EVERY day starts with him coming outside to begin his squirrel watch. He stands still in the middle of the backyard with his head tilted upwards, scanning the tree branches for any movement. If something even twitches for a brief moment, a plethora of barking takes place as my neighbor’s dog begins racing around the tree trunk, daring the animal to take a step down towards him. Having recently celebrated his 2nd birthday this dog is actually a big hunk of crazy love. Anytime I come out of my garage and he is in the yard, he squats down on the ground like an ancient sphinx, waiting in anticipation for me to call out his name. You see he will not run up to my fence until I call him. Now here is his secret; he is being trained to be a search and rescue dog. His owner, my neighbor, told me about one of the exercises he performs with the dog. At the facility’s swimming pool, my neighbor pretends he is drowning. The dog is released and jumps into the pool, swims over to the man, grabs a hold of any piece of clothing or a limb in his mouth and begins pushing or pulling the man to the edge of the pool. SOME of the other stories my neighbor has told me have been extraordinary. There is such a bond between this man and his dog that is quite noticeable. When both are in the backyard, the man will do exercises with the dog; some are with verbal cues while others are done only with different hand gestures. It amazes me that within the span of 2 years, if even that, this dog has achieved so much with his owner. As I said before just looking at him running around and barking his head off in the backyard, you would think the dog is a hyper bundle of energy. I would love to see him on one of the search and rescue missions, just to see how he focuses on the task. Until then I will be satisfied watching the dog in this film based on a true story. WITH nowhere to go in her hometown Megan Leavey, played by Kate Mara (The Martian, 127 Hours), enlisted in the army. Assigned to cleanup duty at the dog pound that housed one of the most aggressive dogs, Megan would have to confront her fears. This biographical war drama also starred Tom Felton (Harry Potter franchise, A United Kingdom) as Andrew Dean, Common (Selma, Now You See Me) as Gunny Martin, Geraldine James (Sherlock Holmes franchise, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as Dr. Turbeville and Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods, Scent of a Woman) as Bob. The script was kept simple; there was not much surprising about the story. However, the script with the directing created an engaging story filled with bits of drama, tension, tears and joy. The actual story is incredible; though I felt things were kept more subdued overall in this movie. I think it would be hard for someone not to enjoy watching this picture. For me I honestly never gave much thought to the role dogs play in the military; my only encounter on this type of level would be in the security lines at the airport or city events. When a friend asked me if they might cry watching this film, I asked them if they planned on bringing any facial tissues.
DECISIONS usually come with consequences, some good others not so good. Personally I am more comfortable with a person who can make decisions as opposed to those who never have an opinion or prefer deferring decisions to someone else. This concept of there being consequences for one’s decisions seems to be losing favor with the newer generations. I say this because I have seen multiple examples where a parent reprimands their child, explaining what the consequences will be if they act out in a certain way and the child still acts in an inappropriate way. The parent then does not make good on their ultimatum, so the child has just learned they can continue with their behavior. I am sure I have mentioned this example before; but I had a friend who early on always gave her young daughter the option to choose her own decision, explaining what the consequences would be for each action. When the daughter was fussing over being toilet trained, the mother told her she could learn how to use the potty or keep wearing the dirty diaper; but if she kept the dirty diaper on no one would want to play with her. The little girl immediately learned how to use the toilet. NOW there are some decisions that can have a profound effect on one’s life. I think the top stressful situations are death, dissolving relationships, moving and job changes. To me the list should also include those who are given the responsibility to decide the fate of a dying loved one. If you ever had to make a decision that involved a group of people it can be stressful. I am not necessarily talking about restaurant choices, more life changing decisions. Here is the thing though, I learn from mistakes. When someone complains to me they made a mistake I ask them to look at it as an opportunity, they may learn something new. If the story in this biographical drama is indeed true, it was a surprise to see how past actions had such a profound effect on the main character. DAYS away from the allied forces launching a massive assault against the German army Prime Minister Winston Churchill, played by Brian Cox (Troy, Rob Roy), has deep reservations about the laid out plan. With Miranda Richardson (The Hours, Empire of the Sun) as Clementine Churchill, John Slattery (Spotlight, Mad Men-TV) as Dwight Eisenhower, Ella Purnell (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Never Let Me Go) as Helen and Julian Wadham (The English Patient, War Horse) as Bernard Montgomery; this thriller based on true events made it due to the acting of Brian and Miranda. They were outstanding in their roles to where I wished the writers had given them more scenes together. The rest of the cast was okay, though I thought John’s portrayal of General Eisenhower was odd; it was nothing I imagined Eisenhower would be like in the situation. Part of the issue falls on the script; some of the dialog felt out of place, almost ringing false for me. Because I was fascinated with the story, after the movie I reached out to a history teacher to see how much truth was involved in what was depicted in the film. I will not tell you because I prefer as always the viewer experiencing a film with the least amount of information. Due to the decisions the director and writers chose, they created a movie that did not live up to the actual events.
2 ¼ stars
THE weather was so cold his face felt like it had no flexibility. He had to squint because when the wind kicked up, his eyes would water and he was afraid the tears would freeze on his face. Though he had a short walk to school, he had wished the school would have closed for a snow day. Bundled up in a thick, puffy blue colored jacket, his winter boots were almost too heavy to lift up as he walked through the snow. He wore a stocking cap on his head; around his neck was a long dark scarf with small tassels knotted on the ends. Only two blocks away and he thought his hat had flown off of his head. That would have been the best scenario; instead, it was in the hand of a boy who bullied him from time to time. The bully was taller so dangled the stocking hat just high enough beyond the boy’s outstretched hand. Taunting him the bully would lower the hat for a moment until the boy would try to jump up to grab his hat back; but each time the bully jerked his arm up higher as he teased him to try harder. This wicked game would only last a minute before the bully smashed the hat into the boy’s face, knocking him down in the snow. RECENTLY a friend of mine was telling me about his school years. We got on the subject of group dynamics within the classroom and he wound up talking about a girl in his class who always wore her hair in pigtails. A week never went by without at some point this girl having something done to her hair. I was stunned as my friend told me about some of the ways this girl was teased by a couple of bullies in the class. The tips of the hair had been dipped in glue, paint, and lip balm among other liquids or had silly hand written notes taped at the ends. Since I was teased and picked on during my school years, I immediately felt sadness for this girl as I listened to my friend talk about it. Being taunted is bad enough, bring a gun into the mix and I felt awful for the soldiers in this dramatic war thriller. WITH only a dilapidated wall separating them a sniper plays a cat and mouse game of nerves with American soldiers Isaac and Matthew, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Nocturnal Animals, Kick-Ass franchise) and John Cena (Trainwreck, The Marine). This movie quickly started building the tension up after a few frames of film. With Laith Nakli (The Visitor, Amira & Sam) as Juba, I thought the idea for the story was not only valid, but easy to identify with even if one had not done any service in the military. There was talk about this being John’s breakout role in drama but for me Aaron was the one who did an excellent intense job. Though the story grabbed me quickly, it only lasted for a short time as the scenes started to feel no different from each other. I think the script was limited due to the amount of characters; the story just wilted away until closer to the end. Granted it could not have been easy being in one locale and little to work with; however, the trailer and beginning almost felt like it was teasing the viewer to watch for something bigger to take place that never happened.
THERE is nobody I know who wants to hear “bad” news. I do not think anyone would like to receive such news. What I find interesting is the way people react to such news. There are families who do not acknowledge news of a loved one’s illness. They may hear a relative was diagnosed with cancer but they do not know how to react or act on such news. The relative may go on their journey towards death without having the support and love of their family members, not out of hate only ignorance, who do not know how to make things better. Sadly you cannot always make things better; however, lending an ear or bringing a cup of ice chips to the dying relative could make a world of difference. WHEN it comes to the general public I am not sure if “bad” news is always reported honestly by the media. Sure they are quick to report a tragedy, let us say an earthquake or flood, but the focus seems to go to what will grab a viewer’s attention or heart strings. A small child saved from the roof of their home would make good story; but not an individual who was struck with a debilitating injury from the catastrophic event, who will no longer be able to perform their job, facing a life of poverty. Now I know there have been times where this is not the case, just recently seeing these “Go Fund Me” pages would be an example of getting the word out. I think the influx of reality television shows and the various social media outlets have warped people’s perceptions of basic truth. It is because of this movie that I have been thinking about this subject. We may want to only celebrate and focus on the positives, but the reality may not always match the cheering. RETURNING to the states for a short victory tour Billy Lynn, played by relative newcomer Joe Alwyn, had one person who did not want him going back overseas after the celebrations; his sister Kathryn, played by Kristen Stewart (Café Society, Still Alice). This film festival winning war drama directed by Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Taking Woodstock) was filmed by a new process using a high frame rate. It made this picture look like a live television show is the only way I can describe it. Personally I found it a big distraction and did not like the look it created on screen; there was a harsh sharpness to the scenes, but that is simply my tastes. With Garrett Hedlund (Pan, Unbroken) as Dime, Steve Martin (The Pink Panther franchise, Cheaper by the Dozen franchise) as Norm and Vin Diesel (The Last Witch Hunter, Fast & Furious franchise) as Shroom; the acting was good but the script did not provide enough for the actors. At times there were scenes of brilliance but then another scene would fall flat. I did not think the story offered much for the viewers; I was left with a bored feeling, wishing I knew more about certain characters and their motivations. Overall the viewing aspect was not pleasant to me and if this technique of shooting a film is going to be a reality, then I want fantasy.
1 ¾ stars
AFTER seeing and experiencing it with my own eyes, I understand the reasons why one should not make any major changes in one’s life during an upheaval. The big life changers one could experience are divorce/breakup, relocation or job loss. I had a job for some years at a company that went through a downsizing and my position was eliminated. One of the first things I thought I needed to do was put my house up for sale. Luckily a friend talked me out of it. Eventually I did find a new job and was grateful I had listened to my friend. THERE is a friend of mine who tended to make rash decisions in her life. After being with her boyfriend for several years they broke up; she took it very hard. I made myself available, being her support during the difficult time. Well imagine my shock when she told me in a relative short time she had met someone. I thought maybe this would be a distraction for her to pick herself up and move on; however, within several weeks she comes to tell me she is getting married. Carefully I chose my words to her and asked a few questions about her reasons and such, but nothing deterred her pending nuptials. You might have figured out by now where this story is going. The wedding was lovely, small and intimate with lots of flowers everywhere. But just as flowers have a short lifespan so did this marriage. After 3 or 4 years they got divorced and from the stories she told me I was surprised the relationship did not end sooner. So you see when it comes to big lifetime events, I feel they need to sit out and ripen like a beautiful piece of fruit to yield the strongest taste. ASSIGNED to a secret mission in North Africa intelligence officer Max Vatan and French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour, played by Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, World War Z) and Marion Cotilard (The Immigrant, Inception), had to pose as a married couple for the plan to succeed. They did not realize emotions could rise during wartime. This action drama drew me early into its story. With Jared Harris (Lincoln, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) as Frank Heslop, I thought the acting was good; though it became obvious Marion was the best out of the group. The buildup of action was well done by director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future franchise, Flight). As for the sets, scenery and costumes; they were picture perfect, adding a beautiful style to the romantic aspects of the film. Unfortunately by the midway point the story started to fizzle out. I felt the picture needed more intense drama. Part of this I believe fell on Brad and Marion; there was some chemistry between them but I felt for this story they needed to smolder and burn brightly. Together they were more like two candles instead of a blazing fire. As the last half of the movie played out I found my mind started to wander which is never a good sign. I had to think about the rating I would give to this film since I liked the first part better than the second and I never want to make a rash decision.
2 ½ stars
I do not know what triggers the response that usually goes to one extreme or the other. From my experiences I have noticed a child tends to grow up emulating a parent or working to be the exact opposite. There is this individual I know who has had articles written about them in business publications. Their main motivation has always been getting rich. Any conversation you have with them will eventually involve money. So I found it particularly interesting when I met their child after many years and discovered they were essentially a mini clone of their parent. Within a matter of minutes our conversation turned towards finance. NOW at the opposite end a child could grow up seeing how their parent has been treated by various people and decide they do not want to be anything like their Mom or Dad. Seeing a parent being abused by their spouse can trigger a strong internal reaction in the child. Another example could be working at the same place your parent is employed and observing how the employees treat your mother or father. If you feel your parent is being stepped all over by their fellow employees, you might force yourself to grow up in such a way where no one would be allowed to walk all over you. This may mean you put on a tough exterior or you prefer not to socialize as much as your parent. I find all these types of scenarios such a complicated situation; because there are times the child will grow up thinking they really are the persona they created from their reactions, when actually they may be nothing like the façade they built around themselves. One of my surprises in life was finding out I had a larger capacity for kindness then I thought I did. As I watched this film festival winning drama I was curious about the real motivations behind the young son’s actions. FINDING a wristwatch at the crash site Michiel, played by Martijn Lakemeier (Lover or Loser, It’s All so Quiet), did not realize at first the importance in finding its owner. Set in Nazi occupied Holland during the 1940s, this movie was beautifully filmed. I have seen a variety of war and historical films but the script to this story had a fresh perspective to me. Part of the picture played like a thriller while keeping its dramatic sense. With Yorick van Wageningen (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The New World) as Oom Ben, Jamie Campbell Bower (The Twilight Saga franchise, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) as Jack and Melody Klaver (Dusk, Diep) as Erica; the acting was fine to me. In my opinion I would have enjoyed seeing more scenes regarding the dynamics of the family unit. Part of me felt the subtle way the feelings came out could have used a stronger presence; though I thought the character development of Michiel was fascinating. This DVD offered a different avenue away from a typical World War II story and gave a clear example of how a person grows up based on what they see. Dutch and German languages were spoken with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD
How annoying is it when you get a new item and it isn’t what you expected or does not work? When it comes to food products our feelings are usually based on the item’s taste; I understand since I have tried some items touting their new great flavor, only to get a nasty taste in my mouth. This type of stuff I either give away or toss into the garbage. The rules are different when the products are not food based. I may have mentioned I bought a new computer. After the store transferred my old information to the new one, along with adding some new programs, I excitedly brought the computer home and turned it on. Everything about it was great until I left it for a moment. When I came back to continue my work the computer would not wake up from its sleep mode. To say I was annoyed would be putting it mildly. I did get it fixed but it is stuff like this that ticks me off. Just a couple of weeks ago it was reported that a department store would no longer carry their line of Egyptian cotton bed sheets. And do you know why? It turns out the company that was making the sheets for the store was not using Egyptian cotton. Can you believe it? The thing that amazes me is the audacity some of these manufacturers have in thinking they are “pulling the wool” over the eyes of their customers. And who really is affected by these actions? It is the consumers who wind up on the losing end. I know the example I gave here is just one of many that take place around the world. CHILDHOOD friends Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, played by Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street, True Story) and Miles Teller (Fantastic Four, The Spectacular Now), found themselves taking on the bigger players in the defense field when they landed a $300 million contract from the Pentagon. The question was how were they going to fulfill it? Based on a true story this comedic drama also starred Ana de Armas (Exposed, The Boarding School-TV) as Iz and Bradley Cooper (Burnt, American Snipe) as Henry Girard. Along with all the other actors in this war film, this still was Jonah’s and Miles’ show. Their acting and chemistry was strong, though I felt Jonah was starting to be typecast with this type of character. The steady pacing kept the story going forward and I have to say even while I was watching this picture I still could not believe some of the things that were taking place. I think that is part of the attraction of this film; viewers will sit in disbelief by the outrageousness of some events. This will make up for the script that did not offer much depth to the characters along with having a little weakness towards the end. In spite of these things the story was so startling that I think it would grab the viewer to stay engaged with it.
I have known for a long time I could never live in a condominium. I would be the resident everyone would talk about after any of the condo board meetings. You see, I know if I voted differently than the majority I would be upset if I lost. Not for things that have to do with maintaining the buildings, but for items that do not interest me. Having a friend who was a board member for his condominium association, the stories he told me about the heated discussions, back stabbing and yelling only confirmed my decision never to live in such a dwelling. When too many people have a say in the decision process I have found it always to be filled with unhappy participants. If you do not believe me just get a group of say 6 to 8 people together and ask them where they want to go to eat out dinner. In my experiences I have never had a group all say the same place or cuisine. Now there is the “care factor” of your group; some individuals have a definite response and will only eat at certain places. Then there are others who go for the socializing aspect; the food is secondary for them. I have been part of both sides, being the dominant one on where we should all eat besides being on the not caring where we wind up side. The point is if no one can agree or make a decision then someone has to step up and lead the group to, under the circumstances, the best decision possible. It can be a hard decision but someone has to do it, just like in this military drama. COLONEL Katherine Powell, played by Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold, Trumbo), suddenly had an opportunity open up that she had been waiting on for 6 years. If she was the only one who needed to make a decision she was ready. This film festival nominee was a tense thriller. Besides Helen the cast also had Aaron Paul (Triple 9, Need for Speed) as Steve Watts and Alan Rickman (Harry Potter franchise, Nobel Son) as Lt. General Frank Benson. The story fascinated me because of its relevancy and the logistics that were involved in creating the action. Without a question, Helen was terrific as usual and though I enjoyed seeing Alan, part of his performance reminded me of his Harry Potter character. Another reason why this film worked was due to the questions it presented in the decision process. If there is any truth to this story I am totally amazed with how many people are needed to be involved in the decision process. The type of action on display in this war picture is something I have seen before; however, my perceptions of it being similar to playing a video game are no longer true. All this time I thought getting people together to go out to dinner was a challenge; little did I know it pales in comparison to the decisions that had to be made in this movie.
The older people are getting the more I have noticed they incorporate an escape plan into their world. If I do a quick count I believe a majority of the people I know have some kind of activity they can escape to, withdrawing from the realities of their day. Off the top of my head I know individuals who do scrap booking, knitting, jigsaw puzzles and reading books just to name a few. I, if you have not noticed, do movies to escape the pressures that come up in my daily life. Films offer me the fastest way to leave the present moment and be whisked into the alternative world of a movie. Even a poorly done movie that I have given a 1 1/2 star rating will partially transport me away; however, the better the film the more I will be drawn into it. If you have read my description for what merits a 4 star rating, you know the movie has to completely remove me from the theater and allow me to become part of the story; where I do not see the actors playing out their roles only the actual characters. Personally I feel everyone should have some kind of activity that allows them to disconnect from their everyday routines. I do not know about you but it seems the older I get more things become challenging for me. A simple activity like driving a car has become harder due to so many distracted drivers, besides the endless construction projects that constantly close roads and lanes. It is no wonder a person feels stuck in their life and just wants to escape to somewhere or something else. With that in mind, I was surprised to see what the main character chose to do in this comedy. JOURNALIST Kim Baker, played by Tina Fey (Sisters, Muppets Most Wanted), felt she was stuck; her life was going nowhere. That is until an opportunity came up for her to take an assignment in Afghanistan. Based on a true story this war comedy had a well rounded cast that included Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, About Time) as Tanya Vanderpoel, Martin Freeman (The Hobbit franchise, Hot Fuzz) as Iain MacKelpie and Alfred Molina (An Education, Chocolat) as Massoud Sadiq. There were parts of this film I enjoyed, but the more the story unfolded the more I lost sense of it. For some reason I started to disbelieve the scenes because they seemed so outrageous or maybe more accurately they lost the emotion of the action. I did not find much humor in this picture; it slowly became ridiculous to me. It is a shame because the idea of the real Kim Baker taking on this assignment is extraordinary; I just wished this script would have come across more real. Part of the blame would have to go to the director. I never once felt I was watching the actual characters, only seeing the actors playing them. This film did not provide me a total escape.
2 1/4 stars
I am not sure if the word is “refreshed” or “encouraged” when it comes to how I feel when I see an act of kindness. There are many incidents where I see or experience rudeness, meanness or hatefulness; so when I see someone doing an act of kindness it really stands out for me. Even with horrific news that gets reported these days, sometimes an act of kindness comes out in the middle of it. Recently I heard about a person who was dealing with a life threatening disease. Before they went into the hospital for surgery they were comforting their significant other, telling them everything would be okay. I was touched by such a selfless act. Of course if the person had always been kind, it would not be a surprise. However, it would be a bigger surprise if the person who did the act of kindness was not considered a nice person. There was an employee I used to work with who was so miserable that you would get a sour taste in your mouth if you were just near them. They never engaged in a friendly conversation; heck, they barely made eye contact with you if you had to talk business with them. Imagine the shock all the employees felt when there was an article in the local papers about this particular employee’s generous contributions made to a shelter. None of us could believe it. I guess one could say never judge a book by its cover; but I have to tell you, when situations like this come up it does give me hope. MORTICIAN John Miller, played by Christian Bale (The Dark Knight franchise, The Fighter), arrived in the city of Nanking, China just as Japanese forces staged an invasion. His main task now would be to stay alive. This historical drama was a Golden Globe nominee and film festival winner. I was familiar with the story, having seen it in documentaries; books and news articles. The invasion was brutal; in turn, there were several tough scenes in this film. Christian did a very good job of acting, as did Ni Ni (Back in Time, Up in the Wind) as Yu Mo and relative newcomer Xinyi Zhang as Shu. Maybe it was challenging to tell this story in a way that would keep the viewer’s interest, but I found it disjointed. It would go from torturous scenes to poignant ones. I was disappointed because the cinematography at times was stunning; though I must say I felt some of the scenes used too much blood if you know what I mean. On any level I think this would have been a challenging story to transform onto film; however, it was obvious there was much thought put into this one. Despite its shortcomings I was surprised by the turn of events in this war film that had its own sense of hope. There were multiple scenes where Mandarin and Japanese were spoken with English subtitles.
2 1/3 stars — DVD