LOOKING AT THE SPREADSHEET OF THEIR family tree, I noticed it was quite full. Their family tree showed generation after generation going back hundreds of years. If I would have mine done it would have a few gaps in it. With my deceased relatives who immigrated from basically three countries, I am aware of the ones who grew old here in the states. However, the ones who remained behind are only known to me by faded photographs lying in a drawer. None of my relatives were smiling in the photos. How I wish I knew more about them and the life they had growing up. There were a few photos of my relatives dressed in bulky winter coats with fur trimmed collars and elaborate embroidery down the front, engulfing the buttons and buttonholes. One of the photographs had three family members standing side by side with a small pony behind them. How I wanted to know what the story was about the pony; was it their pet? Were they at a farm or a zoo? What if they had survived and made the trip to the states, settling down and starting a family? I always thought about the relatives I would never have because of relatives dying before having children. A group of my relatives had died during the wars. I HAVE VERY FEW FAMILY MEMENTOS or keepsakes that were handed down to me. There are only 2 items that came from overseas, a small engraved silver wine cup and a gold coin. The cup’s story told to me was it only had been used during special family occasions. More than likely it would have held some type of wine. As for the gold coin, I never heard a story about it except how old it was, and some family members believe it belonged to a great, great, great relative of mine. All these deceased relatives can be traced down to me, yet I do not have any of their history. I so want to know what they did, what they ate, what they wanted in their lifetime. Imagine if I knew some of their stories and was able to trace them back to some type of historical event; wouldn’t that be awesome? Seeing the Eiffel Tower being erected, or the Winter Palace being built; I would so enjoy knowing the history of that time that cannot be found in any textbook. If you want to see history come alive and maybe spark a thought inside of you then watch this amazing documentary. WISHING TO FEEL A DEEPER CONNECTION to his deceased relative, director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings franchise, King Kong) and his team poured over thousands of decaying World War I film clips from Britain’s Imperial War Museum, hoping to bring some of them back to life in a way that had never been done before. Simply stated, this historical war film was extraordinary. I have seen movies and film clips about World War I, but I have never seen actual footage that looked so natural. Usually actual footage that old has scratches and light distortions; but, the path Peter painstakingly took created a sense of dialog and a sense of the times. The story to this film is the minor aspect of it; pretty much everyone has some familiarity to World War I. However, to see this actual footage enhanced to such a high level made me feel like I was seeing something brand new. Peter introduced this documentary and encouraged the audience to stay after the credits to listen and watch him explain some of the things they did to create this visual masterpiece. I highly recommend you stay afterwards to see what people did to keep this portion of history alive.
3 ¼ stars
THE WAY MY FRIEND TOLD THE STORY, she was sitting on the sofa watching television when she suddenly heard a loud bang. She muted the TV as she tried to figure out the origin of the sound. Getting up, she walked over to her living room window and saw a couple of neighbors standing by her car. A feeling of dread settled upon her as she walked out the front door to join the small group. As she walked towards her car one of the neighbors told her not to worry; she had caught the whole thing on her phone. My friend told me one of the neighbors was outside when she heard a car driving faster than it should down their street. The car was swerving, nearly going up on the curb a couple of times. The neighbor took out her phone as she moved towards the street and started recording the speeding car in hopes of getting the license plate’s number. As the driver approached they seemed to momentarily lose control and bounced into my friend’s car. The whole thing was caught on video as the driver kept going as if sideswiping a car was a natural thing to do. My friend was stunned; not only by the accident, but by the neighbor going out into the street to capture everything on her phone. BESIDES FEELING SAD FOR MY FRIEND, I had to admire the neighbor who willing went into the street to capture the erratic driver on her phone. With the way the car was going side to side, she was lucky she did not get hurt. That instinct to run towards an incident is admirable. As a matter of fact, in my city the news recently reported on an off-duty police officer who heard gun shots and immediately ran towards them. The same can be said for firemen who race towards danger to put out a fire. I don’t know if that feeling to go towards danger is something that is taught or is instinctive. And let me make the distinction between danger from outside forces as compared to danger that a person encounters due to their passion, examples would be mountain climbing or auto racing. I always knew reporters assigned to areas of conflict would be put into dangerous positions; but I, maybe mistakenly, assumed it wasn’t their choice. My thinking on this has changed now because of this biographical war drama. Never have I encountered a person with such a large capacity for danger; it has totally changed my views on war correspondents. BECAUSE OF HER PASSION TO GIVE A voice to the voiceless, American journalist Marie Colvin, played by Rosamund Pike (Hostiles, Gone Girl), would willingly go to some of the most dangerous places in the world just to get the true story. With Jamie Dornan (Robin Hood, Fifty Shades of Grey franchise) as Paul Conroy, Tom Hollander (In the Loop, Pride & Prejudice) as Sean Ryan, Stanley Tucci (Patient Zero, Spotlight) as Tony Shaw and Faye Marsay (Pride, Darkest Hour) as Kate Richardson; this movie allowed Rosamund to give her best performance. Her acting was incredible throughout the story. As for the story I was stunned by several of the dangerous scenes that Marie placed herself in. Regarding the script, I would have appreciated it more if the writers spent extra time on Marie’s backstory. There came a point where I felt the areas of conflict were included at times for Rosamund to shine; instead of delving deeper into the things that made up Marie. Jamie, by the way, did an excellent job of acting as her photographer. When I left the theater I still did not know all the reasons why Marie did what she did, but I was totally in awe of her.
I MEAN NO DISRESPECT TO ALL the understudies I have seen in theatrical productions, but the shows where the understudy stepped in for the headlining Broadway star left me feeling slightly disappointed. It was especially difficult for me when the show I was seeing was slated to open on Broadway, after its trial run. If it means anything I would feel the same type of disappointment if I bought tickets to a Florida amusement park and its major top ride was not open due to repairs. Am I any different from anyone else who wants to get exactly what they paid for? Now I will say when there is not a major actor in a theatrical production I do not pay attention to see if any of the roles will be played by an understudy. I guess I have always had faith in the producers and director that they have chosen a competent actor who could do the part just as well as the actor who was originally cast. A thought just came to me; I would be totally disappointed if I went to a restaurant for a specific meal I enjoyed only to find out they were not serving it that day. I feel disappointment is simply a part of human nature. THERE HAVE BEEN CERTAIN MOVIES I have seen that disappointed me. Maybe my expectations were set high due to the actors or director involved, but there have been times where I questioned why the film studio chose to make such a film. I remember when I was a kid there was a television show hosted by a man dressed up as a ghoul, warlock or zombie of some kind. It aired every week on the weekend, showing these old dated films. I always wondered if these pictures were ever released in a theater. There was a term for these kinds of movies; they were called “B movies.” Mainly they were low budget films; so, the actors were not the most poplar and the sets/costumes were not the best quality or sophistication. On a rainy Saturday I used to enjoy sitting down and watching these pictures. Some of the stories I remember were about killer tomatoes, 50-foot tall women and crazy aliens aka human beings in cheap looking rubber suits. B movie stories were always easy to follow as the scripts were kept to the minimum, both in words and depth of emotions. If you are not familiar with this type of film, this picture I believe wanted to come off as one of those B movies from a long time ago. ORDERED TO TAKE OUT A VITAL GERMAN radio tower on the eve of D-Day, a small group of soldiers discover something behind enemy lines that could change the course of history. This horror mystery movie starred Jovan Adepo (Fences, Mother!) as Boyce, Wyatt Russell (22 Jump Street, Everybody Wants Some!!) as Ford, Mathilde Ollivier (The Misfortunes of Francois Jane) as Chloe, Pilou Asbaek (Ghost in the Shell, Game of Thrones-TV) as Wafner and John Magaro (The Big Short, Liberal Arts) as Tibbet. For me this picture had a strong retro vibe. The reason I say this is because most of the special effects were done the old-fashioned way, with makeup and costumes instead of CGI. The story was simple which allowed the writers to focus on an abundance of action scenes. I did not mind these scenes but after a while it seemed as if I was watching one long chase scene, going back and forth from the Nazis winning one round to the US forces winning the next and so on. Overall this movie was more of a novelty for me, something that belonged on television during a rainy Saturday afternoon.
1 ¾ stars
THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS used to be such a cut and dry proposition; at least in my mind. During my formative years (they may still be going on presently) when someone made a decision I would carry it out. Whether it was at home or school, this is how I was raised. I cannot recall as a child if I questioned any decisions, though I will say I am sure I interpreted some of them in different ways than they were intended. My sensibilities started to change when that teacher, I have talked about before, told me I would amount to nothing if I pursued a career in writing. It was at that very moment I began questioning authority. The idea of one person, let alone a relative stranger, making a decision that would directly affect me made me extremely uncomfortable and rebellious. What right did this person have to decide what I could and could not do? Not that I would cause a riot or something, but I would question their decision even if it was only an internal dialog in my mind. LOOKING BACK THRU THE eyes of an adult; I now see where some decisions were solely a lucky guess, while others had consequences. Remembering my gym teacher in high school who refused to give me a passing grade, so I would have to repeat the course over; condemned me to another year of abuse even though he was aware of what I went through the first time. The decision by a fitness instructor to let me choreograph an aerobic routine for her started me on a career path in the fitness industry. Now I am very much aware of the magnitude some decisions have not only on me but on society in general. Thinking about one individual deciding on something that has major ramifications on a vast amount of people has to be a scary notion; heck, it should be a terrifying thing. I would not want someone to decide something of importance so cavalierly. The reason I have been thinking about decisions is due to this film festival winning dramatic war film. It is one thing to read about it in history books, but it is totally different to watch the decision process in action. WITH GERMAN FORCES SWEEPING across Europe it was only a matter of time before Germany had Great Britain in its sights. Choices had to be made but which ones would be the right ones? Starring Gary Oldman (The HItman’s Bodyguard, The Space Between Us) as Winston Churchill, Lily James (Cinderella, Baby Driver) as Elizabeth Layton, Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient, Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Clementine Churchill, Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom, Rogue One) as King George VI and Stephen Dillane (Spy Game, The Hours) as Viscount Halifax; this film would be an ideal companion piece to the film Dunkirk since they are set in similar times. Gary was outstanding as Winston Churchill; he was the main focus actually of the whole film and script. I understood this however; I felt the script was a bit weak in parts. When Winston was on everything felt right, but in the quieter moments I was left wanting more out of the characters, more in depth interactions between them. Taking the action at face value, I enjoyed the cat and mouse approach to part of the story. Whoever decided Gary was the right choice for the role deserves a pat on the back. I would not necessarily say the same for the script approval, but still the film was worth seeing.
3 ¼ stars
HIS SMILE STOOD OUT prominently underneath his ruddy, bulbous cheeks. Usually quick with a hello unless he was preoccupied, he was a social person who spent a lot of time out of the house. When our paths would cross he would provide a greeting but added nothing further unless I offered a comment or question. Not that there was bad blood between us, I was just a school friend of his little brother. There was a long period of time where I never saw him around the house, when I was over there to see my friend. I just figured he was keeping busy. It must have been a couple of years, I honestly cannot remember, until I saw the brother again. He looked the same except thinner and the redness he always had in his cheeks had spread further across his face like a stain. There was something different about him but I could not figure out the difference. It seemed as if his smile had faded into his face and his once bright green eyes were shielded with lowered, awning sized eyelids now. NO ONE TALKED ABOUT it but the war had changed him. He was one of the first veterans I met from a current conflict. My friend told me his brother never talked about his time in the army. If you had never met the brother before you would not question his behavior; he did not do anything that seemed out of the norm. Prior to becoming friends with the veteran’s brother, my only exposure to changed behavior was from abuse and bullying survivors. I did notice a change with some business employees and executives; but their altered behavior was usually short term or less dramatic. From my experiences I have seen what happens when a person keeps their feelings/emotions bottled up inside of them. They really never stay permanently locked away; they can come out in a variety of ways. For me my outlet was food and though the consuming of food can lead to harmful results, I am grateful I got through compared to what I experienced with others. By watching this film festival winning movie you will see what I am talking about. RETURNING FROM IRAQ, a group of veterans try to fit back into the life they had left behind. Just as the war had tested them, so did this process of returning home. Inspired by a true story this biographical drama starred Miles Teller (War Dogs, Only the Brave) as Adam Schumann, Haley Bennett (The Equalizer, The Girl on the Train) as Saskia Schumann, Keisha Castle-Hughes (Whale Rider, Red Dog) as Alea, Amy Schumer (Trainwreck, Snatched) as Amanda Doster and Joe Cole (Green Room, Secret in Their Eyes) as Billy Waller; this was an actor driven story. I thought the cast did an amazing job; keeping in mind with my limited experience around veterans, I felt I was watching an honest portrayal. There were several intense scenes as the story cut back and forth from current times to past military operations. The letdown for me was the screen adaptation of the book this film was based on. Scenes that obviously could be filled with deep emotions were kept to a lesser level. In other words, I felt the characters could have been given more intensity considering the situation. With my attention captivated by this film I felt I got a better understanding about the life waiting home for some veterans.
ZOOKEEPERS’ love of animals is stronger than their fear of getting killed. Granted precautions would be in place to avoid being fatally hurt by an animal. I give them credit nonetheless because I feel it takes courage to walk into a space where a wild animal is located. According to a couple of surveys some of the most dangerous jobs would be loggers, fishing workers, construction workers, truckers and farmers. Let us assume the person had a choice in what type of work they wanted to do and were aware of any dangers associated with it. The point I am making is a person chooses what they want to do for either financial reasons or desire to be in that field; they usually do not base their decision on how dangerous and thrilling it would be. Well maybe a stunt double or daredevil would want the excitement. DESPITE the present danger there were and are people who defy the given norm. A person at one time marrying out of their faith or race could find themselves being cast out or killed. Holding hands or kissing someone of the same gender could get you thrown off of a building. The world is a scary place and personally I find it getting scarier than when I was younger. There is however examples all around of people being courageous. I think those who volunteer for experimental drug studies show courage, as an example. With most cases whatever lines of work a person chooses there would be some down time where they can relax and be off the clock so to speak. However what would you say about a person who decides to do something that will affect their life 24/7? You could say they are nuts, why would they want to do such a thing; however, there is something inside such an individual who would willingly take on the risk for a deeper cause. There is courage but after watching this film festival winning documentary I have a new definition for what courage means. WATCHING their city being taken over by ISIS a small group of anonymous activists risk their lives to show the world what is going on in their hometown of Raqqa in Syria. Written and directed by Matthew Heineman (Cartel Land, Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare), watching this movie was not only hard but it was also unimaginable. The idea that these men are willing to take on such risk to show the world what is going on in their city was unbelievable. Seeing the footage they were able to shoot may be too much for some viewers. From a viewing experience this picture was suspenseful, thrilling, emotional and dramatic; I still am in a bit of shock that these activists are now marked for life for undertaking this endeavor. Kudos to the director for bringing together the various aspects to this story for there was the actual footage from the city, the personal stories of the activists and news reports. I will be honest I was hesitant for a moment on whether I should post this review. Based on the lengths being taken to squash these activists’ actions, I was wondering if I was in any kind of danger. It may sound crazy but after you view this film you might understand where I am coming from. This was not an easy movie to sit through but compared to what was on screen I have no right to complain about anything.
3 ½ stars
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