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
It was a time where the words “please” and “thank you” were freely given in a sentence. Kind gestures were evident everywhere we went throughout the building. With passports in hand, a group of us went out of the country for a convention being held in a regal old hotel. Wide and majestic with its granite facade and elongated windows, the hotel had several flags waving above the doorway as if they were greeting every hotel guest. Inside the floor was fitted with a combination of huddled polished gold edged tiles that looked like reflective pools surrounded by the plush, deep red carpeting that swallowed up noises from everyone’s shoes. The lobby had an ample crystal chandelier that cast just enough light to make the room glow as if the sun was setting behind the woven tapestry that hung across the far western wall. For the duration of the convention no matter how loud or rowdy the guests became, the hotel staff never once judged or showed a disapproving face. It was when the Grand Budapest Hotel first appeared on the movie screen in this comedic drama that I recalled my memory of that trip. The difference between the two hotels was that mine sat in the heart of a large city and it did not have a murder occur within its walls. From writer and director Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom), this visually stimulating film grabbed me from the very beginning. No need to worry if visuals are not your cup of tea because the story had a creative zaniness that was elevated by the fine acting from the cast. Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter franchise, Skyfall) was outstanding as the famous hotel concierge Gustave H. Adrien Brody (The Pianist, Cadillac Records) as Dmitri, Willem Dafoe (Out of the Furnance, The Walker) as Jopling and relative newcomer Tony Revolori (The Perfect Game) as Zero Moustafa were only part of the wonderful cast that Wes assembled for this fun film. The story was a story within a story that was easy to follow. When a wealthy guest of the hotel was found murdered, the authorities believed Gustave H was to blame. What took place after were a series of screwball chases and plot twists that hearkened back to the madcap comedy movies made in the 1930s and 40s. Each scene had its own unique individualized detailing where I felt I was looking through a series of paintings. If you are not a fan of Wes Anderson, I think the cast could still win you over. As far as I was concerned I was willing to book a room at the hotel in this film festival winner.
3 2/3 stars
In our everyday life things we don’t know do not necessarily cause us stress or anxiety. In a math class, there may be an unknown variable in an equation you must figure out. Maybe you have an appointment in a part of the city that is not familiar to you or you were invited to a party where you do not know what type of gift to buy for the host. As I said before, these scenarios should not be too stressful for you. Now if the unknown is the whereabouts of a loved one that would be a different story. I have been fortunate not to have experienced such an awful thing. When newscasts report on a missing child or relative, they usually show family members in distress. Days or weeks can go by without any news and the relatives just want to know what happened to their loved ones. This type of scenario was the premise for this dramatic crime thriller. Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, Gerry) played Iraqi war veteran Rodney Baze Jr. Experiencing a hard adjustment to life back home, in the small steel mill town, Rodney could not find employment except for some clandestine fighting matches. When he did not return from one of his matches his older brother Russell, played by Christian Bale (American Psycho, The Prestige), could not wait for the local police to find him. He took matters into his own hands. From the start, this intense film created heaviness within me. It felt as if each scene was created to convey a sense of resigned depression. The cinematography which was beautiful further helped convey those feelings. As for the acting it was subtly superb by Christian and Casey. Then there was Woody Harrelson (Rampart, No Country for Old Men) playing Harlan DeGroat. He was as wickedly sinister as he has every been. I also thought Willem Dafoe (The Hunter, The English Patient) was perfect for his role as John Petty. The disappointment in this film festival winner came from the script. I found it weak as it lost steam by the end. If the actors’ incredible acting had a stronger screenplay, this movie would have been close to a 4 stars rating. Instead I left the theater knowing I had seen a great cast, but not knowing what the writers were thinking when they wrote the screenplay. There were scenes that had violence and blood in them.
2 3/4 stars
Was there really a Tasmanian Tiger living in the Tasmanian wilderness? These animals were thought to have been extinct. This was why mercenary Martin David, played by Willem Dafoe (The Walker, Daybreakers), was hired by a biotechnology drug company, to track down and capture this unique animal. I had never heard of such a creature, so was intrigued to see this film. Mr. Dafoe was very good in his role as the solitary Martin. One could readily see his discomfort while boarding at the house of Lucy Armstrong, played by Frances O’Connor (A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Timeline). With his seasoned face, he easily added depth to his character, who would be camped out in secluded areas for weeks at a time. Being an enthusiastic traveller, I enjoyed the camera shots of the beautiful landscapes of Tasmania. I am embarrassed to say, but the only knowledge I had of this country was with the cartoon character, the Tasmanian Devil. The pacing of the story was too slow for me in this dramatic thriller. It wasn’t until halfway through the movie that things became exciting. The story was curiously different; I enjoyed parts of the movie overall. However, it took some time to connect the parts and become interested in the hunt.
2 2/3 stars