Be good to each other,
Be good to each other,
"The authentic relationship I wanted now was with the written page." -Jonathan Franzen
"Communism and Drugs"
A Review of "American Made" by Nathan H. Box
Directors: Doug Liman, Writer: Gary Spinelli, Starring: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright
Rating: 4 Stars, SHOWTIME
"American Made" is the story of a TWA pilot named Barry Seal, who became a drug runner for the CIA in the 1980's. Through poor government oversight and a failed attempt to fight both the war on drugs and the spread of communism, the entire operation was exposed to the public as the Iran-Contra affair.
If you are reading this at work, take a look around you. How many years have you been coming to this place? Going through these same routines? Do you feel stuck and uninspired? Then you can relate to the predictable life of Barry Seal played by Tom Cruise. Barry is a TWA pilot going through the motions. Once upon a time, he was destined for greatness but now he finds himself just doing enough to get by and make it in America. Then the CIA approached Barry in a bar and everything changed. What began as a mission to do reconnaissance work turned into something much more interesting.
Soon, flying through dangerous regions and being shot at wasn't enough. Barry needed more and the lure of cocaine pulled him forward. Here, our star meets the true Gods of Colombia; Jorge Ochoa and Pablo Escobar. They want Barry's help to fly cocaine into Miami. Instead of Miami, he convinces the drug kingpins to pick the bayous of Louisiana. Before we know it, Barry is making more money than he knows how to spend.
It is at this point that my first real concern for the movie arises. The film seems to have some timeline issues. They don't unravel the movie but they did make me question the story. As Barry begins to expand his operation in 1980, the movie mentions President and Nancy Reagan's War on Drugs and Just Say No campaign. My timeline issue here is Mr. Reagan was elected in November of 1980 but he didn't become president until January of 1981. Now, of course, this shouldn't be that big of a deal but this movie makes a point out of the timeline. As mentioned above, this doesn't ruin the film but it did catch me off guard.
My second concern for this film was the plot itself. In so many ways, it reminded me of the Johnny Depp film, "Blow." Now without a doubt, the Colombians relied on countless people to sneak cocaine into the US but the stories seemed so similar in spots I couldn't help but chuckle and wonder. For both characters, the good times are amazing. They are filled with pristine homes, clothes, cars, cash, and admiration. They also set up a scenario you know is coming, the fall. Of course, the fall begins with a betrayal and living beyond your means.
Where the film diverges from "Blow," is the path where drugs and communism cross. Time and time again, Barry is used as a pawn by the government. When it is discovered just how much money he is making in South America, the US creates a plot to use him once again. This time, they do it to cover themselves. See, they have been selling weapons to the South Americans without the consent of Congress. They need the American people to believe the Colombians, Iranians, Contra, and Communism are all in bed together. They need proof and Barry is their guy. This is the ultimate decision for Barry and the most dramatic in the entire movie.
For lifting the curtains on some of the events that lead to the Iran-Contra affair, this movie is worthy of your time and money. Just try to remember, we've seen some of this story before.
Be good to each other,
"The lovely thing about local spirit is that nobody outside of the area pays any attention to it." -William C. Speidel
"When need-to-know lists were being made up, I was always left off them. It was as if I went through life wearing a sign that said KEEP HIM IN THE DARK." -Jonathan Franzen
"The Idea of Yourself"
A Review of "The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" by Nathan H. Box
Directors: Noah Baumbach, Writer: Noah Baumbach, Starring: Adam Sandler, Grace Van Patten, Dustin Hoffman.
Rating: 4 Stars, SHOWTIME
"The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" focuses on an estranged family as they gather in New York for an event in honor of the artistic work of their father. Like most families, the relationships between each character is complicated. As they come to terms with the relationship they possess with their father and each other, the level of drama only intensifies.
You may need to sit down for the opening line of my critique of this film. Sitting down? Good. Adam Sandler is about to be nominated for an Oscar. Yes, the same guy who cussed at a golf ball and talked to a penguin in a drunken stupor is about to be nominated for Hollywood's biggest prize. Yet, those of us who have been paying attention to his dramatic work like "Punch Drunk Love," "The Cobbler," and "Reign Over Me" may not find this forthcoming nomination a surprise. In this film, he is brilliant as a loving father trying to bridge the gaps of the past by being the man his father could never be. In doing so, he turns in the performance of his career.
In Dustin Hoffman, we find a father who seems to be more focused on his work than his children. Throughout the film, we discover he suffers from delusions of grandeur and jealousy toward those who made it. He serves as an odd anchor for a family. For much of the film, he seems like a man who had kids because your "supposed to have kids." His self-centered nature creates complicated family dynamics that impacts every person around him. By the time the credits roll, his character will leave you questioning the idea of yourself and how you're perceived. For giving us this baggage to carry home, Dustin Hoffman also deserves a nomination.
In Ben Stiller, we find a man who has much in common with his father. There are two key differences, though. First, he is focused on business, not art much to the dismay of his father. Secondly, he seems to realize his flaws and works hard to correct them. To me, this is evident in his phone calls home and the sense of responsibility to be present.
Things are further complicated when Dustin Hoffman's character is admitted to the hospital. The possibility of end of life decisions becomes very real. Each of the three children is forced to come to terms with their father and find a way to forgive him for his shortcomings. For each of the characters, this is their moment to shine and they do not disappoint. Each submits memorable performances worthy of recognition.
When the film ends, you'll be left to evaluate the relationship you have with your own families. Great movies do this. They give you something to take from the screen to apply to your real life. And this is a great film.
Be good to each other,
"Fellowship was a class I was never going to be the best student in; I was content to pull down B's and C's in honesty and openness." -Jonathan Franzen
Left, Right, Center: Our Relationship with Other Countries
After World War I and through the Great Depression, the United States of America entered an extended period of isolationism. At 150 years old, our nation was not yet a global superpower. Taking some time to focus on ourselves didn't have a detrimental impact on other nations. We were allowed to retreat to focus on rebuilding our military, enjoy the roaring 20's, and recover from an extended economic depression. Even with another World War brewing, we wouldn't answer the call to enter the fray until we were attacked by the Empire of Japan. Then and there, we finally saw the need to stop encroaching enemies set on world domination. We also saw an opportunity to improve our own economy through a war effort.
After the war, the Empire of Great Britain, France, and the rest of Europe were in shambles. Japan had been defeated and Germany was divided. The U.S.S.R. and the United States of America stepped forward as the world's superpowers. Holding two different economic theories, the U.S.S.R. and United States entered an extended Cold War. Citizens of both countries lived under heightened periods of fear. A growing nuclear arsenal only complicated matters. Believing citizens all across the globe should be free to determine their own course, the United States entered into two wars to stop the spread of communism; the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Our cold standoff with Russia almost ended with the Bay of Pigs in Cuba.
In the late 80's, the U.S.S.R. collapsed leaving the United States as the sole superpower in the world. Not until recently, has any country really challenged our place. With China on the rise, many are beginning to question the role of the United States in the world. On one hand, we possess more military might than any other country in the world. On the other hand, we supply more aid to countries in need than any other nation on earth. We act as both police and servant. This is a hard and expensive position to hold for very long.
With this knowledge in hand, I think it is high time we begin to consider our relationship with other countries. In every region of the world, the U.S. enjoys allies, strategic partnerships, and treaties. Our troops are stationed in 150 nations. More often than not, when called upon to serve our soldiers and aid workers step up to the plate. Our citizens donate generously to causes all around the globe. We are a giving nation, but there is also this prevailing thought that we are the most feared, respected, loved, and hated country in the world. Some of this dissonance arises from the positive things mentioned above compared to our decisions to enter into the Vietnam War, meddle in other countries elections, the invasion of Iraq, our continued use of drones. These actions have created enemies; enemies are generosity cannot turn into friends.
Standing on the edge of a never-ending war on terrorism, we have three options. We can retreat inward and allow the world to solve its own problems. We can choose to flex our military might or we can choose diplomacy. In seemingly times of great of violence, I understand those who believe it is time to focus on ourselves. I also understand flexing our military might across the globe but I think those people often forget the high economic and human costs of war. I also understand those who cling to diplomacy and peace over anything else. In my mind, I don't think our relationship with other countries is an either/or proposition. Rather, I see I need for all three. I also wholeheartedly believe this is not a time for isolationism. There is too much at stake and too much of the world depends on us.
Instead of complete isolation, I would recommend we decrease defense spending and make sound investments in our own well-being. It is time to focus on infrastructure, schools, education, and the health of our people. Next, I would like to see a military that is leaner, meaner, and more strategic. It is often reported by those in the Pentagon that their budgets are bloated with items they don't need and didn't ask for in the first place. Instead, let's give them the tools they actually need to do the job. Let's invest more in research and development so we might be on the forefront of protecting those who rely on us against those who might do the world harm. Finally, let's double down on diplomacy. Peace, above all else, should be the aim of the nation. We will build more love and goodwill with aid and positive conversations than we ever could with a bomb. It is high time we realize that.
Of course, I know these are oversimplified solutions. Policy hawks, ambassadors, and the Defense Department would have a field day with my assessment. When the dust settles, I am just one citizen who has great concern about the path we find ourselves. Instead, of doing the same thing over and over expecting different results, perhaps we can try a more nuinaced approach.
Be good to each other,
"I wanted to be able to write a check, because I want to put Katrina's victims out of my mind and get back to enjoying my life, because, as a New Yorker, I felt I had a right to enjoy my life, because I was living in the number-one terrorist target in the Western Hemisphere, the preferred destination of every lunatic with a portable nuclear device or smallpox dispenser, and because life in New York was liable to go from great to ghastly even faster than it had in New Orleans." -Jonathan Franzen
"This is a great time to be an American CEO, a tough time to be the CEO's lowest paid worker. A great time to be Wal-Mart, a tough time to be in Wal-Mart's way, a great time to be an incumbent extremist, a tough time to be a moderate challenger. Fabulous to be a defense contractor, shitty to be a reservist, excellent to tenure at Princeton, grueling to be an adjunct at Queens College; outstanding to manage a pension fund, lousy to rely on one; better than ever to bestselling, harder than ever to be mid-list; phenomenal to win a Texas Hold 'Em tournament, a drag to be a video-poker addict." -Jonathan Franzen
"The Future of Cinema"
A Review of "Blade Runner 2049" by Nathan H. Box
Directors: Denis Villeneuve, Writers: Hampton Fancher, Michael Green, Starring: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas
Rating: 4 Stars, SHOWTIME
A young Blade Runner, played by Ryan Gosling, discovers a secret about the relationship between Replicants and humans that leads him to track down a former Blade Runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who has been missing for thirty years.
It is profoundly easy for films like "Blade Runner 2049" to collapse under the weight of their lofty ideals. Think back to the first time you saw "The Matrix." The concepts in that movie are heavy. They focus on a world unfamiliar to us, alternative realities, amazing attention to detail, and scenes that cannot be missed. For "Blade Runner 2049," the relationships are complicated, plots twist then turn, and every scene possesses something you need to know as the story progresses. When stories get this complicated, people can lose attention and grow frustrated. Something else can happen though, you can be swept away by their meticulous attention to detail.
Up front, you will notice some very unique things about this movie. It's setting is bleak, grand in its scope, and breathtaking to savor. Secondly, you will notice the soundtrack. In many ways, it is a character in this movie. It is pulsing, loud, hypnotic, and underscores every major discovery. Third, you will notice the cinematography. It is operatic in nature and so well devised that not since "The Matrix" have I seen anything that could compare. Finally, you will notice a storyline that builds off of the original movie while creating its own path. Together, all of these elements create a near perfect movie.
In Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling, we find actors cut from the same cloth. For both actors, their faces have a way of mirroring what is happening on the screen. With Mr. Ford, we find an actor playing a role where he is in complete control. He knows this role and this world. Still, his best scenes arise when he is confronted with the truth of the relationship between the Replicants and humans. With Mr. Gosling, we find an actor discovering a new world and trying to come to terms with it. His best scenes in this film are when he is confronted with what we assume is the big reveal. His reaction much later to this idea seals his performance in the film.
"Blade Runner 2049" is the future of cinema. It's scale and depth is beyond comparison. What it demands of the audience is brave. Its ability to harness the latest technologies to create a world and a setting is inspiring and should stand the test of time. For these reasons and so much more, I cannot recommend this film enough. But do yourself a favor, see the original film first. There are so many important details you will need on your journey.
Be good to each other,
Two authors. One question. Two different responses.
How did you become aware of your economic status?
I was raised in the southwest corner of Oklahoma in the 80's and 90's. The economy of Frederick is largely based on agriculture. There was one factory in town that always seemed to be months away from shuttering its doors. For as long as I can remember, my father was an electrician for a plant in North Texas in a town called Vernon. For most of my early life, my mom was a stay at home mom. As I grew up, she began a side arts and crafts business and then became a grocery store clerk before going back to school to become a licensed practical nurse. Almost every friend I grew up with would be considered middle class.
As a child, I don't know if I understood my economic class. When school began each year, we had new clothes and shoes. We had wonderful and nutritious meals on the table each night. Each and every birthday and Christmas was filled with wonderful toys and things we didn't deserve. By almost any standard, we were spoiled kids raised by parents who knew how to work hard and stay within their means. For much of my life, my parents rented their home but I don't think it ever dawned on me to take that as a lack of prosperity. My parents also drove used cars for most of my life. Again, I don't know if I equated that to not being wealthy.
In middle school, I did become aware of my economic status by total accident. Like lots of small towns, Frederick is divided by a railroad track. Long ago, these tracks were more than a system of transportation. They were meant to segregate races. Even as a child, I would hear people call a certain side of the tracks by a name I won't repeat here. I lived on the other side of the tracks. Just from aesthetics alone, I knew my parents could afford to live in a house that was bigger than those on the other side of the tracks. As an adult, I now know and understand how institutional racism contributed to such an opportunity.
But I also know we didn't live in what people called, "Rich Town" or "Snob Hill." These were homes in a certain corner of town with perfectly manicured lawns, nice vehicles in the driveway, and kids who were all white and well dressed. As a kid, I so badly wanted my parents to live in that part of town. At the time, for me, it wasn't about the home. Rather, it was about being close to my friends. When my parents decided to move, I begged and begged for them to find a house near my friends.
For my dad, the houses in this particular neighborhood were too close together. The yards weren't big enough. He didn't see enough room for his family or his stuff. So, much to my dismay, my parents selected a home on the south side of town. It wasn't particularly close to lots of neighbors. The yard encompassed half a city block and we had plenty of room to play. Also, my dad's ever-growing piles of junk had a place. In hindsight, this was the right house for us. It would become a gathering spot for neighborhood kids and our family. Us three boys had plenty of room to roam. It was also affordable. It also allowed my parents to move from renting to owning. It was the perfect home and always will be for me.
At the time, I was disappointed. I was also confronted with the reality that my parents were not as wealthy as others. Suddenly, I noticed the differences in my clothes. I knew my selection wasn't as wide as others. Our summer vacations to nearby destinations began to make sense. The "nos" I would hear from my parents soon had a deeper meaning. For the first time in my life, I was aware of my place in the world. In the moment, it hurt. Looking back on it now, I couldn't be more grateful.
That house on 15th St. will always be our house even though my parents have since moved. I am glad I heard the word no. I am proud I didn't get everything I wanted. Watching my parents put sweat equity into every purchase and trip, instilled within me a sense of hard work and deep understanding of the value found in a dollar. As a 33-year-old man, I know my place in the universe. Yet, I know no man will define me by the amount of money in my bank account. I will be judged by how I carry myself, my intelligence, and my compassion. Becoming aware of my economic place taught me that.
Be good to each other,
I don’t remember as a child how I figured out our economic status as it actually was. I assumed we were fairly poor. That was because we did things in ways I believed were only to save money. They did exactly that, but it was sometimes for other reasons. We gathered water in buckets when it rained and used it to help water the garden. I thought that was because we were constantly reminded that water isn’t free and to turn off the hose. Perhaps that was partially true, but I also grew up in southwest Oklahoma, which is moments away from catching on fire in summer. My mom was a stay at home mom, so we did need to save money. That didn’t make us poor; it made us think about what we spent. We were not handed money like some teenagers. My parents didn’t care about the newest cool jeans, and expected us not to either. I probably resented it at some point, but I don’t recall that now.
I see economic status and disparity now like a spotlight. It’s one of the toughest things to reconcile about my job and life. While I genuinely don’t think those who are wealthy are undeserving, it’s hard to watch children in poverty suffer while so many are clueless. But they aren’t always suffering. The generosity I see from those with very little to give juxtaposed with the often selfishness of those with so much is confusing. It reminds me of a story I once heard. Wouldn’t you be so happy if someone gave you $200? Wouldn’t that make your day? Then someone else came along and gave you $20? What a letdown that would be?
Except the person who gave you $20 gave you everything they had. The other guy kept $300 more for himself.
I guess that’s what I see. And I’ve become more that way. Not that I give money away, or that I think people have to to be good. It’s about the intent behind the giving. Tonight we had an event at my school. A school in a high poverty area that people often say the “parents don’t care” or “don’t work”. But we had to have it later on a Friday so parents CAN come, because they DO work. The parents made all the food. It’s their gift. (And I love homemade Mexican food, so it was quite a gift.) It would be an insult for us to offer to pay them. And so I choose to go to family or locally owned restaurants whenever possible.
That’s my economic status. As little money as I make, which is basically public record, I can go out to eat most of the time. Many of my students have never been to a restaurant that isn’t fast food. It simply isn’t done. Granted, I do cry more as a teacher than I have in any other job—these kids will get you—but one of the most unexpected times was when I mentioned that my cousin and I like to go to Buffalo Wild Wings. A little boy told me it was his Christmas wish to go there one day.
And I thought I was grateful before.
It’s easy to simply say their parents should do better. But I’ve been broke enough that if I didn’t have the people in my life that I do, I would be that hungry. Life comes at you fast and hard and mean.
I’ve stopped saying “food insecure”. To me, that’s the very definition of political correctness. Just because it’s south Oklahoma City and not across the world doesn’t mean a person isn’t starving. I’ve come to think I’m rich. Not in a sentimental, I-have-love-and-friendship-and-health way, although I do, but because I have my own bedroom. I have TWO bedrooms. I have air conditioning and heat. I have running water and lights. I have the internet at home. I can feed myself and a dog. I have a car. I can take trips to other states and even a couple countries.
I’m almost a millionaire.
At the center of every album is a musical thesis. As a listener, you bring your own baggage to every album you hear. With the weight of the past pressed upon you, an album reveals itself in slow order. More often than not, your reaction to a collection of songs is unique. I strongly believe no two people hear the same song the same way. For me, this is what makes music so exciting and such a joy to consume. In Nada Surf's "Lucky," I hear a list of wants and needs. These are songs about triumph and what you desire to be whole. No, the songs don't present themselves in bullet point form, rather they present themselves through stories; stories I related to deeply.
One of those desires is to make someone else happy and by doing so find some joy in your own life. This is a foundational concept for a healthy relationship, but not something that is easily learned. Rather, this lesson reveals itself slowly through trial and error. It is a product of time, place, and those you choose to surround yourself. it is also a product of dating, failing, and learning. Like any good lesson, it takes time and patience but once you figure out your joy can be found in making others happy and they choose to do the same, life becomes a wonderful gift.
Another theme that emerged for me while listening to this album was a fear of growing up. That fear focused not on looming responsibilities but rather a loss of youth. With its vibrancy and possibility, the idea of staying young forever is a tempting one. We all know people well into their twenties and thirties who float through life like Peter Pan. As I age, I too long for the boundless opportunities that seemed to be around every corner. I often have to remind myself that sense of wonder still exists. If it went away, it is because I forced it to do so. For it to return, I must fill myself with the same sense of optimism and wonder that I once knew. Those decisions are mine and I have this album to thank for helping me realize that.
Be good to each other,
"A Defining Moment"
A Review of "Battle of Sexes" by Nathan H. Box
Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, Writers: Simon Beaufoy, Starring: Emma Stone, Steve Carell, Andrea Riseborough
Rating: 4 Stars, SHOWTIME
In 1973, one of the most famous and important cultural events in American history played out on a tennis court between World #1, Billie Jean King and ex-champ, Bobby Riggs. Naturally, there was more to the story than what was witnessed on television. "Battle of the Sexes" attempts to raise the curtain on the major moments that delivered our two main characters to that most memorable day. In doing so, it reminds us the fight for equality is far from over.
Let it first be said that Emma Stone is becoming a force to be reckoned with in every single movie she appears. Her portrayal of Billie Jean King is raw, focused, and a different sandbox than she has been in before. In King, we see a woman who is a born advocate. Using tennis as her stage in the fight for equality, she rightly preaches a compassionate message that women can do anything men can do and should be treated as such. In the face of sexism, misogyny, and growing angst, she stood firm. Stone's embodiment of King takes you to the front lines of those battles and asks you to walk a mile in her tennis shoes.
Despite Stone's magical performance, my favorite character in this entire movie might be Gladys Heldman played by one of my favorite comedians, Sarah Silverman. She is irreverent, sharp as a tack, and determined to make King's dream come true. She stands as a testament to the simple truth that even the best among us need someone standing in our corner who believes as we do. Silverman embodies that person in every sense of the word.
What makes this movie truly great is the addition of King's own struggles with her sexual orientation. It gives the whole movie an intoxicating layer as she moves back and forth between the husband who has stood in her corner since the beginning and a woman who lets her be free and who she was always meant to be. Ultimately, the struggle and hiding become too much. King loses focus and her spot as the world's number one player. This leads Bobby Riggs to challenge the new number one first; a bit of information I didn't realize.
Bobby Riggs played by Steve Carell is not without his own challenges. He is a serial gambler and hustler. He finds himself at a job he can't stand, doing boring work, watching his glory days become smaller in the rearview mirror and to make matters worse his marriage is falling apart, His challenge to King may not be what he really believes but it is a role he chooses to play in an attempt to make money. His character is complex, flawed, and relatable to many American men.
As we arrive at the culminating point of the movie, King walks out onto a tennis court to face Riggs under the lights of the Astro Dome and with millions of people watching at home. With each step she takes, she walks alone but with the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of thousands of women on her back. As the match begins, it quickly becomes obvious this is a defining moment. Sure, it is sport and sport is a spectacle but this means more. Her victory was a giant leap forward for women, girls, and every woman not yet born. For that, we owe her a debt of gratitude for everything she did on and off the court.
Be good to each other,
"Manners Maketh Man"
A Review of "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" by Nathan H. Box
Director: Matthew Vaugh, Writers: Jane Goldman, Matthew Vaughn, Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Mark Strong
Rating: 4 Stars, SHOWTIME
With one well-planned attack, the headquarters of the Kingsman is no more. As the remaining Kingsman agents begin to try and piece life back together, the world finds itself held hostage by a ruthless drug lord named Poppy played brilliantly by Julianne Moore. In order to defeat her, the remaining Kingsman agents must cross the pond and get some Yankee help from the Statesman. Together, these elite organizations must pull resources and talent in an effort to save millions of people.
As someone who critiques movies, my job is pretty simple. I watch films as they present themselves to be. Some are comedic, others dramatic, suspenseful, horror-inducing, and/or action-packed. Once I figure out the aim of each film I see, I judge it on some simple grounds: Is it entertaining? Does the plot keep my attention and is it void of recognizable flaws? Do I connect with at least one of the characters? Does it make me question the outside world? Does it accomplish its aim? When the credits roll, how these questions are answered determine whether I would recommend other's spending their time and money to see it.
For "Kingsman: The Golden Circle," the goals are simple. It wants to entertain you with jaw-dropping action scenes and pepper in some comedy when possible. It achieves these goals better than almost any movie trying attempting to do the same thing that I saw this summer. In fact, it wastes almost no time doing so with one hell of an opening sequence. The first 10 minutes are break-neck, fast-paced, awe-inducing, and beautiful to watch. It didn't take long for this film to fill me with a warm, fuzzy love for why I go to the movies. On top of the opening scene, is the amazing style of everyone in the movie. These were reason enough to stick around.
Colin Firth's character, Harry Hart, set the tone for the first film. The way he carried himself, spoke and acted dripped with British power. When he is shot and killed in the first film, it hurt. Knowing he has a moment of rebirth in this film and each member of the team is trying to desperately bring back their leader adds another layer of complexity. You will wait for a good chunk of the film to hear the words, "Manners Maketh Man" to be uttered but when they come they are glorious!
Julianne Moore's character, Poppy, steals the show, as far as I am concerned. She is a drug lord, hidden away in the jungle, addicted to 50's retro and selling drugs all over the world. The way in which she holds the world hostage is ingenious and a new approach for a villain. As her drugs begin to render people useless, she begins a push "legalize and save lives," as a way of making all the pain go away. I found it to be a refreshing approach that she wasn't after just bringing doom on the world. Instead, she just wanted to continue expanding her empire like any good capitalist.
A film like this lives and dies based on its action scenes and the scenes in this movie are nothing short of amazing. The film has three major scenes and when coupled with the story itself, they create a near flawless action-comedy. Really! I don't have a lot of bad things to say about this movie. Sure, you have to swallow your sense of disbelief. Things almost always bounce in the direction of the good guys and there will for sure be another sequel. But, at the end of the day, sometimes you just want to be entertained, amazed, and laugh a bit. For me, this movie acheived all that and more.
Be good to each other,
"Odd Twist of Trust"
A Review of "Home Again" by Nathan H. Box
Director: Hallie Meyers-Shyer, Writer: Hallie Meyers-Shyer, Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Nat Wolff
Rating: 2 Stars, SKIP
The plot for "Home Again" can be summed up in the following manner: A single mom (Reese Witherspoon) in Los Angeles finds herself in unfamiliar territory. She is separated from her husband who lives back in New York, has two beautiful daughters worried about making L.A. home, is working hard to get a new career venture off the ground and to complicate matters worse allows three young filmmakers to live with her family after a night of celebrating her birthday. The plot with for this film isn't a difficult one to grasp. What I did find very complicated were the interpersonal relationships all of which are centered around Reese Witherspoon's character. There is the relationship with her daughters, mother, friends, estranged husband, the three young men (one in particular played by Pico Alexander), and of course the intrapersonal relationship with herself. These complications gave this movie potential; a potential that really never delivered.
A mid-life crisis can come in many forms. Hollywood likes to pretend men go and buy themselves lots of new toys to make themselves feel younger and woman begin questioning their status and place in the world. Both of these cliches are well traveled and worn. Still, "Home Again" chooses to take us down a familiar path. It allows our main character to come to some sense of truth but not a point that would be well tolerated by anyone in the real world.
My biggest complaint with this film is the missed opportunities in almost every character interaction. Without exception, almost every exchange seems fake and forced. 20 minutes into the film, I couldn't help but think that no one really talks like this. Real and honest dialogue would have added another layer of complexity to this movie and made the characters more relatable. Instead, we are left with 2-D versions of well-rounded characters who more often than not fall flat.
While we are on the subject of honesty, we must address the elephant in the room for this film. It is extremely white. Taking place in L.A., one of the most diverse cities in America, I was flabbergasted to only see a handful of people of color, none of which played major characters in the film. This didn't seem real or authentic to me but of course, I may be living in a multi-cultural fishbowl. Again, I think this was a missed opportunity for the writer to add another layer of complexity to the plot.
Most of this film is a competition with Reese Witherspoon in the middle of a four-man sandwich. On one side is a husband who triumphantly returns home to save his family. On the other side, is a younger version of Reese's husband and his two friends. The film wants us to focus on the tug of war with the central question to be answered focused on who she will choose. Ultimately, it is an odd twist of fate that influences her decision. Her choice is both satisfying and predictable; which happens to be my reasoning behind not liking lots of romantic comedies.
Predictably, before the credits roll everything is solved and tied up in a nice, neat, little bow. All is figured out with much complexity or nuance. For some, this may be fine but for the discerning movie-goer, it will leave you disappointed which is why I recommend you skip this film.
Be good to each other,
Be good to each other,
At the center of every album is a musical thesis. For The National's album, "Boxer," there is a focused sadness. I think it is worth pausing here for a moment. This band often gets incorrectly labeled as "sad dad rock" music. There are a number of reasons for this assessment: their age, their gender, convenience, and those who listen to them. When I listen to this music. I don't picture a balding man holding on to his youth, wearing a layered argyle sweater, wishing he could be a better father and partner. Instead, I see myself. I see a man who is constantly questioning his place in the world because I know I only get one shot at this thing and I better make the most of it. That feeling is a complex emotion and it often makes me feel sad. I relate to this music because they are speaking my language and those words are hard for me to say.
They speak of love as if it is war. When they talk about relationships, I picture two combatants in separate corners of the bedroom coming together every once in a while to battle, lay down their arms, and/or let peace prevail. Now, of course, a loving relationship is not always like this. There are extreme moments of euphoria when all seems right in the world. Then there are moments like the examples provided on this record. These moments are authentic and they remind me that I am not alone. When my partner and I go to war, we should do so with the hope of both exiting victors on the other side. To do so with any other intention is a clear sign you shouldn't be in a relationship.
These relationship battles define us. They either make us better people or far worse. They either make us a better couple or far worse. Here is the secret though and this album reveals it; we get to choose. We can start a war, lay down our arms, or work to come to some sense of mutual understanding. The choice is ours. We shouldn't let emotions or poor choices cloud our judgment. We should be able to look the person we love in the eyes and know why we are fighting. "Boxer" makes that crystal clear to me. For that, it will forever be anchored in my mind in the event any battle should arise.
Be good to each other,
"Wounds with Scar Tissue"
A Review of "American Assassin" by Nathan H. Box
Director: Michael Cuesta, Writers: Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan
Rating: 3 Stars, STREAM
"American Assassin" opens on a beautiful beach in Spain. A lovely young couple is swimming. Today is a big day in their relationship. Mitch Rapp played by Dylan O'Brien is about to propose to his longtime girlfriend. As an audience member, we get to be there for the celebration. As she says yes, we feel Mitch's love and joy. To remember the occasion, the whole event is captured on a cell phone; forever documented. Mitch then decides to swim away for a couple of drinks to mark the moment. As he orders, the sound of gunfire erupts on the tranquil beach. As Mitch ducks for cover in a pool, he rises to see his now fiance shot and killed in cold blood. This loss of love and innocence sends him on a path of revenge and vigilantism.
Naturally, Mitch has wounds with scar tissue. His physical wounds heal over the next 18 months but the emotional trauma is still there. As time elapses, we find a young man training his body and mind for something bigger. He is digging deep into terrorist organizations and pretending to be a member in an effort to get closer to the man who took everything from him. Of course, in a predictable sort of way, every move he makes is being monitored by the CIA. When Mitch finds himself in Turkey, face-to-face, with the man he has been chasing for almost two years, it is quickly realized he will get no satisfaction in killing the mastermind of the Spain beachfront killing. Instead, the CIA sweeps in to claim victory.
With this chapter in Mitch's life closed, a new door opens. The CIA sees within him a real ability to be a civilian asset on the ground and in the global fight against terrorism. Now, I am not sure how much time the CIA spends tracking lone wolves destined to stop terrorist cells but this whole process is one of the most unbelievable aspects of the entire movie. Still, I decided to swallow my disbelief and allow things to play themselves out.
Here is where we meet Stan Hurley played by Michael Keaton. Hurley is a no-nonsense trainer of special CIA agents. As we learn later in the film, he has a tangled past which will bring him face-to-face with a former student and agent in the field. At first, he doesn't see much promise in Mitch. He sees someone who is volatile, doesn't take orders, and has joined his team for all the wrong reasons. Of course, in the most Hollywood way imaginable, Mitch proves him wrong, except the whole going rogue thing. Mitch still does that. In fact, that's all he does.
In the field, we encounter a Mitch who uses revenge as a strength. Where normal men and women would fall, he draws on his pain to accomplish the task before him. This is also where he derives his patriotism. To face the new enemy before him, he will need all that strength. See, Taylor Kitsch plays Ghost. He is a former trainee of Hurleys. After being left for dead in the field, he feels abandoned by his country. After enduring torture, he too finds himself seeking revenge. Thankfully, the Iranians are looking to acquire plutonium for a nuclear missile. Ghost uses this exchange to steal the weapon and sets in motion a plan to destroy a fleet of Navy ships off the coast of Italy. This is where Ghost and Mitch come together in a race against time. From here on out, this movie plays out in spectacular fashion. Most of which I can't speak about without giving away the ending.
Despite it taking me five paragraphs to explain the plot of this movie, I found it to be too simplistic. As an audience member, you are asked to believe a lot of unbelievable events. Also, events, their cause, and the next steps of the bad guys are figured out much too easily; which is the biggest complaint I have with movies such as this. The acting in the film is subpar with no one giving much of a stellar performance. Even Keaton, who I adore, seems to just be there barking orders and commands. Ghost's reasoning for seeking revenge against his homeland is weak at best. Much of the dialogue leaves something to be desired. Still, this is a movie worth seeing. I would just wait until you can watch it in the comfort of your home.
Be good to each other,
"Rhymes to Riches"
A Review of "Patti Cake$" by Nathan H. Box
Director: Geremy Jasper, Writer: Geremy Jasper, Starring: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett. Siddharth Dhananjay
Rating: 4 Stars, SHOWTIME
Patricia Dombrowski goes by many names. Patti Cake$, Killa P, just to name a couple. She is beyond average and finds herself in a dying town in New Jersey. Patti possesses a gift; a gift which may help deliver her from her withering home. Patti is part poet, all rapper, and is solely focused on making it as a white, overweight, woman in the world of hip-hop. Her journey is anything but expected and delivers one of the most memorable movies of the year.
Patti's home state of New Jersey is an important character in this film. In my mind, there is only one other place in the US this film could have taken place and that's Detroit. We've already seen "8 Mile," so New Jersey it is. All around our main character is a town crumbling to pieces. Jobs are hard to come by, addiction is rampant, and opportunity only seems to knock for a few. Patti wants to be one of those people knocking on the door. She has dreams of rising from rhymes to riches. What began as clever lines in notebooks and rapping with friends, slowly begins to blossom into something more. As an audience member, it doesn't take you long to realize you are experiencing a real talent. The great struggle of the film is her mission to have the rest of the world realize it.
To rise, she must battle stereotypes. Her race, weight, and gender are all weapons others use to try and keep her in a place she is no longer destined. This requires hustling, grinding, and battling. It requires two jobs, practice, and just a little bit of luck. There are valuable lessons to be learned here: We should always seek to positively defy other's expectations of us and rarely do we arrive anywhere substantial without hard work. There are many moments in this film when life gets in the way like an alcoholic mother or a dying grandmother and it would have been easy for our hero to quit. Luckily for us, quitting is never really an option for Patti.
The film's climax is a rap showcase in Newark. Patti and her crew find themselves competing with other talented acts. All are battling for a chance to take the next step in their career. Without giving too much away, this original piece of work could have chosen a typical Hollywood ending. instead, they chose a different route and by doing so delivered a perfect ending for a perfect role model of what it means to chase your dreams.
Be good to each other,