I NEVER CONSIDERED IT A UNIQUE ability; in fact, I actually did not give it any thought. It wasn’t until a couple of friends asked me how I could recall what everyone at a party was wearing, that I had to stop and think about it. You see I was not alone in having this ability; there were at least a couple of my relatives who could do the same thing. Each of us could walk into a room and immediately see and commit to memory every detail of our surroundings. When my friends tested me after we had gone to a get together at a friend’s house, I not only told them what everyone was wearing but also details of the room we hung out in; such as a small crack in one of the windows, not the one with the broken window shade, and a stain on the carpeting near the front leg of the sofa. They could not believe how much I remembered, telling me in a teasing way that I was a freak. From my perspective, I felt they were just not paying close enough attention to everything around them. I never considered it as a flaw or deficiency; if anything, I felt they simply chose not to devote energy into taking in the details. MAYBE ONE OF THE REASONS I HAVE this ability is because I have always been more of a visual learner than an auditory one. Not that I understood this back when I was a young student; I always was attracted to things that visually stimulated me. I remember this one time where my friends and I were having a discussion on the ramifications of losing or not having one of our senses. We queried each other on what modifications could one do to compensate for the loss. I brought up the point how I noticed when one sense is missing, the others tend to compensate for it. In my experiences, I have witnessed individuals who were blind having a more acute sense of hearing. It was as if the body had compensated for the loss to keep the individual closer to being in balance. Not that I have had any personal experiences with people on the spectrum, but I have seen a non-verbal person with autism play piano like a concert pianist without any formal training. The news reported a few months ago about a young boy who did not express himself emotionally until he saw a famous animated movie. Suddenly, he started to express himself and increased his vocabulary by seeing other movies from the same film studio. The mind is extraordinary as you can see when watching the main character in this dramatic, crime mystery. AFTER WITNESSING THE MURDER OF HIS friend Lionel Essrog, played by Edward Norton (Primal Fear, Keeping the Faith), was determined to find out who killed him. With so few clues no one would be able to do what Lionel had the ability to do. With Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Fast Colour, Beyond the Lights) as Laura Rose, Alec Baldwin (It’s Complicated, Blue Jasmine) as Moses Randolph, Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse, Bad Country) as Paul Randolph and Cherry Jones (The Perfect Storm, Ocean’s Twelve) as Gabby Horowitz; this film festival winner based on the novel of the same name was written and directed by Edward Norton. Set in New York City during the 1950s, I found the story dragged for the first half of the film. Though I thought the acting and filming were excellent, it just seemed as if the story was going nowhere. However, by the second half of the picture, I found myself more engaged and enjoying the snowballing mystery aspect of the story. There was a part of the story that was just as relevant now as it was back then. If the script had been not as long, I think this movie would have been more powerful. Despite this I at least enjoyed watching the stylish scenes and incredible acting skills of Edward.
2 ½ stars
SOME OF MY FAVORITE VACATIONS INVOLVED mountains. Having grown up in a flatter part of the country, as soon as I see a mountain range in the distance, I start to get a thrill. There was one trip where we were driving on a road that was laid out like unfurled ribbon that had been pulled from its spool. Everyone on the road had to drive at a slow speed because of all the hairpin turns. By the time we reached the peak the sun had started to set, and the sky had this red and purple hue that gave the clouds a darker silhouette. Though I was starting to get nervous about driving down in the dark, we stepped out of the car to take in the view. There was dead silence except for the wind that brushed across my ears and gently prodded the hood of my jacket. I could see all the way down into the valley with its long shadows crawling towards me. It was such a beautiful sight; I felt as if I had entered an oasis or bubble that filled me with a peacefulness I had not experienced before. It was an effort to leave and walk back to the car to make our trek down the mountain, which was starting to look deeply wrinkled in the limited light. ON ANOTHER VACATION I WENT FROM one of the lowest spots in the country to one of the highest. After spending time exploring the bowels of the canyon with its multicolored layers of minerals and rock, we traveled to the base of one of the largest mountains on the mainland. A specially designed train car transported us up to the top after we were instructed to keep our arms inside the train car because the ice ripples, we would be passing through, were as sharp as a chef’s knife. Reaching the top, I had to first bundle up with the layers of clothing I had brought with before venturing out into the cold. The first thing I noticed was the strength of the wind as it tried to push me back into the train car. With a posted sign stating the temperature was at zero, the ends of my scarf that was wrapped around my neck were flapping behind me like a captured bird. The view was literally and figuratively breathtaking. Due to the cold this was one of my more challenging mountain experiences. Call me a lazy hiker, but I prefer being transported in some type of vehicle up to the top of a mountain instead of me hiking on a challenging trail. And I certainly would not consider trying what the people were doing in this film festival winning documentary. IT WOULD BE SAFE TO SAY I BELIEVE; most individuals would look for a way to get around a mountain instead of having to climb over one. That was not the case with the people in this documentary. Directed and written by Jennifer Peedom (Sherpa, Miracle on Everest), also written by Robert Macfarlane (Mountain Quest, Upstream) and narrated by Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate, The Florida Project); this movie’s best asset was its beautiful filming work, that was accompanied by a wonderful classical soundtrack. For those viewers who have a fear of heights, there were several scenes that might be uncomfortable to sit through. I do not know for a fact, but am guessing drones, helicopters, handheld cameras and mounted ones were used to capture the scenes. As much as I enjoyed watching the variety of mountain peaks, I wished there would have been more to the script. There were times I had no idea what mountain range I was looking at; this may not be important to some, but it was to me. I would have liked to have learned something new about the climbers and their experiences. For the most part I felt I was watching a repeat of something seen before. Despite this, I still enjoyed viewing this picture and still would never consider climbing a mountain.
2 ½ stars
IT WAS ONLY ONE FLASH OF light that caught my attention, but it opened up my eyes to a whole world of beauty. I was walking towards the garage when a millisecond of bright light appeared between 2 ornamental bushes. I was sure I had seen it despite its brief appearance in what appeared to be midair. The plants were a recent addition to my backyard, both seemed to be taking nicely to their parcel of land. I walked over to the bushes to see if there was something I had not noticed before. As I made my way across the lawn a slight breeze of air stirred up and that speck of bright light appeared once again. I walked up and like an apparition there was a large spider web that spanned the space between the 2 plants. It faded in and out depending on the breeze being able to push it into full sunlight. It was exquisite, looking like a fine piece of lace. Not wanting to disturb anything, I carefully stepped closer to get a better look. I had to squat down so the web would be at eye level; cocking my head slightly to view the web in front of a darker background, I saw tiny drops of moisture clinging to several strands of the web. It truly looked like a piece of art or an architect’s dream. UNNOTICED BY ME AT FIRST BECAUSE it was off to the side, closer to one of the bushes, perched a massive hairy looking spider. I stayed still as if I was playing a waiting game with it. There are friends of mine who would have freaked out upon seeing the spider; gratefully, they do not upset me. I look at spiders as the gatekeepers to my house, capturing loads of bugs to prevent them from entering my home. The spider did not move from its spot; only allowing the breezes to swing it slightly in the air, but it never once wavered from its spot. For some reason, I felt the garden had taken on a special allure. Here among the assorted plants and shrubbery there was a feat from one of Nature’s creatures, a latticework of silky luminous strands dotted with diamond chips of raindrops. If the sunlight had not hit the web at the exact time I was walking by, I might not have ever noticed I had a piece of art in my backyard. Part of me wanted to get a spray bottle of water to make more drops appear on the web; however, I decided not to and instead enjoyed the beauty that was in front of me. Part of this experience prepared me for the beauty that was found in this Oscar nominated, film festival winning biography. TIRED OF HIS SURROUNDINGS AND THE PEOPLE around him Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh, played by Willem Dafoe (The Lighthouse, Aquaman), took the advice of a friend and moved out of Paris to be closer to nature. It was the best move of his life. With Rupert Friend (The Young Victoria, Homeland-TV) as Theo, Oscar Isaac (Star Wars franchise, A Most Violent Year) as Paul Gauguin, Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt, Doctor Strange) as Priest and Mathieu Amairic (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Doctor Paul Gachet; this dramatic picture contained a stellar performance by Willem. I felt I was privy to the inner workings of van Gogh’s mind. Combined with the beautiful film shots and steady directing, this film’s story unfurled like a long, colorful pennant on a windy day. The whole cast perfectly fit their roles. If there was anything to question it would be the few scenes that dragged a bit; however, the dynamic acting coming out of Willem kept me invested in the story. I almost felt as if I was a visitor at an art gallery.
3 ¼ stars
THE WORLD HAS A DIFFERENT FEELING for those who walk through life with a strong sense of confidence. To believe in one’s own capabilities has an immediate, positive affect on a person’s persona. I have seen what confidence or the lack of can do to an individual. What fascinates me the most is how does a person become confident? At first, I thought it was something that you were born with, as if it was based on genetics. However, the more examples I encountered the more my thinking changed to the idea that outside influences play a large part in molding a person’s confidence. Parents and other family members, I believe, play a major role in whether a child grows into becoming a confident individual or not. I have come across a multitude of parents whose actions prevent their child from feeling confident. There are some parents who have no idea how their words can send their child reeling into a cavern of uncertainty; simply saying “Why did you do that?” can be taken one of two ways. It could be asked to see a child’s thought process, or it can be said with a harsher tone, so it immediately comes out in a negative way. ALONG WITH FAMILY MEMBERS THERE ARE other forces that come into play regarding a child’s perceptions about his or her own abilities. It can be a teacher, cashier; pretty much anyone who provides a positive reinforcement to the child. There was a family I used to know who had three children. For whatever reason the oldest child seemed, at least to me, to get most of the parents’ attention. They would do more things for this eldest child, such as signing them up for multiple classes and sports. The middle child became quiet despite trying to find ways to please his parents, hoping to gain their attention aka affection. Sadly, by living in the shadow of the older sibling, the parents did not realize what they were doing. As the children grew up the middle child excelled in science with the encouragement of a couple of teachers. Experiments were entered into science fairs and winning most of the time. This middle child never informed the parents; instead took the ribbons and certificates and placed them in a three-ring binder that he kept up on a shelf. Not until his achievements in science became newsworthy did the parents know about their gifted middle child. The oldest sibling grew up resenting his parents for pushing him into things he did not have the skills to handle properly and as an adult lived in the shadow of his middle brother. Family dynamics certainly can wreak havoc on its members; you can definitely see it here in this action, adventure fantasy. DESPITE HAVING BEEN PICKED ON AS A child Arthur, played by Jason Momoa (Conan the Barbarian, Game of Thrones-TV), grew up to be a strong and confident man. But when his mother Queen Atlanna’s, played by Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased, The Beguiled), people needed him to take his rightful place in the kingdom; Arthur felt he could never be their ruler. It would take a war for Arthur to try and fight his way to the throne. With Amber Heard (The Rum Diary, 3 Days to Kill) as Mera, Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Vulko and Patrick Wilson (The Commuter, The Conjuring franchise) as King Ora; this picture provided some good old-fashioned fun. The visuals were creative and colorful as this picture was heavy into CGI effects. Jason was perfect in the role and did as much as he could with the uneven script. He had a look and swagger that worked well for him in the story. I felt the script needed a rewrite with more focus on the main story line. There was plenty of action throughout the film; but at times, it was going too fast to really appreciate the fight scenes. All in all, this was quite an enjoyable and thrilling viewing experience. Besides Arthur being confident in the story, the writers had to be confident based on the extra scene they included in the middle of the ending credits.
THE TOY WAS CURRENTLY one of the biggest sellers across the country. From print advertisements to television commercials it would take some work for someone not to notice this toy, which was getting such buzz. I decided to buy it as a birthday gift for a relative and had it gift wrapped. The toy came in a large box but it did not set off the seatbelt alarm when I placed it on the passenger seat next to me. The fact the toys were hard to find because they were selling so quickly, gave me a bit of pleasure; I was certainly going to be the star in the birthday girl’s eyes. At her birthday party I waited closer to the end before giving her my gift, after she had opened the other gifts. Ripping the gift wrapping paper off of the box she needed help in opening the box. When the toy was removed she squealed with delight then grabbed the box; instead of playing with the toy I bought her, she was playing with the box it had come in. MOST OF THE GATHERED relatives burst out laughing as they watched the little girl play with the box. All the adults knew what a coup it was for me to get this hot selling toy; but to this little child, none of that was important. She was having as much fun, or who knows maybe more fun, with the box as she first pretended it was a hat to wear before turning it into a doll house or maybe it was a parking garage. Isn’t it funny how as adults some of us judge a product or service by the amount of money it cost? I don’t have to tell you that toy was expensive but for the little girl it meant nothing to her. If I would have known I could have bought one of those reusable plastic food containers as a birthday gift! The funny part is while I was watching her play with that toy’s box I suddenly remembered when I was little I had a collection of pens that I pretended were spaceships. It goes to show you one doesn’t need money to have a good time, just a good imagination. LIVING AT A BUDGET motel in the shadow of one of Florida’s largest amusement parks Moonie, played by Brooklynn Prince (Robo-Dog: Airborne), made each day an adventure; oblivious to the schemes her mother Halley, played by newcomer Bria Vinaite, was coming up with to make money. This film festival winning drama also starred Willem Dafoe (The Great Wall, Murder on the Orient Express) as Bobby, newcomer Valeria Cotto as Jancey and newcomer Christopher Rivera as Scooty. The story was a solid piece of work; I enjoyed the whole concept about relationships, authority figures and poverty. The actress who played Moonie was outstanding in this film. I will say I thought the beginning of the story was dragged out. If I remember correctly I looked at my watch one time and 35 minutes had gone by with the same idea behind the scene being played over and over in slightly different versions. It was becoming boring despite the excellent acting from the cast. For newcomers I was surprised how their acting made the characters come alive. If there had been more drama to the scenes however I think I would have gotten more into the movie. It was not until later, after I had left the theater, when I realized there was more to the story or maybe it was just my mind imagining it so.
2 ¾ stars
CUTTHROAT was the best term to describe him. When first meeting him you would be left with the impression that he was a funny, laid back sort of fellow. Looks can be quite deceiving because that is what I originally thought of him. We used to work for the same company; I was involved with inventory and he was in sales. Dressed immaculately every day, he walked around the office like a proud peacock; I know that may sound like a cliché but he really did. If he had had feathers attached to his backside they would have always been fanned out to draw attention to him. Underneath that polished and pleasant veneer there was a hunger for money. In sales that would be a good thing; however, he had no boundaries. He would lie, cheat, essentially anything to make a sale to increase his commission check. Sure the company benefited but his goal was his bank account. THERE has been several times where I have encountered this type of individual in other settings. It always makes me uncomfortable because I can never get a sense of trust established with the individual. I am all about trust; even at a big box retailer where I know the sales help does not get commission, I will end a conversation with someone who I feel is not trustworthy. Maybe this is prejudicial on my part, but I am simply going with my feelings. It is irritating when an employee gives the consumer the wrong information; I would rather they say they do not know and offer to find someone who knows the answer to my query. When the sales staff at a retail establishment works on commission it can be an ugly experience when you walk through the doors. They can descend on you like a pack of vultures spotting fresh road kill. You will understand my point if you watch the main character in this film festival winning dramatic movie. HEADHUNTER Dane Jensen, played by Gerard Butler (Playing for Keeps, Olympus Has Fallen franchise), would do anything to close on a sale. Even his family was not immune to the ramifications of his actions. With Alison Brie (Sleeping with Other People, Mad Men-TV) as Lynn Vogel, Willem Dafoe (The Great Wall, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Ed Blackridge, Gretchen Mol (Manchester by the Sea, 3:10 to Yuma) as Elise Jensen, Alfred Molina (The Da Vinci Code, Spider-Man 2) as Lou Wheeler and Max Jenkins (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, Sense8-TV) as Ryan Jensen; I was not impressed with the acting. Part of me feeling this way was due to the poorly written script; it was beyond predictable, so pedestrian. Add in the uninspired directing and I was bored through most of the film. Gerard gave it a good shot but being a non likable character did not help me. I could not relate to him; though some would say being unlikeable was good acting on his part. As for the script it was riddled with clichés and emotional manipulations. Funny for a film about sales it certainly had a poor sales pitch for the public. Never seeing a trailer for this at the movies should have been my first clue for what was in store for me.
1 2/3 stars
SHE did not recognize the woman who was standing over her sleeping mother. At the side of her mother’s bed this woman stood still, intently gazing down while the sleeping woman’s torso slowly rose and receded with long breaths. There was no way to tell time but it seemed to only last half a minute before the entire room faded into darkness. Hours later when it was morning the daughter woke up and recalled the image of her mother sleeping and realized it was a dream. Over coffee she told her mother about the dream. SEVERAL days later the mother happened to be going through a box of old photographs. When she came across a picture of her mother she called her daughter over to take a look at the grandmother she had never known. When the daughter looked at the photograph of her deceased grandmother she became a bit flustered. She turned to her mother and told her that was the woman from last night’s dream who was standing next to the bed. I have always believed there are no accidents, that there is a reason for everything. Most of the time I never focused on the possibility an outside source was influencing the event; I just took things at face value. Earlier I mentioned in a review about getting a new furnace but what I did not tell you were the events that led up to it. The thermostat that controlled the furnace broke; I initially thought it just needed new batteries. After trying the different batteries I had in the house, besides keeping up with my hectic schedule, three days had passed before I could get a repair person to come in and check out the equipment. During this time we had unusually warm weather so I did not have to be concerned with my sensitivity to cold. When the service tech came and started to work on the thermostat a device he was wearing started to flash a bright red. It turned out I had a dangerous level of carbon monoxide in the house. If the thermostat had not broken I would not have known. Was it possible someone was looking out for me? MOST of the townsfolk thought Thomas, played by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek franchise, Green Room), was odd. It was just because they did not know he could see dead people. This comedic horror fantasy was based on the novel by Dean Koontz (Watchers, Whispers). I enjoyed the cast which also included Willem Dafoe (The Fault in our Stars, Platoon) as Chief Wyatt Porter and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Free State of Jones, Jupiter Ascending) as Viola. If it was not for the actors this DVD would have been even lighter fare. There was nothing new about the story and the special effects were not all that special. To me it appeared as if this movie was made on the cheap, not that I want to say anything negative towards the actors. They could only do what the script told them to do. What it comes down to is this: there is nothing awful or great about this film. It was just an amusement to pass the time, with a touch of sadness seeing Anton.
1 ¾ stars — DVD
For some people the loud sirens entice them like the same named creatures from Greek mythology. Drivers slow down in anticipation of witnessing a car crash. I honestly do not know what attracts them; is it the contorted metal of the vehicles, the sight of injured bodies sobbing in pain or maybe the splattering of blood at the scene reminds them of the crime show they follow on television. Whether it is on the road or a city sidewalk, I find it upsetting to see individuals gawking and milling about at an accident. And to those bystanders straining to snap pictures, they disgust me. Not often enough but I have witnessed a ray of shining light in the middle of an accident and it is that individual who is not thinking about themselves. They run up to see if there is anything they can do to help; wow, what a concept. I remember when I was assigned to drive the visiting owner of a health and fitness company from her hotel to our fitness convention. On our way we came upon a car accident that had just happened. As I pulled over to the side of the road, she jumped out and ran to a man who was sitting in the middle of the road, leaning on his van with the crumpled front end. It was obvious to us he was in shock. I called 911 while she gently wrapped her jacket around him. Once we continued on our way she asked me not to mention the accident to anyone. I remember thinking at the time she was a wonderful example of selflessness. HIND Husseini, played by Hiam Abbass (The Visitor, Munich), quickly realized there was no place to protect the poor orphaned children who were victims of the Middle Eastern conflict. She did not care about their background; she only wanted to protect and teach them so they could continue to have a life. Unfortunately when divisions form sides become drawn. Directed by Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly), this film festival winning drama had an interesting story to tell. Based on the book by Rula Jebreal, the acting had a true emotional ring to it. Besides Hiam the cast included Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire, Trishna) as Miral, Willem Dafoe (Out of the Furnace, John Wick) as Eddie and Vanessa Redgrave (Howards End, Deep Impact) as Bertha Spafford. Sadly the script tried to do too much with the story lines. I felt the characters never had a chance to develop; remaining in predictable situations. Granted this did not stop me from watching this DVD; however, for a timely story that could easily be in the news today, I wished there had been more substance.
2 1/3 stars — DVD
It is getting so hard to trust anyone, let alone anything these days. I may not be one to talk since I do not easily give out trust; it is something I have always felt gets earned. My trust was originally formed as a solid unblemished mountain on protected land. Through the years each untruthful statement whipped at the outer layers of my trust like pelting rain, eroding the surface away. Being told I was your friend only to find out I was not; being told the product I was purchasing would be compatible with my other devices only to find out it was not; being told I was the only one only to find out I was not; each of these hit my trust, leaving a gaping dark hole that became impossible to traverse. If all the negative news about recalls, stolen credit cards and fraud was not enough; the stories I see about people doing bodily harm to others scares me more. The way individuals gain access to places so they can do damage alarms me terribly. I am afraid to answer my front door unless the screen door is locked and I know I am not the only one who feels this way. TRUST was heavily tested in this thriller based on John le Carre’s novel of the same name. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master, Doubt) played Gunther Bachman, an agent in a highly secretive German government agency. After Issa Karpov, played by Grigoriy Dobrygin (How I Ended the Summer, 4 Days in May), illegally arrived in Hamburg to claim his father’s estate; a clandestine race of cat and mouse began as German and American agents attempted to find out Issa’s true intentions. This film festival nominee was one of Philip’s final completed films. It saddens me to say he was outstanding in this role because seeing him only reminded me there would be no further performances. He helped push the cast to a higher standard, where everyone was so believable they kept the viewer guessing through each scene. Part of the cast included Willem Dafoe (The Fault in our Stars, Out of the Furnace) as Tommy Brue, Robin Wright (Forrest Gump, Rampart) as Martha Sullivan and Rachel McAdams (Midnight in Paris, About Time) as Annabel Richter. The major disappointment about this movie was the script. The first half of the film was muddled and slow; I sat wondering when it would get exciting. Finally by the last half I got into the story, appreciating the acting even more. Due to the actors and plot source I trusted this movie was going to be an intense thrilling picture. It did not quite make it all the way, but Philip certainly would have had nothing to apologize for regarding his performance.
Words can provide us things like comfort, excitement, hope and tenderness. In written form we absorb the word’s meaning, allowing it to color a thought or infuse intensity into our feelings. We hear words and the sender’s inflection assists in molding the words to our heart and mind. As adults we have the skills to be resilient when words get lobbed over with the intent to hurt us. I knew this person who always tried to establish himself as the smarter person in every one of his conversations. Personally I felt he was extremely book smart but had little common sense. His favorite thing to do when having a discussion with anybody was to answer their talking points with “And your point is?” I always found it offensive. Now notice if he would have said, “I do not understand what you mean,” it would have taken on a kinder, respectful approach. There were individuals who would not let his comments bother them, they had a solid confidence that was honed by years of experience. However, a child may not be capable because their identity has not been fully formed. There are people who have skewed expectations when it comes to children and you will see an ugly example in this dramatic movie. Ryan Reynolds (Smokin’ Aces, The Proposal) played successful author Michael Taylor . An upcoming family celebration was forcing Michael to go home and visit his parents Lisa and Charles Taylor, played by Julia Roberts (Notting Hill, Closer) and Willem Dafoe (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Hunter). Though Michael was looking forward to seeing his mother, he would prefer avoiding his father who always seemed to be disappointed in him. This movie had 2 sides of the story that flipped back and forth. The side I found better was the one with Michael as a child. I wished the writers would have made the whole movie about this time period. The part that dealt with the adult Michael was okay but I felt a stark difference between the two. Granted the cast was excellent, including Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves, The Book Thief) as Jane Lawrence, but their portion of the script was weak compared to their formidable acting skills. Overall I remained interested in the entire story and noticed I was getting a fearful reaction from Willem Dafoe’s character. It really is something when I can sit here today and still remember all those words that scarred me as a young boy.
2 1/4 stars — DVD