needed. Now I have seen at some clubs where instructors find a niche and excel in it, but after a couple of years they devote less time to keep it fresh and fun. It is as if they use their success to coast through their other classes. THIS is not unique to the fitness world; wasn’t it just recently I heard about a well known singer, who was successful early in her career, having a poor performance involving lip synching her own song? It is similar to some of those old musical acts that used to perform in huge stadiums during their heyday but presently perform at a small hotel nightclub or local festival. Now I am not saying they should not make a living; but if they are using nostalgia to draw a crowd because they cannot perform as well as before, I have a hard time justifying spending money to see them. Why would I want to hear a singer who can no longer carry the tune to their own song? Maybe it is just me but sitting and dwelling on one’s past successes in my opinion doesn’t allow the person to live in the present; I saw it taking place in this powerful drama. TROY Maxson, played by Denzel Washington (Safe House, Man on Fire), knew he would have been a great baseball player if he had been given the chance. His frustrations not only had an effect on him but the people around him. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play written by August Wilson (The Piano Lesson, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone), this film festival winner was directed by Denzel and filmed in a way to match the stage version which Denzel and Viola Davis (Suicide Squad, Doubt) as Rose Maxson performed on Broadway. With Jovan Adepo (The Leftovers-TV) as Cory Maxson and Stephen Henderson (Manchester by the Sea, Tower Heist) as Jim Bono; the acting was outstanding overall; but for me, Viola was beyond amazing. She will be nominated for an Oscar and could easily get it for this performance. The story set in Pittsburgh during the 1950s did a beautiful job of depicting the attitudes of the times and set the viewer up for a couple of surprises. Even at times where I thought the pacing of the story slowed, the acting was so intense that I barely acknowledged this minor negative for me. This is a film to see especially if you enjoy catching the movies that will be nominated this awards season.
3 ½ stars
Maybe if it was the only thing I had known I would feel different about it. But I have compared items and know the difference. I do not want to come off as being a snob; I have actually matched up name brand products to their generic versions and there are times where the two are not the same. For example I have bought both a name brand and generic version of raisins. Taste wise there was not much difference; however, there was with the size of the generic one. They were smaller and not as plump. Normally this would be no big deal but they don’t look as good when used for baking. Another example is yogurt; now here there was a major contrast. The generic brand I tried never got smooth after stirring it; soft clumps of congealed yogurt remained in the container, yuck. Now there are items that I think are the same whether they are a store’s brand or name brand. I know that many times the same manufacturer is making both kinds. When I look at the nutritional label for both brands of vitamins they are identical; as far as I can tell the only difference is the price. The same results apply to spices; I cannot tell the difference from the ones I have compared. You may be sitting there and wondering why I am talking about this topic for today’s movie review. I was thinking about it right after this film was done playing. You see I was questioning myself to see if I would have the same initial feeling about this film if I had never seen the superhero movies from that other studio that produces them. Read ahead if you wish to see my answer. AMANDA Waller, played by Viola Davis (The Help, Doubt), was the tough boss of a top secret government program. She had to be because her program involved the worst of the worst imprisoned super villains. This action adventure movie was a massive introduction to the characters from the DC comic world. Starring Will Smith (Concussion, Men in Black franchise) as Deadshot, Margot Robbie (The Legend of Tarzan, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Harley Quinn and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club, Mr. Nobody) as the Joker; the 1st half of the film was devoted to us meeting these characters. There were several others but I prefer not wasting space on listing them. The breakout star to this picture was Margot Robbie; as far as I was concerned she had the best lines and the most interesting character. I knew about Jared Leto’s acting style of remaining in character even when he is not being filmed, but the poorly written script turned his performance into a mediocre blandness. This film would satisfy the tween segment with all the fights and destruction. As for creating an entertaining movie experience this movie lacked in key areas like humor, character development and visual effects. The story never felt cohesive to me, which could be attributed to poor editing and directing. I am sad to say compared to other superhero movies this one was a generic one. An extra scene in the middle of the ending credits.
1 3/4 stars
Some of the strongest individuals I have ever met did not have a large amount of physical strength. There were some events that could not be fixed with just the person’s brawn. Teaching in a health club I am constantly exposed to people who test themselves with a variety of weights and cardiovascular machines. Slow and steady they work to increase the amount of weight or duration of their aerobic activity. Essentially everything is under their control which to me makes it easier to build up one’s strength. What demands a tougher strength are affairs of the heart that involve some type of tragic event. Sad occasions weigh the heart down, slowing down its beats, causing the body to buckle under the weight of gravity. I remember a time where my eyes were constantly replenishing water tanks that kept spilling tears over my face, keeping it red and raw. My brain could barely retain any of the images my eyes captured; it felt like my head was turning into an abandoned cold storage locker. Every thought had the life sucked out of it as my heart continued its slide towards a sludge of darkness. At the time I thought my heart would never strike a cheerful chord, but I underestimated it. The heart truly is the strongest muscle in the body. STAGNATION and heaviness was where Conor Ludlow and Eleanor Rigby, played by James McAvoy (X-Men franchise, The Last King of Scotland) and Jessica Chastain (Mama, Lawless), found themselves in their relationship. Remembering what they once had, they could not tell if their hearts would be strong enough to get them through and bring them back to what they once had. This film festival winning drama had a couple of extraordinary actors, Jessica and James, who were able to bare real raw emotions. They really stood out in the cast which also included Viola Davis (Beautiful Creatures, The Help) as Professor Friedman and William Hurt (Into the Wild, A History of Violence) as Julian Rigby. A bit of a surprise was seeing Bill Hader (The Skeleton Twins, Her) as Stuart; he has been making smart film choices since leaving Saturday Night Live. With such a strong cast I am sad to say the script and the direction killed any hope of making this movie a powerful piece. This film was a combination of 2 previous movies, from Eleanor’s and Conor’s perspectives called Her and Him. I had to wonder if what was left on the cutting room floor would have helped this film from being a drag. It took a while for me to get into this picture. When I thought about it, it was strange to feel heavy during the movie but it was not coming from my heart.
2 1/2 stars
Music provides the means to describe one’s life with a different set of adjectives. Songs are the milestone markers during the journey. I cannot remember a time where I did not have music in my life. Anytime I hear Beethoven’s 5th Symphony I am transported back to the time I was 4 years old and taken to my 1st outdoor concert, where we sat on long brown painted benches in the cool autumn air. How many of us hear a particular song that squeezes a small tear out of our heart, reminding us of a love long gone? There are so many songs in the jukebox of my mind that bring a specific date in time to the forefront of my thoughts. I cannot imagine there being a person who does not experience an emotion or feeling when they hear music. Besides the personal aspects of music there is another side that becomes political. Throughout history songs have been used to define significant moments; such as a protest, a battle, a rally or even defining a generation. One of the things I love most about musicians is the fact they can be classically trained or simply be born with the gift of music. GODFATHER of Soul was the label given to the man in this biographical film and aptly so, for his raw talent was something that came with him when he was born into this world. Chadwick Boseman (Draft Day, 42) portrayed the iconic performer James Brown. This dramatic musical movie covered James from a childhood of extreme poverty through the time where he was called the “Hardest Working Man in Show Business.” The cast included Viola Davis (Ender’s Game, Prisoners) as his mother Susie Brown, Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station, The Help) as Aunt Honey, Nelsan Ellis (Secretariat, True Blood-TV) as Bobby Byrd and Dan Aykroyd (Trading Places, Behind the Candelabra-TV) as his manager Ben Bart. All of them were strong with their characters; they needed to be since Chadwick was outstanding as the sweating, fleet-footed James Brown. Familiar with a good portion of James’ life, this film tried to cover the different aspects of it but skimmed over the darkest chapters. The main issue with this film was the way the story jumped around chronologically. I felt I never got the chance to absorb the full effect of what I was watching on the screen. With things jumping back and forth, the film started to feel like a series of quick vignettes. Since I am fond of music, the musical numbers were outstanding in this picture or maybe I should say groovy. Whether or not one is a fan of James’ music; the fact remains this man was monumental in paving the way for future generations to get their groove on.
2 3/4 stars
One of the only benefits I felt for not being part of any school clique was the opportunity to observe the groups’ leaders. The athletic jocks were led by one of the most skilled athletes in our school. No one would dare cross him for 2 important reasons: 1. His group had some of the strongest and largest students from our school and 2. The football team was leading in their division. Another clique was referred to as the “Druggies.” They consisted of students who enjoyed and used recreational drugs, even during school hours. The only time there would be any issue involving them would be if an aggressive member from another group wanted to make some type of statement to members of his or her own group, by beating up one of the “Druggies.” The group that fascinated me the most was the one known as the “Brainiacs.” Its members were some of the smartest students in our school. Their leader was so smart because their identity was never revealed to the rest of the student body. For the most part no one picked on this group’s members. I had only heard rumors of the type of retaliations this group was capable of inflicting on anyone who messed with them. To me, I found it brilliant that the leader did not need to make their role in the group known to the public. It appeared they worked equally within the group and to me that was the sign of a true leader. Having read the book that this science fiction adventure movie was based on, I was already familiar with the story about Ender Wiggin, played by Asa Butterfield (Hugo, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas). Ender was being groomed to lead a new generation of young adult soldiers against a race of alien beings that nearly devastated earth. It was up to Colonel Graff and Major Gwen Anderson, played by Harrison Ford (Firewall, 42) and Viola Davis (Prisoners, Won’t Back Down), to determine if Ender had the skills to be a leader and defeat the aliens. After seeing the movie Gravity, I was disappointed with the special effects in this action film. They were okay but did not dazzle me. The acting was average for the most part; nothing really stood out, though I enjoyed Asa’s performance the best. Maybe I am comparing this movie to the book, but the story seemed rushed to me. The dynamics in Ender’s family was kept to a quick surface level and the part that interested me the most, concerning morality, was brief. My guess would be the sequel will possibly address those issues.
2 3/4 stars
There are those who want a fairy tale ending where the couple live happily ever after. Some people only care to watch topics of a historical nature. Many individuals want to be taken to a completely different world made up of aliens and fanciful creatures. Others seek out movies that will scare and frighten them. That is the beauty of movies; there is enough variety to fulfill everyone’s needs. Now if I tell you this movie was horrifying, I am willing to bet some of you will immediately think there must be some blood or violence involved in this film. There was no such thing, but this dramatic thriller was creepy and disturbing. I think every parent in particular needs to watch this riveting movie. Clive Owen (The Boys Are Back, Killer Elite) and Catherine Keener (Enough Said, Captain Phillips) played Will and Lynn, the parents of 14 year old daughter Annie, played by Liana Liberato (Trespass, Stuck in Love). The parents’ lives disintegrate when they discovered their daughter’s boyfriend was not a student from her school, but someone she met online. Directed by David Schwimmer (Nothing But the Truth, Friends-TV), I thought he did an admirable job for the most part. There was predictability to the story but the acting won me over. Besides the excellent work by the cast members I mentioned, there were solid performances by Viola Davis (Prisoners, Beautiful Creatures) as Gail Friedman and Jason Clarke (Lawless, The Great Gatsby) as Doug Tate. The flashing of text messages on the screen was distracting for me in the beginning, but I began to like the way it moved the story forward. I was already fearful of the internet, but now I am creeped out even more due to the story in this drama. Considering the topic, I felt both the writers and director created a starkly real portrayal. In a way one could look at this film festival winner as a coming of age story and I would not have an issue with it. I just find it sad that things shown in this film are now part of a young child’s life these days. Whether you want happy endings, different realities or history lessons in your movies; this film can provide these things for you. Just not in the way you would have imagined.
3 stars — DVD
The further technology advances the less personal it becomes is something everyone has heard. From what I have seen I believe it is true. For example, I have noticed a change in people’s reactions to amber alerts. Though everyone still acknowledges such news with sympathy, the feelings do not last long. Driving on the highways it is not uncommon to see an amber alert posted on the electronic signs hanging over the road. For myself, I will take note of the car’s description listed in the message but once I exit the highway the memory fades. With the immediate bombardment of news we get on a daily basis, the significance of each story bleeds into the next until all of it becomes this obscure sea of information that floats outside of us. That is not the case when it comes to this intense crime mystery movie; it brings the story down to a personal level. Hugh Jackman (X-Men franchise, The Prestige) in one of his best roles played Keller Dover, the father of a missing daughter. With his wife Grace, played by Maria Bello (Towelhead, Secret Window) suffering over the loss and Detective Loki’s, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Zodiac, End of Watch), perceived inability to arrest a suspect; Keller would take matters into his own hands, doing whatever it would take to find his daughter. I was totally taken by Hugh’s wide-ranging performance; he was incredible. It was funny, at first I did not understand Jake’s character because I thought the acting was odd from him. But then slowly I began to grasp what Jake was doing and found his interpretation to be quite powerful. It was a different type of character for him and I felt he nailed it. Viola Davis (Won’t Back Down, The Help) as Nancy Birch and Melissa Leo (Frozen River, The Fighter) as Holly Jones were outstanding; Viola does suffering better than almost any other actress I know. The story was not simple; in fact, I feel I need to see this film again to really make some connections I thought I was missing due to some twists. This was a tough, emotional, in your face movie filled with raw emotions, prepare yourself. It is one thing to hear or read about a crime; it is another to see it unfold in front of your eyes. There were several scenes of violence with blood.
3 1/2 stars
There was a time when one would see children playing outside. From a group of pretend space explorers to an afternoon tea party on the front lawn, a child’s imagination had no limits. I can remember playing in the alley behind the building I grew up in, with its high 3rd floor. Behind it there was a tall oak tree that I would climb up, to the height of the 2nd floor apartments. There I would sit and be the lookout for evil ghosts coming after my friends playing below in the alley. Today I rarely see children playing outside and I think it is because of all the pressures that are placed on them. With my family and friends who have children, there are so many activities they have signed their kids up for that there is no down time. I understand the thinking behind all these activities; creating opportunities for the child to excel, becoming well rounded, helping them on their path to becoming successful. Imagine the pressures that some children feel these days and may not have the tools to cope. In this poignant film from the writing duo of Ryan Fleck and Anna Buden (Half Nelson, Sugar) the story was about hight school student Craig, played by Keir Gilchrist (A Lobster Tale, Dead Silence). Unable to cope with the pressures placed on him, Craig admitted himself into a psychiatric ward of a hospital. Due to renovations in the juvenile ward, he had to be placed with the adult patients. With fellow patient Bobby, played by Zach Galifianakis (The Campaign, The Hangover franchise) as his guide; Craig discovered a world that appeared to be more normal than the one he left. I thought the topic of mental illness was gently handled in this dramatic comedy. The cast which also included Viola Davis (Beautiful Creatures, Won’t Back Down) as Dr. Eden Minerva and Emma Roberts (Nancy Drew, Hotel for Dogs) as Noelle did a beautiful job with their characters. There was a respect given to their maladies as they tried coping as best as they could. This was a stress free viewing experience, giving me the opportunity to sit back and relax.
2 2/3 stars — DVD
Early into this fantasy film it occurred to me that I may be watching descendants of Samantha and Darrin Stephens. I am referring to the television show not the movie with Nicole Kidman. Before Lena Duchannes from this movie, Bella Swan from Twilight or Hermione Granger from Harry Potter; there was Samantha and her mother Endora. Darrin and Samantha represented one of the earliest interspecies marriages between a human and a witch. So you see with today’s movies and books about witches and humans, we can trace a path back to Samantha. That is why I was not too terribly surprised with this film. Relative newcomer Alice Englert played Lena Duchannes, a young witch on the verge of celebrating a special birthday. For on that day Lena would choose whether to practice on the dark side of casting or the light side. Her path would become complicated when she fell in love with Ethan Wate, played by Alden Ehrenreich (Tetro, Twixt). The two teenagers had more in common than they realized at first. Could Ethan’s love of Lena alter the choices laid out before her? What really made this dramatic fantasy were the older cast members. Jeremy Irons (The Words, Margin Call) and Emma Thompson (Last Chance Harvey, Nanny McPhee franchise) were excellent as Lena’s uncle Macon Ravenwood and powerful evil witch Sarafine. As I expected, Viola Davis did a fine job as librarian Amma. A surprise was the enthusiastic performance from Emmy Rossum (The Phantom of the Opera, The Day After Tomorrow) as Lena’s cousin Ridley Duchannes. The movie felt a bit rushed for me as if the film studio and all involved wanted to get this story out quickly. If they would have taken their time, I believe they would have made a better looking and deeper movie experience. Having knowledge of past tales about witches and humans, this movie had more of a “been there, done that” type of feeling. Like the first time you heard about an interspecies relationship, it may have surprised you; hearing about it now was no big deal.
2 1/2 stars