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Reflections, Ruminations and Review: Richard Jewell

This movie hits close to home on so many levels. I was living in Atlanta in 1996, freelancing in news, and was even supposed to be volunteering as a pseudo security guard at Centennial Park on the night of the bombing. I still have the uniform, though I never “served” – opting instead for a paid gig with NBC NewsChannel, helping local affiliates cover the Olympics from a rooftop about a half-mile away from the park. I remember getting home from work after midnight, turning on the TV and a short time later, hearing about the bombing. I remember transitioning from NBC to CNN when the Games ended. I remember the media frenzy surrounding Richard Jewell, who lived with his mother in an apartment complex off Buford Highway, close to my favorite bowling alley. I don’t remember to what extent I believed or shared the details about Richard Jewell’s alleged role in the bombing. But I do recall having great faith in our sources at the FBI and ATF, and in the reporting of our hometown paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They all said he did it. He didn’t.

Oops doesn’t quite cut it.

Review: Booksmart

Ever dream of a high school do-over? Wonder what you might have done differently in those final years of anxious adolescence? Booksmart tackles the what-ifs in a smart and entertaining way as two best friends – both academic overachievers – suddenly realize they probably could have partied more and studied less, without jeopardizing their futures. Their epiphany comes on the eve of high school graduation, leaving the gal pals one last chance to experience all the fun and hijinx they’ve missed out on the past four years. This isn’t a stereotypical ‘teens transform from nerds into popular kids’ movie. Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are self-confident and comfortable in who they are and plan to be. They approach their night of fun with the same commitment they applied to their studies, only to learn that book-smarts don’t always translate into street-smarts.

Review: Life Itself

Don’t let the trailer fool you. Life Itself is not This Is Us. Yes, it is a multi-generational family drama written and directed by This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman, and yes, you will need tissues. But even Fogelman will tell/warn you that Life Itself is darker and heavier than his serial television weep-fest. It’s a melodramatic soap opera of a film that tells the story of two families – in New York and Spain – whose lives are connected by tragedy. It’s heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting even as it seeks to manipulate our emotions with a heavy-handed theme that ‘Life’ is an unreliable narrator of our story. The film is broken up into “chapters” to drive the point home.

The Lazarus Effect

Oh, the horror… that this movie is. So bad, in fact, that I resent the time it’s taking me to write this “review” panning it. To be fair, I don’t like horror movies to begin with. So it’s quite possible that horror movie or B-movie fans will find some redeeming value in The Lazarus Effect. I just didn’t get it. At all. And I put too much faith in the casting. I generally like Olivia Wilde, so I held out hope that it would be entertaining on some level – like the apocalyptic zombie movie World War Z – but no, that was not the case. I’m thinking Wilde must be (really good) friends with somebody connected to the script. Here’s the gist:

Her

Her is really all about him, him being Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with his personalized operating system named Samantha (Scarlett Johansson). If this sounds a bit weird, it is, but only for a bit. In this film set in the very near future, true love is as elusive as ever, and a new technology allows people to become intimately entwined with their computers’ operating systems. Lonely Theodore is still recovering from breaking up with his wife (Rooney Mara) and isn’t having a lot of success in the dating world, so when Samantha enters his life through an earpiece and a mic, her ability to see and appreciate him is incredibly attractive.

Rush

Opie – oops, I mean Ron Howard – doesn’t make bad movies. At least, that’s what I told myself as I dragged myself into Rush, a film about Formula 1 racecar driving – a topic I know less than nothing about. Well, now I’m a fan. Sort of. Because Ron Howard’s movies tend to do that to – and for – the mainstream audience. It all boils down to good characters, good storytelling, and good directing. So yes, I got a rush out of Rush, and left the theater wanting to know more about the true story it’s based on. And yes – the eye candy didn’t hurt. Chris Hemsworth (Thor) is a cutie. But he showed more than his taut backside in this flick. He showed some real acting chops as well. And so did his co-star, Daniel Brühl (Inglourious Basterds).

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone won’t blow you away any more than (or even as much as) Oz the Great and Powerful. But if you’re looking for a generally innocuous, sometimes funny, and occasionally gross cinematic outing, Wonderstone does the trick. Even more so if you grew up with one of those magic kits that came with a long multi-colored handkerchief, fake quarter, top hat, and a loaded deck of cards. That will kick the nostalgia factor – and enjoyment factor – up a notch.

Butter

Yes, indeed. This is a movie about butter — a butter sculpting competition to be precise. Not something you see all that often, right? But I have not gone out of my way to search one out either. The movie gives you a glimpse into this odd state fair craft, through a somewhat funny little movie with a surprisingly all-star cast. Jennifer Garner plays Laura, wife of long-time celebrity state champion butter sculptor Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell from Modern Family.) When the butter powers-that-be decide that someone else needs to win and it is time for Bob to step aside, Laura’s world as VIP wife crashes around her. So she decides to enter the competition herself. But her biggest rival turns out to be a cute little, 10-year-old black foster child named Destiny (Yara Shahidi).

Cowboys & Aliens

If you like westerns and you like sci-fi then trust me, you’ll like Cowboys & Aliens. It really is that simple. This movie is a strange hybrid that somehow works, mostly due to its stars (Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford) and its director, Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Elf) who knows how to make a crowd-pleaser. The best way to describe it is True Grit meets Independence Day. Chew on that for a while.