Monthly Archives: November 2016
FOR many people only fond memories resurface when they travel back to their old neighborhood. The discount store that had the best penny candies, the shoe store with the jovial shoe clerk who told the best stories, the house where one’s best friend lived; there could be many places that bring a smile to one’s face. But not everyone may have a similar experience when they go back home. There are some people who tentatively traverse the streets that are fraught with landmines of dark emotions. RECENTLY I had to travel back to my old neighborhood, the place where I grew up. The street I lived on looked the same except several houses on the block were painted in different colors. The tree in the alley next to my home, where I would climb up to hide, was no longer there; it was replaced with recently poured concrete to add parking spaces. My secret place to hide at school was in one of its parking lots; it was still there. I would wait inside until I felt everyone in the school had gone home for the day, before venturing out from it. Driving east I passed a place that was a few houses down from a relative’s place. That spot nearby was where one time I did not get to their home in time before being attacked. I continued on until the street ended at the beach. Here is where I started developing my creative side, building elaborate sand castles and forts. Alas, some of them were meant to fall once the tide came in. No matter which way one looks at it, each neighborhood has its share of good and bad memories. RETURNING home due to the death of his brother Joe, played by Kyle Chandler (The Wolf of Wall Street, Zero Dark Thirty); Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck (Out of the Furnace, The Finest Hours), was stunned to find out he was made the guardian of Joe’s son Patrick, played by Lucas Hedges (Moonrise Kingdom, Kill the Messenger). There was a problem, Lee did not want to move back home. This film festival winning drama had some of the best acting I have seen this year. Casey, Lucas and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Blue Valentine) as Randi Chandler were so good together that my heart ached. The atmosphere for this movie was one of sadness and depression; however, the script was smartly written to allow Patrick to act like a typical high school boy. I enjoyed the scenery of the east coast and never felt the camera work was intrusive. There were a couple of spots where I found the story deflated a bit, but seriously the acting in this picture could get a few nominations this awards season. Let me reiterate this was not a happy story; but it was a moving experience, especially the way the story unfolded. Even if the distance is far, it would be worth your time to travel over to the neighborhood in this winning film.
3 2/3 stars
AFTER seeing and experiencing it with my own eyes, I understand the reasons why one should not make any major changes in one’s life during an upheaval. The big life changers one could experience are divorce/breakup, relocation or job loss. I had a job for some years at a company that went through a downsizing and my position was eliminated. One of the first things I thought I needed to do was put my house up for sale. Luckily a friend talked me out of it. Eventually I did find a new job and was grateful I had listened to my friend. THERE is a friend of mine who tended to make rash decisions in her life. After being with her boyfriend for several years they broke up; she took it very hard. I made myself available, being her support during the difficult time. Well imagine my shock when she told me in a relative short time she had met someone. I thought maybe this would be a distraction for her to pick herself up and move on; however, within several weeks she comes to tell me she is getting married. Carefully I chose my words to her and asked a few questions about her reasons and such, but nothing deterred her pending nuptials. You might have figured out by now where this story is going. The wedding was lovely, small and intimate with lots of flowers everywhere. But just as flowers have a short lifespan so did this marriage. After 3 or 4 years they got divorced and from the stories she told me I was surprised the relationship did not end sooner. So you see when it comes to big lifetime events, I feel they need to sit out and ripen like a beautiful piece of fruit to yield the strongest taste. ASSIGNED to a secret mission in North Africa intelligence officer Max Vatan and French resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour, played by Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, World War Z) and Marion Cotilard (The Immigrant, Inception), had to pose as a married couple for the plan to succeed. They did not realize emotions could rise during wartime. This action drama drew me early into its story. With Jared Harris (Lincoln, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) as Frank Heslop, I thought the acting was good; though it became obvious Marion was the best out of the group. The buildup of action was well done by director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future franchise, Flight). As for the sets, scenery and costumes; they were picture perfect, adding a beautiful style to the romantic aspects of the film. Unfortunately by the midway point the story started to fizzle out. I felt the picture needed more intense drama. Part of this I believe fell on Brad and Marion; there was some chemistry between them but I felt for this story they needed to smolder and burn brightly. Together they were more like two candles instead of a blazing fire. As the last half of the movie played out I found my mind started to wander which is never a good sign. I had to think about the rating I would give to this film since I liked the first part better than the second and I never want to make a rash decision.
2 ½ stars
THERE is no shame in having or wanting a savior in one’s life. Depending on what has or could happen there is nothing wrong with getting help. Imagine an individual who had been unlucky in love to the point where they shut down their heart, putting up ironclad walls around it, to avoid any more pain. Then unexpectedly someone comes along who has the magic key to unlock the heart’s defenses, releasing the pent up love to be shared by two. Wouldn’t you say that person with the key was a savior. I know the word savior is used in a religious context, but it also can refer to a hero. The funny thing about heroes I have noticed has been the change or to be more precise the evolution of what is a hero today. YEARS ago heroes were considered to be handsome and male. At least it was in the movies, which was a reflection of the public’s perceptions of a hero. They were usually virile masculine figures who rode in to save the day. If you do not believe me just take a look at the animated films Cinderella and Snow White. As perceptions changed so did our heroes. They soon were not always the epitome of beautiful or handsome and more importantly they were not always male. One of my early saviors was a woman, so I was glad to see gender was finally being taken out of the equation regarding heroes. Some of you might remember the hoopla in the press surrounding the first American female astronaut. And there might be several of you out there who remember when the Starship Enterprise was commanded by a female captain. The times are changing and in this animated comedy there is a new hero to add to the list and her name is Moana. HOPING to correct a wrong that has plagued her father’s village; Moana, voiced by newcomer Auli’I Crava, set off across the sea on a perilous journey. This comedy adventure story was set in ancient Polynesia and I have to tell you the animation was an outstanding palette of colors. With Dwayne Johnson (Central Intelligence, Pain & Gain) voicing Maui, Rachel House (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Whale Rider) voicing Gramma Tala and Temuera Morrison (Star Wars franchise, Once Were Warriors) voicing Chief Tui; the stars of this film were Auli’I and Dwayne. Auli’I had a beautiful singing voice which had the good fortune of singing songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, Into the Heights). As for Dwayne his comic timing added a fun element to his character and the story. I thought the script was well written and appreciated the influence of real mythology into the story. Overall there was a familiar template that was followed for these types of animated films but truthfully I did not mind it much. I think the message it was conveying was a worthy and important one that demonstrated the image of a female hero. Except for one scene that might be scary for very young children, this film would be something the entire family could enjoy. So feel free to be a hero for suggesting this fun film.
3 ¼ stars
AFTER so many years teaching in the health industry you would think there is nothing left to surprise me these days. It is not often I encounter a long distance runner but when I do I still am fascinated by the person’s dedication/determination. Personally there is no way I would let my feet pound pavement that long. And if that is not enough reason to avoid running, the individuals who run outside in winter simply baffle me. There was one person I spoke with who ran every day no matter what the weather was outside. They had to get new running shoes every three months. I asked one time what they got out of running every day and they said it was peace of mind. If there was one day they could not run, they felt oft-kilter the entire day. On a certain level I had to admire the person’s drive. DO you know how you can see traits in other people that you do not recognize in yourself? Regarding my film reviews, everyone who knows me knows I have to be at the movies over the weekend. When talking to a friend about getting together I cannot tell you how many times I have said I need to see a movie first. The response I get from them is this, “You do know you do not HAVE to go; you choose to go.” I usually say it is my job because that is how I look at writing reviews; the best job by the way. The way my mind is wired this is something that I have to do. Some of you might remember when I first started posting reviews my goal was to write one review a day for 365 days and I achieved that goal. Afterwards I posted comments that going forward there would be times where I would miss posting a review; there was no need to worry. I dialed back to find balance once again in my life. It is funny how I realized I am no different than a marathon runner; we both have the drive and determination. It has given me a whole new appreciation for anyone who single mindedly has a need to achieve something. BASED on a true story world champion boxer Vinny Pazienza, played by Miles Teller (War Dogs, Fantastic Four), did something no one believed he could every do. Evidently no one knew the drive Vinny had to achieve his goal. This dramatic sport story worked because of its amazing cast. Besides Miles there was Aaron Eckhart (Sully, My All American) as Rooney and Katey Sagal (Married with Children-TV, Sons of Anarchy-TV) as Louise who were both on par with Miles. I was not familiar with this biographical story but I have to say it truly was incredible. What was missing for me was more detail in the script. We all have seen boxing movies and this one had a basic floor plan that was a bit predictable. I would have appreciated more details into Vinny’s life and family life. As it stood, the movie was interesting though there were scenes that had blood and violence in them. As I mentioned earlier it was the acting that made this film and with seeing this story, one has to admire this boxer’s determination.
2 ¾ stars
HAVE you ever met someone and there was an immediate, familiar comfort between the two of you? There was very little or none at all the two of you knew about each other, yet you would listen to what they had to say and you had the sense you knew about it already. This recently happened to me. I only knew a few details about the person before our scheduled meeting. Introductions were made and as we sat down we started up a conversation that was void of any silent moments. Each of us found a rhythm to our speech that was open and real as if we had been friends for years. THE same feeling can be found between long term friends who have been out of touch for a long duration. You must have experienced it at some time I would think. I have a few friends who live out of state. One in particular I had not seen for several years; however, when we finally got together it was as if no significant duration of time every happened between us. We started right up where we left off our previous time as if we had seen each other a few days ago. In situations like this I tend to feel a warm familial connection to the person. Now here is the funny thing, I had this type of reaction to seeing this adventure family film. Being a big fan of the Harry Potter books and movies, I immediately formed a connection to this story that takes place 70 years before Harry Potter arrived in the magical world. ARRIVING in New York City to seek out a particular magical creature Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything), was waylaid by a No-Maj (American for Muggle) who mistakenly wound up with Newt’s suitcase filled with magical creatures. This family movie did not disappoint with the abundance of magical special effects. Set in the 1920s I thoroughly enjoyed the sets and costumes. With Dan Fogler (Fanboys, The Goldbergs-TV) as Kowalski, Colin Farrell (The Lobster, Total Recall) as Graves, Katherine Waterson (Inherent Vice, Steve Jobs) as Tina and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk about Kevin, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as Credence Barebone; I thought the actors were good with their characters but had no chemistry between each other. Between the script and the directing, I found the movie on a whole a bit stagnant in some places. It went from a slow pace to a frantic action scene causing an unevenness in the pacing. From what I heard I understand this will be the 1st of 5 films, so I understood this movie would be more of an introduction to all the new characters. In addition, it was very hard not to compare this picture to the Harry Potter movies. This may sound odd but I found several characters were lacking personality; I could not tell you much about them. However with me having an immediate connection to the magical world depicted here the flaws in this film were smoothed over.
2 3/4 stars
THE first time I heard that word being hurled at me I knew it would not be the last time. What I did not know was once a person was labeled by that word, no matter what they achieved, most of their peers would still only see a f-a-t person. Around the same time I remember a classroom discussion about race. A little boy in class asked the teacher why some people’s skin was a different color. I still recall what the teacher said to us. She told the class all it meant was that person’s family, from a very long time ago, was born in a different part of the world. The closer to the equator, the darker the person’s skin would be is how she described it. This bit of information turned into a game outside of class, where students would guess where a person’s grandparents were born based on the color of the skin on a person. NOW fast forward to high school my freshman year; we heard a rumor there was a time when girls were not allowed to wear pants in school. You can imagine how astonished we were on this bit of news. It turned out it was true; if you were female then you had to wear a skirt or dress to school. I could not understand what possible reason did the administration have for such a ridiculous rule. Past my school years when I was living in the city in my first apartment, I was walking down the street. Two guys were walking in my direction but I did not pay attention since there was a variety of shoppers on the street. Just as we were coming shoulder to shoulder the guy closest to me punched me in the face and I staggered back into a plate glass window. Either they did it for some initiation or they just did not like the way I looked. For 2 1/2 decades I had experienced actions based on looks, why was there such a preoccupation with it? MILDRED and Richard, played by Ruth Nega (World War Z, The Samaritan) and Joel Egerton (The Gift, Black Mass), were deeply in love. Their love however was not right according to some of their neighbors. Based on a true story this dramatic biography set during the 1950s in Virginia had such an important story to tell. With Marton Csokas (The Lord of the Rings franchise, The Equalizer) as Sheriff Brooks and Nick Kroll (Adult Beginners; I Love You, Man) as Bernie Cohen, the actors were all good; however, Joel and Ruth were incredible and Ruth deserves an Oscar nomination. For this story I felt the script could have done a better job in telling the story. I wanted to know how Mildred and Richard met considering the obvious racial divide that was on display. There was a subdued nature to the telling of this story, both the written word and the directing of scenes. At the end of the film I had a mixture of feelings. On the one hand one could say we have come a long way from this story; but on the other hand, the hate I am currently seeing in the world makes it seem as if nothing has changed. Hate is the new black.
2 3/4 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
ONE of my first supervisors in fitness was a woman; I was one of only two male fitness instructors on staff. It was not a big deal to me because I did not care about my boss’ gender. My concern was having a boss who would support me since the job there was early in my health and fitness career. All went fine for the most part, but I have to say the staff meetings annoyed me and the other male instructor. Half the meeting the two of us would sit there as the other instructors talked about their kids, hot looking celebrities, fashion and female health issues; in other words, nothing about the health club or its program. Gratefully this was not the norm because as I added more health clubs to my schedule I had other female supervisors and that type of conversation never happened during our meetings. GOING on a parallel course was my business career. I will never forget one of my first jobs where I was hired around the holidays. At a family function I mentioned the new job and a relative asked if I liked my boss. I used a pronoun to refer to my boss by saying, I thought she was cool. The relative had a puzzled look on their face and asked me if I felt okay having a woman as a boss. In my head I was screaming, “Are you kidding me!?” I told them it made no difference to me if my boss was a man or woman. As far as I was concerned good or bad bosses are not based on gender. Since I am speaking about gender in the work place I cannot confirm if true but I read a statistical piece that stated, based on current trends, women will reach parity with men in the workplace in 170 years. That means women will have equal pay and ½ of the bosses will be female. With that little tidbit how can you not love the 13 year old girl in this film festival winning documentary? HAVING been born into a family with a long line of eagle hunters all Aisholpan wanted to do was be one of them. The only problem with that was her being a female. This family adventure film was absolutely gorgeous to watch on the big screen. The aerial views of Mongolia’s landscapes were beautiful to me. I have always been a fan of eagles, ever since a camp counselor brought one to our class one day, so this story intrigued me greatly. What I found charming about this film was its simplicity. Seeing and hearing about the townsfolk along with me witnessing a lifestyle foreign from mine, I found myself being drawn into Aisholpan’s life. Especially with our current times this coming of age and female empowerment story seemed so appropriate. Let me add I thought it was genius to have Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) narrate this documentary. One of the best things about this movie happened at the end; all the women and men in the audience applauded during the ending credits. Kazakh was spoken with English subtitles.
3 1/3 stars
THE main dinner entrée was being passed around the table, leaving wisps of steam in its path. Each guest was putting a portion of it on their plates. However halfway around the large oval table one guest reversed course and sent the platter back from the direction it had traveled. The guest on the other side who did not get a chance to take some of the entrée did not say a word. It only took the platter traveling backwards a couple of places before a guest asked everyone seated around the table if they had gotten the main course. Half the people around the table said no and the platter made its way around to the rest of the guests. By the way all the guests were related to each other. THAT guest who reversed course was a sister to the woman she snubbed sitting next to her; they do not speak to each other. As the meal progressed there was an uncle who was telling his brother-in-law what he should have done differently in raising his children. A few seats down from him was a relative who had no filters and after they took their first bite into the main entrée they announced to anyone who would listen that the food was overcooked. If that was not enough, sitting next to this individual was a cousin who was complaining to another cousin about a relative who was not in attendance who they felt had awful taste in clothing and was too heavy to wear that type of clothing anyway. To an outsider who was privy to this circle of relatives they would view all of the guests as vipers. However, not all families show their true colors to outsiders. The family in this dramatic comedy was no different. CELEBRATING his first Christmas without his wife all Walter, played by Danny Glover (The Color Purple, Shooter), wanted for the holiday was to have all of his children with him without any arguments. Considering his kids he may have wished for too much. With a cast that included Kimberly Elise (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, For Colored Girls) as Cheryl and Gabrielle Union (Think like a Man franchise, Top Five) as Rachael, the two actors that stood out the most were Mo’Nique (Precious, The Parkers-TV) as Aunt May and J.B. Smoove (We Bought a Zoo, The Sitter) as Uncle Lonnie. These 2 characters could easily be spun off into their own film. As for this picture there were some fun scenes along with a few touching ones. I do have to say if Mo’Nique and J.B. Smoove were not in the movie I would have been bored more than I experienced. The reason being was the story followed a formula for family dysfunctions. Or maybe I am just used to these types of events. Lol But seriously it was easy to figure out the punch line to the gags and jokes. For lighter fare this movie would be fine to watch if you want to chuckle or laugh, but this film does not reveal anything special. I cannot say you would get coal in your stocking for going to this comedy but maybe you might want to wait for a holiday sale.
2 ¼ stars