ALL I NEED IS A GOOD pair of walking shoes, a map, a water bottle and I am ready to explore new territory. During my quest to see all 50 states, my usual routine was to fly into a city then either rent a car or take public transportation to my hotel. After checking in I would then set off on my journey to cover as much ground as humanly possible. I preferred walking, so my list of sightseeing destinations was grouped by foot, bus, train, cab or car. One city I visited, on my first day there I wound up walking eight miles in total, going from one place to another. It turned out to be one of my favorite cities to visit because so many things I wanted to see were accessible by foot. When I take trips like this, I spend little time on meals; usually I will pick up something on the run or stop at a fast food chain for a quick bite. My mission has always been to fill in as much things to do as possible. To some this may sound too frenetic and unrelaxing; however, I found it utterly peaceful. To be silent, standing in front of something that I had never seen before brought me a sense of blissful accomplishment. WHEN MY TRIPS HAVE TAKEN me to places of natural beauty, I find myself pretending I am the first person to encounter such a sight. There was a park I visited where I felt I was on an alien planet. The landscape was filled with shades of red and beige, pockmarked and smoothed from the wind, and there were places that had ancient symbols and script etched into its stone face. I imagined what it must have been like for the first explorer to encounter such a breathtaking sight. What did they do when they first saw it; did they try to climb or go around it? What did they think when they came upon rough water rapids blocking their path? These are things I think about on what I call my “fact finding” trips. Granted I have the luxury of knowing if I get hungry or need to use a bathroom, I can find one easily. And, if I should by chance get lost or injured, I have a phone with me (as long as I can get service) to call for help. I know me well enough to realize there is no way I could have been an authentic explorer or even a party to the group of men who ventured north in this action, western romance film. SEEING AN OPPORTUNITY TO STRIKE it rich all cowboy Jeff Webster, played by Jimmy Stewart (Vertigo, The Philadelphia Story), had to do was get a herd of cattle from Wyoming to Alaska during the Alaskan gold rush. With Ruth Roman (Strangers on a Train, Beyond the Forest) as Ronda Castle, Corrine Calvet (What Price Glory, Flight to Tangier) as Renee Vallon, Walter Brennan (The Westerner, The Real McCoys-TV) as Ben Tatum and John McIntire (Psycho, Turner & Hooch) as Gannon; this cinematic spectacle was a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience. The drama in this movie was accentuated with the over the top musical score; yet, I found it only added more charm to this blast from the past, so to speak. I do not know how to describe it, but the acting had a different style to it compared to our current actors. Not that this was a negative, it just was apparent to me. The story essentially was a good vs evil playbook and the actors were well suited to the task of bringing the script to life. Also, though there were some backdrops that did not look real; I still enjoyed seeing the outdoor scenes and imagining what it must have been like for people back in the late 1800s who ventured up to Alaska. A breathtaking place by the way.
HIS PHOTOGRAPH WAS PROMINENTLY DISPLAYED ON one of the banners in the hotel’s convention center. There were also photos of him in the members’ welcome booklets, along with a bio about his achievements. In the aerobic world he had achieved a level of popularity akin to a rock star. I was able to sign up for only one of his numerous workshops at the convention. There must have been a cancellation I figured because the rest of his classes filled up immediately according to one of the volunteers monitoring the ballroom. From the articles that were published in my fitness magazines, he seemed like a fun guy who had a strong sense of humor. As I looked around the room at the other participants I noticed many of them already had his DVD’s and other branded merchandise that were being sold down at the aerobic marketplace. This was a place put up in the convention center where a variety of vendors could set up booths and sell their latest fitness products to the participants. A woman walked up onto the stage at one end of the ballroom, to announce his name. She had only gotten out his first and last name before the audience cheered wildly for him. I almost felt like I was sitting in the middle of a cult. I HAVE TO SAY IT WAS AN excellent workshop he presented to us. There wasn’t anyone around me who was not covered in sweat. I toweled off as best as I could in the room, packed up my stuff and headed out to find somewhere to eat in the convention center. There was a coffee shop I found that would work for me, so I went in and let the hostess seat me. Once I ordered food, it came to the table quickly. It was when I was halfway through eating that I saw that same presenter from earlier coming into the restaurant. He looked around the room until he saw me then nodded. I was stunned; how in the world did he recognize me, let alone see me in the middle of a mass of people? He walked over to me and introduced himself. I told him I had just taken his workshop. He smiled and asked if he could join me; I said absolutely. Putting his soft drink cup down on the table, he sat down across from me. The conversation was easy as we both shared aerobic class stories. However, as he was talking he took a flask out of his gym bag and poured out the liquid from it into his drink. I could smell it was alcohol. By the time I finished my meal he was giddy and talking nonsense. Evidently this was not his first drink. To say I was shocked would be an understatement; I wondered if he had any other workshops to teach later. Here I had this image of him based on what I read about him, but this was someone completely different from my thoughts. The young boy in this western drama went through a similar experience. HAVING HEARD AND SEEN SO MUCH written about Billy the Kid, played by Dane DeHaan (A Cure for Wellness, Kill Your Darlings); a young boy could not believe the person he met could have done all those things being said about him. With Chris Pratt (Passengers, Guardian of the Galaxy franchise) as Grant Cutler, Ethan Hawke (First Reformed; Juliet, Naked) as Pat Garrett, Leila George (Mortal Engines; Mother, May I Sleep with Danger-TV movie) as Sara and Vincent D’Onofrio (The Cell, Ed Wood) as Sheriff Romero; I enjoyed the perspective used to tell this story. The acting was good for the most part, but I did not feel there was much connection between the characters if that makes sense. Ethan was in top form having been on a strong streak with movie roles; his acting keeps getting better with each film he has been in. What caused me to lose my interest was the script; the first half was better than the last. The components of the script had all been done before, so there were no surprises here. I felt little emotion being generated in the 2nd part which attributed to my mind wandering. I understand this movie can be viewed online already; which I have felt means the studio knows what they have on their hands, so they try to keep up appearances.
I BELIEVE IT IS SAFE to say all of us at one time or another will have to do something we do not want to do. Though I am not a fan of this word I would almost venture to say “something we hate to do.” There are some things that one does not like but has to do such as pay taxes, clean house, shovel snow and so on. My major dislike falls under home and car repairs; I am not handy and have a hard time dealing with repair people. However I know necessity overcomes distasteful, uncomfortable situations. Remembering my elementary school years, I can honestly say I always hated going to our 1st PE class after the summer break. Every year the gym teachers would use this day to weigh each student. Getting on the scale in front of the whole class was bad enough, but then to have the instructor loudly call out each weight to the student they picked to record it was humiliating. There was always snickers and giggles from several classmates when the weight was high. HATE TOOK ON A WHOLE different meaning the more I studied history. Where my dislike was more of an abstract type, like a procedure or function, the hatred I was seeing among human beings was ugly to me. To dislike or distrust someone because of their looks or differences was hard for me to comprehend. One of the things I noticed about hatred was its ability to draw in multiple individuals like a magnet, without them even questioning the validity of their new found hatred. In a warped way it evokes feelings concerning being left out if you know what I mean. It is a fear some people have where they are afraid they will be missing something or not be part of a group, which makes them act without thinking about what they are doing. I guess what I am trying to say is there are people who hate for hate’s sake. From my own experiences, I have seen two people hate each other for so long that they cannot remember why they started to hate each other in the first place; that is how blind and undiscriminating hate can be. If you are interested in seeing an example of what I am talking about then do see this film festival winning dramatic, adventure western. FORCED AGAINST HIS WILL Captain Joseph J. Blocker, played by Christian Bale (The Big Short, Out of the Furnace), was ordered to accompany and protect Chief Yellow Hawk, played by Wes Studi (Heat, The Last of the Mohicans), on his journey back to his homeland. Captain Blocker would rather have seen the chief dead. Set in the 1890s this film included actors Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl, A United Kingdom) as Rosalie Quaid, Ben Foster (Hell or High Water, The Messenger)) as Sgt. Charles Wills and Scott Shepherd (Bridge of Spies, Side Effects) as Wesley Quaid. Watching this picture was akin to reading a book; it told a story from beginning to end. With incredible acting from Rosamund and Christian, these two elevated the sometimes uneven script. Beautifully filmed I found the story as relevant today as it was back then. I thoroughly enjoyed the way the script unfolded, never getting cheesy or preachy. There were times where the multiple silent scenes seemed to drag out the story longer than it needed to be; however, I felt the story carried some importance to it. In my opinion I cannot imagine someone hating this well acted, beautifully filmed picture.
It only takes a few minutes after the alarm goes off before the sense of dread awakens inside of you. With a heaviness that weighs you down, you would think it would be thick enough to fend off any physical blows. Sadly it does not prevent it. When you are living with dread, you really have no idea how much energy it takes away from you. Like a straw continuously seeking out the last drops of a bottomless glass, dread constantly makes it presence known no matter what you are doing to distract yourself from it. Unfortunately I know too well what I speak of; dread was my unwanted friend for an entire school year. My daily walk to school was devoted to planning out what escape routes I would use for the day. One never wanted to be caught navigating the same route each day because it could provide for an easy ambush. Bathrooms were always avoided between class times. Instead I would either ask for a hall pass during the class or wait for a free period; I had to wait for a time when it would be less likely anyone would be lying in wait for me. Unless you have been bullied, you may not understand what it feels like to always be on the defensive throughout the day. I was not the only one who was targeted and that was something I never understood. The general population, whether it is in a school or a town, is usually so much larger than the bully and their cohorts; yet the masses rarely band together to stop the bully. At least that has been my experiences. It was hopeful to see that was not the case in this action western remake of a classic film. DETERMINED to take over the entire town Bartholomew Bogue, played by Peter Sarsgaard (Orphan, Jarhead), gave the townsfolk an ultimatum. One citizen, a recent widow due to Bartholomew, was willing to fight for her land; but she needed help. Starring Denzel Washington (The Equalizer, Training Day) as Chisolm, Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World) as Josh Faraday and Ethan Hawke (Born to be Blue, Good Kill) as Goodnight Robicheaux; the only actors who stood out for me were Ethan, Chris and Peter. I thought Denzel was a generic version of the character, not quite believable. The filming of this movie was the highlight; the outdoor scenes were the best. As for the action scenes some really popped out with intensity while others seemed scattered and all over the place. I really felt the script was what prevented this picture from achieving its lofty goals. The reason I say lofty is because it was obvious everyone involved was trying to make this a modern classic, even taking on the original music during the ending credits. Unfortunately it did not work; overall this film production was uneven. There were parts I could get into but then other times I found them bland. Also this movie was way too long; it could have used some extra editing. I am sure the film studio wants this picture to punch its way to the top of the box office charts; however, I do not think the other movies will let it stay there.
2 ½ stars
What I am about to tell you all took place in my mind; well, maybe some of it did really happen. As I walked through the double glass doors I flipped the open sign hanging on its metal chain to close. Inside there was a chair to the side; I took it to prop up against the closed doors to bar anyone from walking in. I was there to take action and get some results. You see I had locked in an incredibly low interest rate just before they started to rise back up. I was doing some refinancing and would be lowering my monthly payments significantly. The bank kept delaying me, rejecting my application for the most trivial things that were not even my fault. Since the lock on the interest rate had a short expiration date, I was sure the bank wanted to let it expire so they could charge a higher interest rate. The first time my paperwork got rejected was due to not having a check mark next to the word “Mister.” The second time it came back was because a document was missing which they lost. These things were their fault; they had drawn up the documentation and filled it out. A personal banker came up and before they could say anything I told them I was not leaving until my application was approved. I told them if they could not do it then they needed to find someone else right now. From my knapsack I took out my paperwork, protein bars, 2 bottles of water and a baseball bat. Desperate times called for extreme action. THE only way brothers Toby and Tanner Howard, played by Chris Pine (Star Trek franchise, The Finest Hours) and Ben Foster (Lone Survivor, Warcraft), could set things right was to start robbing banks. They would just have to be quick about it. This film festival nominated crime drama’s cast was outstanding. With Jeff Bridges (True Grit, The Giver) as Marcus Hamilton and Dale Dickey (Winter’s Bone, Super 8) as Elsie, the acting was something to see. Maybe there were a couple of things that seemed familiar with Jeff’s performance, but with this character he was close to perfection. As for Chris I was stunned, especially after seeing him recently in the new Star Trek film. It took me a minute to realize this was the same Chris I had seen because he looked and acted so differently; I was impressed with his performance. Set in Texas the story had a strong western type of movie vibe but with a modern take. Visually I enjoyed the framing of the scenes along with the soundtrack. I thought some outdoor shots were ideal in conveying the plight of the bank robbers; it really was wonderful camera work. There were a couple of patches where I felt the story dragged but nothing major. No pun intended but the richness of the script provided a well rounded story that was a pleasure to watch on the big screen. I cannot image a theater patron feeling like they were robbed by paying to see this film; it was worth the money. There were some scenes with blood and violence in them.
3 ½ stars
It is a strange creature that can stick with you for years. For some people it is a positive thing; but not so much for others. The sneaky part is that you may not have done anything for it to latch on and become part of you. What I am talking about is a person’s reputation. I have the reputation of being a lover of chocolate; oh wait, that is not a good example. There was a girl in my elementary school who was the first female I ever heard use a curse word. Not that I am making a judgment or saying it is okay for males to swear but not females; it was just an observation I made at that time. Well from that quick utterance this girl got the reputation for being a “bad” girl, if you know what I mean. Among my friends I am known for being direct; I tend not to sugarcoat things. Now this is part of my reputation and I own it. There are some people who get a reputation due to a rumor being started about them or one time they did something out of character. If someone observes the uncharacteristic action and makes a snap judgment about the person, the seeds of a reputation are immediately planted and will flourish. It surprises me how these false reputations can spread like a flash fire. I will say there are times where having a false reputation can work to a person’s advantage. AFTER being away from home for so many years there were some townsfolk who did not believe, based on his reputation, that John Henry Clayton, played by Kiefer Sutherland (Phone Booth, Mirrors), came back just to settle down at home. This film festival nominated western had some beautiful landscapes in many scenes. With actors Donald Sutherland (The Hunger Games franchise, The Italian Job) as Reverend William Clayton, Brian Cox (Troy, Believe) as James McCurdy and Demi Moore (Ghost, Mr. Brooks) as Mary-Alice Watson; I thought the acting worked well in this drama. The story was not very original; it pretty much followed step by step instructions in creating a western. Just in case there are some of you who do not know what I mean, I will refrain from explaining it. But here is the thing, though I could see where the story was going I enjoyed watching the cast acting it out. The scenes between Kiefer and his father were interesting to me since they are father and son in real life that were now playing the same with their roles. It was good to see Demi getting back to acting; I thought she was fine in the role. For those of you who have the reputation of being a western movie lover, this would be a worthy watch. To those who may not be a fan of westerns, the acting and scenery is something worth seeing in this old fashioned film. There were scenes with blood and violence in them.
2 ½ stars
We would sit and observe the couples sitting near us. It was not on a consistent basis, but there were times where it amused us. Looking at a couple, all of us would try to figure out, just from what we observed, what kept the couple together or maybe not. There were couples that would sit across from each other and never utter a word of conversation; they would slowly eat their meal with little emotion crossing their faces. Other times two people would hold hands from across each other, chatting up a storm interspersed with laughter and surprise. I remember looking at some couples and wondering what attracted each person to the other. Even among my friends there have been times where someone would bring there new significant other into the group and after a few meetings one of us would start to wonder what our friend saw in their girlfriend/boyfriend. I do not mean in a catty or gossipy way; but in a protective way. For example there was one friend I felt was being used by their new love interest, where I finally had to have a conversation with them to share my feelings. When they told me they were aware of being used and did not see the relationship going long term, I was cool with it then. We were all adults; sure we watched out for each other but we would never force our feelings onto another. We would respect each other’s decisions, though there were times it was challenging. I felt the same way about the main character in this dramatic western. WHEN her husband Bill Hammond, played by Noah Emmerich (Super 8, The Truman Show), returned home shot and bleeding from a gang of thieves out to kill him; Jane Hammond, played by Natalie Portman (Thor franchise, Black Swan), had no choice but to contact her ex-lover Dan Frost, played by Joel Edgerton (Black Mass, The Gift), to come help her defend her husband and home. This action drama had some good things going for it. First there was Natalie and Joel along with Ewan McGregor (Star Wars franchise, The Impossible) as Colin McCann; they were real good in their roles. I enjoyed the idea of a strong female character leading the story. Sadly the issue with this western was the script; it was predictable enough where I could almost figure out everything going on. There was at least a cool twist in the story, but the scenes were not consistent. They did not have an easy flow to them as if there was a 2nd director doing several scenes. Too bad the film did not gel well together because I liked the old fashioned feeling to it with its fresh idea of a leading strong female character. Also the script certainly had an interesting take on what brings two people together. There were multiple scenes with blood and violence.
There was a time where it was considered a palace. With Moorish trappings and an abundance of wrought iron railings the building stood tall over all other ones within several blocks. I was lucky enough to get inside of it, though it had lost its moniker by then. This place was a movie palace; an old fashioned theater that had one single enormous screen, covered by a set of red velvet drapes. The rows of seats were bolted to a sloping floor that looked like a swelling wave, particularly if one stood either at the front or back of them. The theater was built decades before anyone thought of putting stadium seating into an auditorium. I remember the time I visited this place and was fascinated with the fine details of the theater lobby. There were candelabras on the walls with fake candles that looked like they were dripping white wax from their amber colored, flickering lightbulbs. To the right of the candy counter was a grand staircase that swirled up to a balcony that was perched just below the mosaic tiled ceiling. Before the movie started there as a low audible rumble throughout the theater. Slowly rising up from the stage in front of those velvet drapes, was a huge pipe organ being played by a man dressed in a tuxedo; it was wild. I imagined that in its heyday when a new movie was being shown in this theater it was an event…and today’s movie could have easily been on the schedule. BOUNTY hunter John Ruth, played by Kurt Russell (Tombstone, Death Proof), and his prisoner Daisy Domergue, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Machinist, Road to Perdition), were forced to hole up in a roadside establishment until a winter blizzard passed by. They were not the only ones who had the same idea. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill: Vol. 1 & 2), this mystery thriller was an experience to be seen. Nearly 3 hours long, there were no movie preview trailers; the film started on time with an overture and there was a planned intermission. The crowd was handed a complimentary program; I was taken aback. The filming and soundtrack were incredible to see and hear as the story was set in Wyoming. With Samuel L. Jackson (Chi-Raq, The Avengers franchise) as Major Marquis Warren and Bruce Dern (Nebraska, Monster) as General Sandy Smithers among the cast, this film had a great script with wonderful dialog. Yes, there was what I refer to as the Tarantino blood and violence scenes but there was not as much as his previous films. The story took some time to get into because it started out slow with long drawn out shots. I felt some scenes could have been eliminated or at least shortened. As with his past films Quentin did a beautiful job of paying homage to past celebrated directors. Watching this film festival winning western was truly an experience. There were scenes with blood and violence.
3 1/4 stars
Stories that get handed down from generation to generation sometimes take on a life of their own. I grew up in an area where the land was as flat as a piece of paper except for one hill. Growing up I heard a story about how the hill was formed from a glacier during the ice ages. Evidently a glacier was creeping down from the north and by the time it got to my area it was already on its last ice cubes of life before the ice age ended, leaving this mound of pushed up dirt in the middle of my neighborhood. By the way when I say hill I have to be honest with you; the height for it was the distance between 2 floors of an apartment building. So we are not talking very tall here. There is a story about a gold coin I have in my possession that was given to me by a relative. This coin was some great, great relative of mine who always kept it in a little secret pocket that was sewed inside of their clothing. I was fascinated with this unknown relative, spending hours daydreaming about the reasons why this particular coin had to remain hidden. Knowing my ancestors were not wealthy people, it seemed odd that the coin was not used as currency back then. I took the coin, wrapped it up and sealed it in a plastic bag to protect it. The fact that it was handled by my long deceased relatives provides me some type of connection to them. This is one of the reasons I enjoy hearing different types of folklore no matter where it comes from. PASSED down amongst the inhabitants in a remote area of the Argentinean rainforest was a story about a being who would emerge from the Amazon river to do battle against any evil forces. Vania, played by Alice Braga (Elysium, I am Legend), needed someone like that to help her and her father defend their land. This film festival nominated drama had the feel of a spaghetti western. Low budget, simple story, minimal conversations and action; I really got into this movie. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal (Rosewater, Bad Education) as Kai, I thought he was excellent in the role. Essentially the story was about good vs evil; it had the right elements in place to maintain one’s interest in the action. Now there were some parts that were easy to predict besides one side story line that seemed unnecessary. Visually I was fascinated with the landscape and thought the cinematography did a wonderful job of playing up the mystery of the forest. I am used to getting folklore verbally; this folk tale was a visual treat. Spanish was spoken with English subtitles. Several scenes had blood and violence in them.
2 2/3 stars
There has only been one person in my life who made me consider moving away from the city of my birth. Having friends from childhood and family around me, I never considered moving out of state before. In my past relationships I have met many people from different parts of the country and even world. I always asked what motivated them to wind up here and the answers went from the practical to the whimsical. No matter what the reason may have been, I thought anyone who could leave their job, pack up their home and move to a different part of the world was a courageous soul. I am especially fascinated by the influence love has on some people’s decisions to relocate. There was a friend of mine who met someone and within 4 weeks knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with them, so agreed to change jobs and move out of state with them. I of course was wondering how they even knew they loved the person after a few dates. Love really is a powerful force; I guess it has a way of holding and calming any fears similar to what one does to sooth a crying baby. I recall reading a comment left on my movie site where the person mentioned she moved from Europe to the United States and I immediately assumed there was solid strength inside of her. It was the same type of strength I found in this movie. LEAVING Scotland to come to America Jay Cavendish, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In, The Road), had only one thing on his mind. He wanted to find his true love Rose Ross, played by Caren Pistorius (The Most Fun You Can Have Dying, Offspring-TV). Outlaw Silas Selleck, played by Michael Fassbender (X-Men franchise, 12 Years a Slave), agreed to take Jay across the country for a price, realizing Jay would never survive crossing the American frontier on his own. This Sundance Film Festival winning western thriller was an interesting movie. I have seen films about finding long lost love but this one was different for me because it took place in a 19th century wild west setting with a young foreigner. The entire cast which also included Ben Mendelsohn (Killing Them Softly, The Place Beyond the Pines) as Payne were rock solid with their characters. Visually this picture had some beautiful scenery and the camera work helped keep the story fresh for me. When there was action it was well done but I hesitate to call this an action film; the pace leaned more to a slower one. This picture provided a curious tale of love that could leave you thinking about your past relationships. There were a few scenes that showed blood.