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Are movie reviewers jumping on the bandwagon here, so they will be considered cool? There is such a buzz about this movie; that I feel it has surpassed the reality of watching it. Seriously, I had to wait in line at the doors to theater eleven, so that we all could walk in an orderly fashion to our seats. Let me say right at the start, this film is a novelty and for younger viewers, it may be the first time they have sat through a movie that has, for the most part, no dialog. This black and white picture portrayed the period of Hollywood 1927 easily enough, with wonderful sets and some beautiful scenes. The acting had to be all physical with an emphasis on facial expressions to convey emotions. The French actor Jean Dujardin as George Valentin along with the Argentine/French actress Berenice Bejo as Peppy Miller were quite good in their physicality. The story played out with no surprises; essentially about Valentin’s downward spiral at the onset of talking pictures, as Miller’s star begins to rise. Is it worth seeing this picture? Overall, I would say yes; for if nothing else, to get a flavor of what the movie experience could have been like, back in the early days of motion pictures. Is this the best picture (several Golden Globe nominations) of the year? I am afraid not. If that means I can not be with the cool crowd, so be it.
2 3/4 stars
THERE HAS ONLY BEEN a small handful of individuals I have known who had a natural ability to excel in their life’s journey. Things came naturally to these people, where they did not need to be schooled or guided in conquering their dreams/goals. I am sure when you were in school you had at least one student who did not study before an exam and yet would still get a perfect score. From my college days I remember a student in one of my writing classes who had a book and few short stories published before the semester even began. The entire class looked up to this individual. Even outside a school setting I know a young adult who already is displaying an uncanny ability when it comes to electronics. Without any instruction, he wired and set up a burglary alarm system for his family’s home. NOW THERE ARE SOME people who excel at something but they need to work at it. You know that old joke about how does one get to Carnegie Hall and the answer is practice, practice, practice? Some individuals work hard trying to achieve their dreams. Whether it involves mental concentration or physical training, the individuals in this group sacrifice social interactions among other things to reach their goals. I am a firm believer in people attempting to reach their dreams; for it is better to have tried then spend the rest of one’s life wondering what life would have been like if they had at least attempted to reach their goals, in my opinion. I am sure it has crossed some of your minds, especially if you have watched some of those reality shows, that there are some people who should stop trying to be something they will never be. I know what you mean since I have seen a couple of those singing and dancing reality shows where some of the people auditioning show no talent for the task. It would not be fair for me to judge, but see how you feel about the main character trying to reach his dream in this dramatic comedy based on a true story. REFUSING TO ACCEPT THE negative comments about his acting abilities Tommy, played by James Franco (The Interview, Why Him?) not only liked the idea from his friend Greg, played by Dave Franco (Warm Bodies, Now You See Me franchise), he agreed to it; they would make their own movie to star in. This film festival winning picture also starring Seth Rogen (Funny People, Neighbors franchise) as Sandy, Ari Graynor (The Sitter, Mystic River) as Juliette and Alison Brie (Sleeping with Other People, Mad Men-TV) as Amber; was hilarious in parts. I and the audience around me were laughing out loud. The story is so bizarre it took me some time to actually believe this was a true story and not some big satire. Interestingly I was initially annoyed with James’ character, but after awhile I realized he was doing an excellent acting job playing this mysterious, odd character. I also enjoyed the variety of cameo roles that popped up throughout the movie. As I mentioned earlier it took me time to get into the story; I was confused by the script and was getting “antsy” for something to take place. However with James’ directing and the absurd idea behind the story coming to life, I had to applaud the achievements that were on display by the end. It goes to show you, follow your dreams because you never know where they will lead you.
3 1/3 stars
THE COUPLE SITTING NEXT TO ME were being rude. We were sitting inside the city’s stadium for a music concert and the opening act was performing. This couple did not pay any attention to the act as they continued with their conversation. I had no idea who the artist was; but I still wanted to listen to them perform. Even if I did not care for their style of music, I would have been considerate of the people sitting around me and not carried on a conversation. From a long time ago, I learned to pay attention to the opening acts because you never knew if they would become a success one day. My favorite example is Tina Turner. I had tickets to a concert where she was listed as the opening act for the star attraction. Her work with Ike was well known but that had happened a long time ago. None of us knew what she would be doing by herself. Well, you can see what she did based on how quickly she returned to being the headliner. As a warm-up act, she was utterly amazing. By the end of her set, I felt I had already gotten my money’s worth; she was as they say, a superstar. Because of that concert, I always pay attention to the opening acts at concerts. There was a singer songwriter I got to see early in their career as the opening act; they went on to have a #1 song on the charts. EXPERIENCING A MUSICAL ARTIST AT THE beginning of their career journey and following them to the top of the charts is an awesome feeling. I remember seeing this one musical artist who came out on stage with her hair bound up in a scarf, dressed in old fashioned clothes, with a couple of backup singers and a small band; yet it was an incredible show due to the singer. Her personality and voice were both amazing. From that first time seeing her, I have followed her career as it ventured into movies and Broadway stages, not once being disappointed by her performances. She had something different I had never seen and with her talent, I was sure she was going to be a star. I even have photos of her in the early days of her career because in the initial stages of a musical artist’s career, I believe, they can be the most exciting times. If you do not believe me, feel free to take a look at this dramatic biography to see what it is like. SOME MUSICAL ARTISTS CAN REACH THE top of the charts, but only a few can usher in a whole new movement. One of those artists is the subject of this musical movie. With Tom Hanks (News of the World, The Post) as Colonel Tom Parker, Austin Butler (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, The Dead Don’t Die) as Elvis, Olivia DeJonge (The Visit, The Sisterhood of Night) as Priscilla, Helen Thomson (A Man’s Gotta Do, Getting’ Square) as Gladys and Richard Roxburgh (Van Helsing, Moulin Rouge) as Vernon; this film was very lucky to have Austin as Elvis. If he had not been in the starring role, the first 1 ½ hours would have been more painful than they already were for me. I thought the quick cutting from scene to scene and the over-the-top dramatics took away from the performances. It almost appeared cartoonish. The last hour was the part that engaged and kept my interest. I say that because we finally got to see a more vulnerable Elvis as the scenes were given emotional depth. Up until this point I found Tom’s performance erratic; at times, his acting was excellent, other times it was off the mark. If for nothing else, it was worth it to me to see Austin’s singing performances. I felt like I was at a concert seeing someone who would be going far in their career.
2 ½ stars
IF I HAD NOT SEEN IT with my own eyes, I would not have believed it. I felt like I was watching the animal sidekicks of an evil, animated character. I was over at a friend’s house, who has five cats as pets. They are outdoor cats according to him. All of them are tabbies who are lean and muscular, at least in my opinion. Anytime I have been at my friend’s place, the cats have always been friendly towards me. This time my friend was telling me he had to take one of the cats to the veterinarian for some health issue. We visited until it was time for him to get ready. He had gone into the coat closet and pulled out a pet carrier. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a couple of cats sit up from their reclined positions, staring at the carrier. My friend started to walk over to one of those two cats. As he got closer to her, she let out this sound like a yelp. I do not know where the other three cats were, but they bolted in and joined the other cat to surround the cat my friend was nearing. It was surreal as they hissed and meowed at my friend, all the time keeping a tight circle around that one tabby. My friend turned his head towards me and said this happens each time he must remove one cat out of the pack. NONE OF MY PAST EXPERIENCES WITH cats ever included this scenario. I have seen cats hiss and cry, but that level of protection towards another cat is something I had never seen. Granted, I do not have any other friends or family who have five cats; but even then, I do not know if it makes a difference if a cat is an indoor or outdoor one. I have loved cats all my life; I can sit and watch them play for hours. There is one friend of mine who uses a laser pointer to get his cat to exercise. This cat will follow the red point of light all over the floor, the couch or chairs, even try to go up the wall to catch it. I have relatives who had one of the most docile cats I had ever known. This cat, I think, was part human because he knew when you were available to play with him or when you were sad, to come over and sit by you. I could lift him up and drape him around the back of my neck, where he would stay perfectly content while purring deeply in my ears. Like dogs, I think cats have distinct personalities. The artist in this biographical drama believes the same thing as I do. TAKING IN A STRAY CAT DID more for Louis Wain’s, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog, The Courier) career than almost anything else. Some would say it was an obsession; others would say it would be his legacy. With Claire Foy (The Crown-TV, The Girl in the Spider’s Web) as Emily Richardson-Wain, Andrea Riseborough (The Grudge, The Death of Stalin) as Caroline Wain, Toby Jones (A Boy Called Christmas, The Mist) as Sir William Ingram and Sharon Rooney (Dumbo, Zapped-TV) as Josephine Wain; this film based on true events shined a little brighter due to Benedict and Claire. The mix of whimsical and serious scenes made for some variety, though some areas of the story could have used a deeper dive into them. I had never heard of Louis Wain, but I believe I have seen some of his work. The story itself appeared to have a lot of things to explore; I am not sure the script did it justice. However, from a historical and dramatic aspect, I stayed involved with the characters. And the cats were quite cute to boot.
I KNEW GOING IN THERE WOULD be a good chance my ears would be ringing by the end of the night. It was part of the event. We would be sitting with anticipation in a cavernous stadium with 20,000 people who all came for the same reason. Sometimes there would be a wall of speakers on both sides of the stage; other times, they would be hidden behind some type of fabric or paper scenery. I knew if there were added speakers suspended from the ceiling then the sound would be massive. Either way we knew we were going to hear music; we just did not know if it would be clear based on the acoustics of the arena. I loved going to concerts so much, that at one point, I was going nearly every weekend during the summer months. The places would be either enclosed or outdoor spots, though I preferred indoor so I would not have to worry about any precipitation. Those times when we could use public transportation to get to the concert, were extra memorable because the train cars were usually full of other concertgoers. There was such a festive atmosphere on the train; some people singing, others dressed up like one of the members of the band. Going to a concert was truly an event. WHAT DRIVES ME TO ATTEND A music concert is the theatrics of it. I expect to experience more than just the artist singing their songs. I once went to a concert where the singer either sat on a stool or stood up to the microphone stand and sang a list of their music hits, with little talking between the songs. It was like listening to their album, which I could have done at home. Though they had an abundance of top ten hits, I never went to see them again because their concert was boring. After attending concerts where I witnessed a laser light drawn eagle take flight above my head and where King Kong appeared with the singer draped over the gorilla’s hand like Fay Wray, I want to be totally entertained. For that reason, I have seen a few of Madonna’s concerts. Putting her singing abilities to the side; she is nothing but one of the best at marketing her brand. Full dance numbers, costume changes and acrobats are just a few reasons her concerts tend to be spectacular. Going to one of her concerts one never knows what to expect, except for a full theatrical production. And for that reason, I was excited to see this musical documentary. MADAME X, PLAYED BY MADONNA (EVITA, A League of Their Own), is a secret agent who travels the world fighting for freedom. Directed by Ricardo Gomes (Union Bay, Urban Sea) and newcomer SKNX, this concert filmed in Portugal was filled with a variety of singers and dancers who joined Madonna on stage. Both the video clips and stage productions were tight and well performed; however, I found the filming of the concert annoying. It was choppy due to the quick shots jumping from front to back and side to side. The music predominately consisted of Madonna’s more current music which was not as appealing to me as her earlier stuff. In her earlier days her political statements were fresh and heartfelt; at this stage they came off a bit to theatrical and seemed as if they were on a long list that she was checking off as the show went on. I never considered her a great singer, more a great performer; but in this concert tour, I never felt the sense of excitement like I experienced in her other ones. Maybe if the editing had been less frenetic and she had included a few of her older songs, I would have enjoyed watching this film. Standing on its own, I know I would have been upset if I had paid for a ticket to go see this show in person.
2 ½ stars
I REMEMBER THERE WAS A STUDENT in class who was more creative than the rest of us. He would get reprimanded for always drawing outside of the lines. Where pretty much all the drawings being done around me used the color yellow for the sun, he would use a different color like tan or pumpkin. I was not very good at drawing and preferred having figures and objects outlined on the paper, so I could just fill them in with color. My favorite thing to do would be to boldly add color to the pre-drawn outlines then lightly shade color inside of them. The teacher at least did not complain about my work like she did with his art pieces. Many a times he would get a lower grade from the teacher than I did. It puzzled me because his stuff, I thought, was much better than mine. At first, I thought his lower grades were due to not following the rules; but what the teacher explained to us never mentioned the things he did were not acceptable. Maybe she just did not like the work he produced, I thought. Either way, I admired his determination in following his creativity. Years later, I still wonder what he might be doing artistically these days. JOINING A FRIEND AT AN ART fair, we stopped at a booth that was selling jewelry. My friend was familiar with the artist’s work and especially fond of the earrings they created. She was showing me one pair she liked and oddly it looked familiar to me. It was as if I had seen something like it years ago. I had to think about it for a while, but then suddenly it occurred to me; it looked as if that student in my art class from years ago had designed it. I mentioned it to my friend, and she said maybe they did. I told her it was not because his name was different than the jewelry artist. She surprised me when she next said the artist at the booth did not design his jewelry; he had a team of artists who created his look and he simply was the face of it to the public. I could not believe it because listening to him talking to a customer, it sounded like he had designed and manufactured the pieces he was selling. So, in other words, he was taking credit for someone else’s creativity? Maybe that student was one of the artists he had working under him. In my mind the jewelry artist was taking credit for someone else’s hard work which was similar to what I found in this comedic crime adventure. HAVING DREAMT ABOUT WORKING FOR THE top design house in London, nothing prepared Estella, played by Emma Stone (Battle of the Sexes, The Favourite) for the nightmare she was about to experience. With Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks, A Walk in the Woods) as The Baroness, Joel Fry (Game of Thrones-TV, 10,000 BC) as Jasper, Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewel; I, Tonya) as Horace and John McCrea (God’s Own Country, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie) as Artie; the standouts for me were both Emma’s and the soundtrack. Their acting together was wicked and fun. I enjoyed everyone’s performances; however, I thought the script was odd for the main character. Who was the movie studio marketing this film to because it was too dark for young children, in my opinion? Situations seemed too extreme to me in a very unfun and unfunny way. The costumes were great, and I loved the idea of Emma taking charge of her creations; however, there was a streak of meanness that I found uncomfortable. The question comes up for me, was this film created for a quick money grab? I felt the creative team behind this picture could have worked better together to create a more enjoyable experience for the viewer.
2 ½ stars
KNOW WHO YOU ARE VACATIONING WITH before you commit to it; that is my advice. I have gotten quite particular with who I want to be with on a trip. Some years ago, I took a trip with a friend that turned into a disaster. Because I am more of a visual person, I favor experiencing things that need little written explanation. I usually will research a place before I agree to visit it; so, most of my reading and learning is done before I get to my destination. In other words, I am a planner. He, it turned out, was exactly opposite. Where I would just stand and admire a structure or building, he wanted to know what type of materials were used and why the creator chose them. We did not make it to lunchtime before I had to tell him we would need to figure out the different sights we want to see and maybe go to some of them alone. Just to give you an example of what I experienced; we were marveling a recently completed building that had won several distinctions. I was standing there just taking in the look of the building when my friend peppered me with questions like, “Where do you suppose the brick came from?”, “Why did the artist choose that color?” and “How will they keep the glass clean?” Notice all the questions were asking about things I or any other tourist would not know. I HAVE BEEN ASKED TO JOIN a group for vacation and though I enjoy their company, I have had to decline because they are what I refer to as “beach people.” Traveling to a location just to spend much of the day relaxing at the beach would be torture for me. I am not the type to sit by a swimming pool or lay out at the beach to sun myself. My friends refer to me as a vampire because rarely have they seen me with a tan. When I take a trip, I feel like I am an explorer on a mission to discover new land. I never know if I will ever be able to see a new place more than once; so, I want to take in as much as possible each day I am there. It is not unusual for me to be out of the hotel by 9-10:00 am and not return to the hotel way past dinner time. This would be a successful vacation for me. I do not think I have to tell you that I would fail miserably if I were in the shoes of the couple in this adventure comedy, who encountered a partying couple who were already guests of their hotel. THE PURPOSE OF THEIR TRIP TO Mexico was for them to relax. That hope was quickly thrown out the window once Marcus and Emily, played by Lil Rel Howery (Bad Trip, Get Out) and Yvonne Orji (Night School, Insecure-TV), arrived at their hotel. With John Cena (The Suicide Squad, Playing with Fire) as Ron, Meredith Hagner (Palm Springs, Royal Pains-TV) as Kyla and Robert Wisdom (Beast of Burden, The Loft) as Harold; this movie had its moments. The cast was good, though I felt John and Lil Rel were repeating previous roles. The script started out fun but got repetitive after a while with the same type of scenarios taking place. There were a few times I chuckled because of the outrageousness of the scene and I especially enjoyed the way Meredith delivered her lines. Despite the negatives about the script, I did enjoy what I took as the underlying message the writers were trying to convey. There may not be much surprise found in this picture; but if you enjoy humor based on the differences between people, then you may be okay with watching this film.
2 ¼ stars
I TRIED MY HARDEST, BUT I could not figure out what the couple next to me was seeing. The man was telling the woman to look at the paint strokes in the painting and notice how they are pointing up to the god figure. I did not want them to know I was listening in to their conversation; but I honestly was trying to figure out what the guy was seeing because I could not find any type of god figure in the artwork. I had to wonder if the woman was able to make out what the man was talking about because most of the time, she simply nodded her head and said, “uh-huh” or “ah.” The painting was an abstract with bold sweeps of color all over the canvas. The man continued with his explanation of the painting, saying the artist was making some type of statement against the elitists. I had no idea what he was talking about and got bored with listening to him carry on about the art. I happened to be roaming through the art museum after seeing their new exhibit and stopped at this painting because I liked the way the colors blended into each other. WHEN I AM LOOKING AT AN art piece, I am not trying to figure out what the artist was trying to do or say with it. I am simply enjoying the feelings that the piece evokes in me. It may be the landscape in a painting or a chiseled arm in a sculpture or the subject’s face in a photograph; I stop to look at the art piece that moves me in some way. Maybe it is due to my brain’s wiring, but I have never been one to try and figure out creative things. Mechanical things are a different story; I like to know how a device or machine works. But books and art are a whole different thing for me. They are more personal. I feel everyone can have a different reaction to a piece of art or a book. It goes along with what I have always said; no one has the right to tell another person how to feel. I may be fond of a particular symphony, but my friend may hate it and that is perfectly fine. The reason I like science fiction films is because they are pure escapism for me; yet, I have a friend who asks me (in his words) why I watch that crap. He doesn’t like it, I am okay with it; but, when I try to tell him why I like them, he cannot understand it. I felt like him after I watched this well received motion picture. WHEN AN EASY JOB GOES WRONG, a group of criminals must figure out what happened and who caused the situation they were in. With Don Cheadle (Miles Ahead, Hotel Rwanda) as Curt Goynes, Benicio Del Toro (A Perfect Day, The Usual Suspects) as Ronald Russo, David Harbour (Black Widow, Hellboy) as Matt Wertz, Jon Hamm (Richard Jewel, Lucy in the Sky) as Joe Finney and Brendan Fraser (The Mummy franchise, Gimme Shelter) as Doug Jones; this dramatic crime mystery was great to look at. The sets and costumes were spot on while the cast did an amazing job with their roles. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean’s Eleven), the story was interesting, but I thought the script was poorly written. I became confused several times and by the last part of the movie, I felt like I was missing, or something was missing in the movie for me. An uneven feeling was what remained for me after watching this picture. There were times I enjoyed watching it, but other times I was sort of blah about it. I am just telling you how I felt about it; maybe there is something more in it for you.
2 ½ stars
IF I HAD LIVED FURTHER DOWN the hallway of my college residence, I would have certainly failed all my classes. At the opposite end of the hallway lived a student who played loud, heavy metal music when he had to study. He did listen to it other times; but during the week, he would play it at the same specific time which I found out was when he had to study. There would be no way I could study, let alone read a book, with such a distraction. When I studied, I had to have it quiet; the same goes for when I read a book for pleasure. I had a friend who could read while the television was on. If that was me, my ears would be picking up snippets of conversations while I was trying to read, causing a distraction for me. I admire people who are not bothered by such distractions. There were some students who liked to study together in small groups. They would congregate in the building’s lounge, fitting themselves around one of the tables or plopping themselves down in a corner filled with beanbag chairs and throw pillows. I would see them huddled together passing around bags of chips and pretzels along with a couple of thermoses filled with what I suspected to be something stronger than a soft drink or coffee. There would be no way I could be part of their study group because I would be constantly distracted. THE WEIRD THING IS WHEN I AM cooking or baking, I like to have some sound playing in the background. Either music or anything on the TV, I like it playing in the background because for some reason it keeps me calm. I always wondered if it is a creative thing, where people who are “making” something like to have a multiple of their senses getting stimulated at the same time. I cannot remember the artist’s name, but there was one I read about who loved to have music playing anytime they were painting. On the other hand, only based on the movie I saw, I believe Vincent Van Gogh preferred silence while painting so he could feel everything around him. It comes down to different creative people experience distractions in different ways. I cannot imagine what it would be like for, let us say, a sculptor trying to create something while having a distraction nearby. There used to be an artist who lived on my block who would always wear noise cancelling headphones whenever they were outside working on a project. With me speaking of distractions, after seeing this Oscar nominated and film festival winning movie, I cannot believe what the main character went through while selling out concert halls. THE PERFORMANCE OF ONE SONG WAS all that it took for the United States government to hopefully find a way to stop the singer Billie Holiday, played by Andra Day (Marshall), from ever singing again. With Leslie Jordan (The Help, Will & Grace-TV) as Reginald Lord Devine, Miss Lawrence (Star-TV, Empire-TV) as Miss Freddy, Natasha Lyonne (Honey Boy, Orange is the New Black-TV) as Tallulah Bankhead and Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight, The Predator) as Jimmy Fletcher; this dramatic music biography must be watched simply because of Andra’s performance. Known more as a singer, this starring role of hers made me think I was truly watching Billie Holiday. Overall, I enjoyed watching this film, though it needed a tightening up on the direction and another rewrite of the script. The reason I say this is because there were such a variety of characters that at times the intensity in Andra’s performance waned. Other than that, I cannot get over the life Billie was living through while trying to simply sing for a living. A deservedly Oscar nominated performance that needs to be seen to be believed.
3 ¼ stars