I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF PICKING out songs for a playlist to give to a close friend. There was one song I remembered from a movie I saw many, many years ago. The song has always stuck with me, though I never knew the title. Searching online I sought out the movie first to see if I could get a list of its song titles. I remembered an older woman in the film sang the song as she stood still in place. It did not take me too long to find the song I remembered and see its title. Once I had it, I typed the title into my computer’s search engine to see what would come up. Little did I realize this was a popular song, because the choice of artists who sang this song went on for pages. Besides having a list of artists, there were also music videos of artists performing the song. I found myself going from one video to another to see what the musical artist would do with the song. It was interesting to hear the multitude of variations; every artist was trying to put their own spin on the song. I was enjoying this musical journey despite it causing me confusion in not being able to decide which performance I wanted to include in my playlist. TIME WAS SLIPPING AWAY AND I was no closer to completing my project. I had no idea how many renditions of the song I had seen or heard; but somewhere in the list of artists I saw this name that I had heard, but I had never heard her perform. I clicked on the link and out of my computer speakers came this rich, earthy, passionate voice. At times it delved into the alto range but would veer right into a tenor level; I think her voice would be considered a contralto. Her voice captivated me because I could not recall hearing a female voice with such a strong lower register. It was as if I was listening to this song for the very first time; it was something fresh and new as the notes hung in the air around me like Spanish moss. Who was this woman who could take a song from the past, from a film musical, and make me feel as if our hearts were beating in synch? As soon as the song ended, I replayed it several times. And once I had my fill, I sought out other songs this musical artist performed. Having this as my introduction, there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to learn more about Nina Simone. WITH PLANS ON BECOMING A CLASSICALLY trained concert pianist, one night performing at a nightclub would change the course of Eunice Kathleen Waymon’s life. Directed by Liz Garbus (Girlhood, Bobby Fischer Against the World), this film festival winning documentary delved into the life of Nina Simone. With archival footage, interviews and performances; I found myself yearning for more musical performances as the movie went on. This biography touched on many aspects of Nina’s life, from childhood to adulthood to political activism; all of it was interesting, but part of me wished there would have been more details offered in the non-musical scenes. The interviews with her daughter, I found to be telling. I read somewhere the daughter was upset about a film that came out about her mother, so she got involved in the creation of this documentary. I am glad she did because not having any knowledge per se of Nina’s life, this film was a beautiful way to learn about her. And I have that playlist I made for a friend to thank.
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
HE WAS SUCH AN UNASSUMING INDIVIDUAL that I did not know he was the owner of the company. A fellow employee pointed him out to me one day; I thought they were playing a joke on me because I did not believe it. The owner was casually dressed in nondescript clothing. In other words, there were no fancy labels or names on anything, nor did he wear anything around his neck or wrist like a gold chain or expensive watch. Basically, there was nothing about this man’s appearance that defined his achievements. The product the company was selling was something he had invented. I thought that alone would have been enough reason for him to put on airs or display a sense of importance around the offices, but it was not. He acted like one of the employees of the company. When I think about it, the only time one would wonder what his position was in the company was during the holidays. He would receive a variety of thank you gifts from vendors; things like boxes of fruit, assorted cookies or other food-based products. Instead of keeping them for himself he was always opening the packages and placing them in the company kitchen for people to take for themselves. AS MUCH AS THE OWNER WAS humble, there was one company salesman who had ego for days. Every day he was dressed in a suit, whether he had customer appointments of not. That alone would not have been a big deal; but he wore quite a few expensive accessories. I had counted at least 6 expensive watches he switched up every day, besides thick gold jewelry pieces on his other wrist. Whether you asked him for his opinion or not, he was the type of person who would always tell you what you should do. Even things that were just common sense, he had to make a point of telling you what was the “right” way to do it; at least right according to him. If a customer came into the offices, they usually assumed he was the owner based on his mannerisms and speech. He was full of himself as they say; I did my best to have only minimal interaction with him. From that job to all the others I have had I have learned those who “crow” the loudest usually know the least. Those who do not brag, or showoff tend to be the most knowledgeable. This certainly applies to the main character in this biographical film festival winning movie. HAVING PRACTICED A LIFESTYLE OF NON-CONFRONTATION became a conflict for Ip Man, played by Donnie Yen (Rouge One: A Star Wars Story, Seven Swords) when Japanese forces invaded and took over his town. With resources scarce, he would have to find a way to survive. With Simon Yam (Election, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) as Quan, Lynn Xiong (Hotel Deluxe, My Sassy Girl 2) as Cheung, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (The Handsome Suit, Railroad Tigers) as Miura and Siu-Wong Fan (Future X-Cops, Flying Swords of Dragon) as Jin; this action drama surprised me. For the genre it is in, this film’s focus was on the story and I found it interesting. It felt to me like a partial history lesson with its inclusion of the Japanese invasion of China back in the 1930s. The action scenes were beautifully choreographed, even when a bit of humor was interjected in some of them. It was unexpected to see a martial arts movie that was so story driven; I was drawn into the plight of Ip Man and his family. Also, the fact that this character was based on a true person (who in real life had Bruce Lee as a student) made this picture that more enjoyable. Seeing photos of the actual man at the end was an added treat. Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese was spoken with English subtitles.
3 ¼ 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
THE QUESTIONING DIED DOWN AFTER A short time. It was a good thing since it was starting to annoy me. I had a friend who on the surface was a complete opposite of me; several of my friends would keep asking me why I was friends with him. I realized he came across as gruff to some people, with an air of indifference. Between the two of us we were different politically and religiously. We were complete opposites when it came to exercise and healthy food choices. Where I tried to exercise 5-6 days a week, he never did any physical activity where he would have to exert himself. In fact, the last time he actually exercised was back when he was a student in high school, where it was a mandatory requirement. I could see why my friends would think the two of us had nothing in common; however, they never took the time to really get to know him like I had done. Now granted, I did not push for all of us to get together and hang out. I do not know if you do this with your friends; but I tend to get together with my friends either on a one to one basis or in small groups. When there is a large group, I feel I do not get to catch up completely with friends’ lives. Also, the larger a group the more chances there will be personality conflicts. THOUGH IT APPEARED THERE WAS NOTHING in common between this friend and me; we got along great. There was a deep, sweet kindness inside of him that many people never got to see because they could not get past his abrupt manners. That was one of the things I liked about him; he would tell it like it is without soft-pedaling any of it. We would have these lengthy, philosophical conversations about a variety of topics that were stimulating to me. We did not always agree on things; but the key was both of us respected the other’s opinions. Neither him nor I had to accept each others’ opinions, but we both had respect for them. Not that I want to paint this perfect picture of two friends totally in synch, because there were times we got on each other’s nerves. The key to a successful friendship, at least according to me, is to be respectful, loyal and unconditional. One cannot pick out the pieces we like in a friend and discard the rest; they must accept their friend unconditionally and simple love them. If you care to see how this works, then feel free to watch this film festival nominated, comedic drama. WITH ONE NEIGHBOR LIVING ABOVE THE other, both men fell into a friendship that had its routines. That is until one of the neighbors was given hard medical news about his health. With Mark Duplass (Creep, The One I Love) as Michael, Ray Romano (The Big Sick, The Irishman) as Andy, Christine Woods (Stray, Adult Interference) as Doctor Hagen, Jen Sung (The Happytime Murders, Battle of the Damned) as Master Liu and Sierra Fisk (Piranha 3DD, The Concessionaires Must Die!) as Olive; this movie had a slow start. Not that this was entirely a bad thing because the acting between Mark and Ray was so solid, I was able to connect to the two neighbors during this slow part. The last half of the film made up for the beginning part. I felt the story and the script was done in a real and believable way that made the scenes convincing to me. The humor was gentle, never looking to create belly laughs for the viewer. In a way, I found the ending treated the subject matter in an authentic way that was touching and loving. And that was the beauty in watching this picture; one did not need to have experienced such a scenario to be moved by it.
NO MATTER WHAT TOOK PLACE, THE one thing you could not do was cry. At least that is what was instilled into every boy in school. Not that I remember someone ever telling me that exactly, but I learned right away after one tear broke free from my eye and slid down my face. The teasing and name calling started immediately before I could get up from the ground. I was not sure if I was purposely tripped while running in the schoolyard; but I fell face forward onto the asphalt, ripping my pants and scraping off the skin of my knees and the palms of my hands. If someone asked if I was okay, I did not hear them through the laughter. I did not take it personally since the same thing happened to anyone who fell. Though if you were a girl you did not get teased about crying. How or why that distinction took place, I had no idea; it was just acceptable or maybe it was tolerated better if a girl was crying instead of a boy. One of the worst labels a student could get was being called a “crybaby.” Getting that label would put you on a quick path to being known as a sissy, at least amongst the boys. FROM THE EARLY TRAINING THAT TOOK place in elementary school, many boys grew a veneer of toughness. Some of the male students tried out for a sports team, figuring what they lacked in striking an opposing stature would be filled in with their athleticism. For those of us who wouldn’t or couldn’t compete in sports, we were left to fend for ourselves. A disconnect grew between those boys who were successful in portraying a tough exterior and those who chose not to or could not display toughness which by the way translated into manliness. Growing up in that kind of environment made me feel like something was wrong with me. By the time I made it to college, I found myself feeling more comfortable around female students than male. What drove this home for me was when I went to a fraternity’s open house during orientation week. Their house was this old Georgian style home with two white pillars that framed the front doorway. Going on a tour of the house, I heard about the history of the fraternity and its illustrious achievements in sports and community outreach. I do not know how to say this, but all the talking points I was hearing had competitive undertones that turned me off quickly. It seemed to me they were only interested in accepting those students who could display a “macho” exterior; something I sorely lacked. After watching this film festival nominated drama, I am so glad I never tried to be a pledge. HOPING TO SUCCEED WHERE HIS FATHER failed, college freshman Zurich, played by Trevor Jackson (Superfly, Eureka-TV), was determined to survive his chosen fraternity’s hell week, no matter what he was expected to do. With Tosin Cole (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Unlocked) as Frank, DeRon Horton (Dirt, Dear White People-TV) as Square, Alfre Woodard (12 Years a Slave, Annabelle) as Professor Hughes and Steve Harris (The Rock, The Practice-TV) as Dean Richardson; there were times when I felt I was actually watching pledges during hell week. The acting was cohesive among the cast which made there trials more realistic. I thought the script was decent; however, I wished the writers would have dug deeper into the students’ mentality and backgrounds. There was a level of predictability to the story; yet, I had to wonder how true the hazing incidents were being inflicted on the pledges. Maybe because I do not define masculinity in the same way as these fraternity brothers did; but they certainly proved I made the right decision when I chose not to pledge a fraternity when I was back in college.
2 ½ stars
THE COWBOY BOOTS WERE WHAT TIPPED me off that something was not right. We had broken up several months prior after dating a little over 1 year. Having had no contact between us since the break-up, you can imagine my surprise when I saw them wearing cowboy boots when we bumped into each other at a nightclub. I was alone, waiting to meet friends; but they were with someone who was wearing a cowboy hat. This is why I assumed they were a couple, with their cowboy boots and hat. It was so strange because in the entire time we were together they never expressed or commented favorably on anything country western; whether it was a song, clothing or travel places. If I had to place a label on them, I would say their style was more of a preppy type look. What happened in the past few months that made them change looks, I wondered? It also did not escape me that they were wearing a turquoise jeweled bracelet. Since our breakup did not include any anger or animosity, I went up and said hello to them. We exchanged opening pleasantries and my assumption was confirmed when they introduced me to their cowboy hatted date. Because of my curiosity I commented on the cowboy boots which started a conversation that was surreal to me as they expressed their fondness for all thing’s country western. Who was this person impersonating my former partner? LATER THAT EVENING I LEFT THE nightclub still perplexed by my earlier conversation with my former, who by the way left as soon as I walked away from them. The only thing I could come up with to explain this transformation into country western tastes was due to their new dating situation. Since the new partner was into this genre, my former took it on as their own so they would have something else in common with each other. Whether they liked country western I honestly do not know; to me, I felt they were putting on an act because it was so out of character. Do I consider this type of behavior unusual? Not really, I have seen multiple incidents where one half of a relationship starts to take on the other’s likes and dislikes. I knew a distant relative who was never a prejudiced person; but after they were married, they started becoming prejudiced towards the same things as their spouse. I simply did not get it. It comes across as phony to me and it makes me uncomfortable. This is how I was feeling as I watched what was taking place in this dramatic, mystery thriller. ACCEPTING AN INVITATION TO A DINNER PARTY from his ex-wife had its challenges; however, when arriving at his former home Will, played by Logan Marshall-Green (Upgrade, Spider-Man: Homecoming) found the house was not the only thing that went through a change. With Tammy Blanchard (Into the Woods, The Good Shepherd) as Eden, Emayatzy Corinealdi (Middle of Nowhere, In the Morning) as Kira, Michiel Huisman (The Age of Adaline, Game of Thrones-TV) as David and John Carroll Lynch (The Founder, The Architect) as Pruitt; this film festival winner slowly burned its way through the suspenseful scenes. I found the creepiness factor building up while enjoying the cast’s acting out their characters. There were a few places where the story slowed down for me, but I felt the filming of the story kept me interested in finding out what was going on. Because I found the ending portion to be such a stark difference to the rest of the story’s vibe, I was put out a bit; however, the low budget, no frills production still intrigued me. After watching this movie all I can say is, I am grateful my former significant other only became interested in everything country western.
2 ½ stars
I REMEMBER BEING TOLD IT WAS a difficult delivery. Who told me I cannot say; but I can recall hearing about the length of the delivery and the loss of blood involved with it. Despite the difficulties, a baby boy was born who was the couple’s first child. The infant boy had the best of care since both of his parents were doctors. As a result, rarely did the couple ever have to second guess their decisions; any health issue that cropped up and they immediately knew what needed to be done. In other words, there was never any lag time between symptoms and remedies. Not that the child had a sickly constitution; he simply had his share of coughs and colds, along with the other kinds of kids’ ailments. Through his school years, the boy never missed more than 2-3 days of school at one time. Every assignment was turned in on time; each getting a high grade. One could say the boy’s good grades were a direct result of having 2 doctors for parents; however, that would be an erroneous statement. The boy was naturally smart, besides being a good learner who studied hard. What did not surprise me was hearing about the doctors’ son going into the scientific field. AFTER HE HAD FINISHED HIS SCHOOLING, the now grown man had taken a job with a company involved with auditory systems. He did research, studies and experiments that earned him respect from his colleagues and superiors. He was awarded by being named the project lead for a new division in the company. His major responsibility was figuring out how to mimic the sense of hearing for those who could not hear. He was excited with the opportunity to make a difference for those who were either severely hard of hearing or completely deaf. It took a few years before he created a prototype that might work in providing sound to the deaf; he referred to it as an artificial ear. His parents were beyond excited and proud of their son; their boy was making his mark in the world. Though his project never created a workable artificial ear for the average consumer, his work did play an important part in many other areas of scientific research around the world. Imagine back years ago, at the time of this man’s challenging birth, if things had taken a different turn that resulted in him not being born? The world would have missed out on his important contribution. I have thought about this for many years, though not as long as the main character in this action, adventure fantasy. DURING A RESCUE OPERATION THAT WENT bad, the operatives’ special abilities were revealed. It was only a matter of time before people would take advantage of them, unless they could find the culprit and destroy the evidence. With Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde, Bombshell) as Andy, KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk, Native Son) as Nile, Matthias Schoenaerts (The Mustang, Red Sparrow) as Booker, Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Triple 9) as Copley and Luca Marinelli (Martin Eden, Rainbow: A Private Affair) as Nicky, this film’s strong suit was the action scenes. Well-choreographed with both women and men on equal footing; I was impressed with the cast, especially Charlize and KiKi. The story was not unusual for this genre and the script was predictable; but the fact that the action was not the prime focus made this picture an enjoyable viewing experience for me. I loved the historical aspect to the story; it played right into my thinking about differences caused when a person’s life is cut short or becomes non-existent. I understand this movie was based on a graphic novel. Whether there are sequels to the book I do not know; but I certainly hope this movie gets a sequel, because I think there would be a lot of ways the writers could take this story.
2 ¾ stars
I WAS FORCED TO LISTEN TO a parent and son negotiate over a candy bar. This is one of the downsides of waiting in line at the grocery store. The son had been whining and crying over something as they lined up behind me. I did my best to ignore what the two of them were saying to each other; however, when the young child said he would behave if he could get a candy bar, my ears perked up. Right at that point, I decided the child was being manipulative. And to my surprise, the parent agreed and let the son pick out a candy bar. Who was the adult, I wondered? This would never have worked when I was growing up. I was surprised the parent agreed; but then again, there is little that surprises me these days. Having seen and read stories about the parent/child connection, I have gone from being in awe to being horrified based on a parent’s actions. There was the case of the parents giving their younger son for Christmas, the shotgun their oldest son used to kill himself. What kind of message are the parents giving their child? I know I have mentioned this before, but there was that trial where the parent was being accused of hanging their 2-year-old child out on the fire escape of their apartment building. Unconditional love evidently is not always a given when one brings a child into the world. NO MATTER HOW MANY NEGATIVE STORIES may be told; gratefully, there are just as many positive stories that come out. I remember reading about a family swimming in the ocean where their young child was attacked by a shark. The father did not hesitate as he went up to the shark and started punching it in the head until its mouth opened enough to get the child out, while still alive. Another story was reported of a mother who saved their child from drowning by keeping them afloat long enough to get them back safely onboard their pleasure boat that had drifted far away from them. I have always been puzzled with the way some parents are willing to sacrifice their lives for their children, while others are at the opposite end of the spectrum; in other words, they take away the lives of their children. Is it something a person is born with or is it something a person learns upon the birth of their child? I do not know but either way, what I saw in this dramatic, horror story moved me. SEEING WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE SPREAD of an epidemic, a father desperately seeks out a safe place for his infant baby daughter. This film festival winning movie starred Martin Freeman (The Hobbit franchise, Black Panther) as Andy, Simone Landers (Grace Beside Me-TV) as Thoomi, Susie Porter (The Monkey’s Mask, East West 101-TV) as Kay, Bruce R. Carter (Here I Am, Last Cab to Darwin) as Willie and Kris McQuade (Ned Kelly, Strictly Ballroom) as Etta. For this genre of story, this script was such a different take that pleasantly surprised me. I thought Martin’s and Simone’s acting were outstanding. Typically, this type of story is filled with blood and gore; however, that was not the case with this picture; it was thoughtful and moving, allowing the drama to flourish with a brewing layer of tension. I am not sure the writer’s intended this, but I found parallels between parts of this story with current events. The extra bonus to this film was the outdoor scenes of the Australian countryside; there were some beautiful shots done by the camera people. For those of you who are into this genre of movies, you might be disappointed. However, I would ask that you give this film a chance if for nothing else to see a parent’s love for their child.