Blog Archives

Flash Movie Review: The Go-Go’s

MY FRIEND INSISTED I WATCH THE video clip because he was sure I would agree with him afterwards. The video was of a musical group that was his new favorite band. I sat alongside him and watched the group perform their song. It had a decent beat and I agreed that the band members’ voices were good as well as the song. When the video clip ended my friend did not give me a chance to say anything before he said he wanted me to listen to another of the band’s songs. He quickly pulled up another clip for me to watch and I did think this song was just as good as the first one I watched. Knowing what he was like, my only concern was my friend would continue showing me clips while talking up the band’s virtues, as if he was trying to sell them to me. Before the video ended, I told him I could see why he was enamored with the group. I then told him I wanted to show him one of my favorite performers and took over his computer. The only reason I did this was to stop him from showing me another video clip; I wanted to get out of the house and do something.      LATER IN THE WEEK I WAS exploring the internet and decided to look up the history of my friend’s favorite musical group. What I found surprised me. The group had a television show, but what shocked me was the fact the members did not know how to play their musical instruments. I saw them playing them in the video; but it turns out they pretended to play the guitars and drums. This reminded me of a scandal about a duo who lip synched their songs. And if I am not mistaken, they even had won an award for their singing that was taken away, once the news about them pretending to sing came out. At least my friend’s group were using their own voices for singing. That is one thing that does not sit well with me; singers who lip synch their songs in concert. I always feel cheated when I go to a concert to see a musical artist who does not sing all their songs live. If I am sitting there listening to a recording, I could have easily done the same thing sitting at home without spending the money for the concert ticket and parking. As far as I could tell, the band in this documentary were always singing live.     STARTING OUT IN LOS ANGELES’ PUNK scene, a group of females formed a band that would make history. Directed by Alison Eastwood (Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time, Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place), this film was the equivalent of a gold record; I not only enjoyed watching the band perform in archival clips, I learned so much about them. Much of the movie focused on the band’s formative years, which I felt shortchanged the following years as the members transformed themselves into a successful, multi-platinum selling band. There were a few scenes that were sad to watch as hard choices were being carried out by various band members. But the thing I appreciated was the honesty that came across from the various film clips and interviews. The director did a wonderful job of keeping the viewer engaged throughout the picture, while still teaching those viewers who might not know much about the band. For myself, I knew the band was a success; however, I did not know about their rightful place in history. From watching this film, I do not know what makes a band great as opposed to a one hit wonder; but I will say after seeing this band in this movie, I would have bought a ticket to see them in concert.

 

3 ½ stars       

Flash Movie Review: The Country Girl

THE CARDBOARD BOX SITTING ON A SHELF in my basement said it was some coffee brand; I do not drink coffee. When I took the box down, I could see a layer of dust that almost looked like gauze fabric was covering the lid. Placing it on the floor, I opened the box and saw crumpled newspaper packed inside. This told me whatever was in this box had come from somewhere else. I began pulling the clumps of newspaper out, but not before looking for a date listed on the paper. The paper was decades old which explained its yellowish hue and fragile state of decomposition. Something deep down in the box reflected a spark of reflected light coming from the bare lightbulb that was hanging down from the ceiling above me. I reached inside, dug my way down, and touched something that was cold and smooth. What in the world had been residing in my basement all these years I wondered? My hand was able to engulf nearly all of the object, but something attached to the surface was blocking my thumb and finger from touching each other. As I pulled this thing out of the box, bunches of crumpled newspaper tumbled to the basement floor like expired carnations. Lifting it up to my face, to be bathed in the glow of the single lightbulb, I held in my hand a silver creamer.     MEMORIES INSIDE OF ME AWAKENED FROM their long slumber. This silver creamer with the black Bakelite handle was from the Art Deco era and I remember it only being used when guests were in the house. I put the creamer down on the ground and returned my hand back into the box because I knew the creamer always had a companion. And sure enough, I found the sugar container that was identical to the creamer except it had 2 handles. The times were so different when this set was sitting out on the dining room table. It was a different era where married couples formed couples club; a once a month get together, where the men played cards and the woman played games using small ceramic tiles. The term “coffee and” was popular; it meant coffee and some kind of dessert item(s) would be served during the evening. The tablecloth was set out; the coffee was brewed and stored in a big fancy percolator; platters of cookies, doughnuts or sweet rolls were placed around the table; and the required frosted cake presided over all the desserts from its lofty pedestal cake stand. There were even ashtrays available that were always accompanied by a book of matches. It was a different era and time, just like it was in this dramatic Academy Award winning film.      DIRECTOR BERNIE DODD, PLAYED BY WILLIAM Holden (Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17), had always admired the work of Frank Elgin, played by Bing Crosby (High Society, Going My Way). Bernie was determined to get Frank to star in his play, but he would have to contend with Frank’s protective wife. With Grace Kelly (Rear Window, To Catch a Thief) as Georgie Elgin, Anthony Ross (The Gunfighter, Suspense-TV) as Philip Cook and Gene Reynolds (Boys Town, Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary) as Larry; this film festival winner came out of a different film era. Personally, I loved the feeling of traveling back in time to experience a Hollywood classic with its famous actors and abundant musical soundtrack. The acting was excellent but did come over a bit outdated or maybe I should say with over the top expressions with little subtlety. I did not mind this over dramatic flair because it was so fascinating watching the actors tell the story that threw the viewer a couple of curveballs.  Images of old Hollywood with actors who were bigger than life; I felt as if I had visited a bygone era by watching this memorable movie.

 

3 ½ stars

Flash Movie Review: Waves

WHEN THE MIND DESPERATELY WANTS TO do something, it does its best to avoid listening to the body. Images of the task at hand briefly pop up in the brain like bubbles, keeping you distracted from reality. I cannot tell you how many times I have found myself in this situation. Through the past years I have taught a fitness or yoga class, knowing in the back of my mind I might not be able to finish all the way through it. There was the time I was inflicted with a rotator cuff impingement, which in plain language is a pain in my shoulder. I knew there were several yoga poses in class that I would not be able to handle without causing more pain to myself. The only way I was able to get through the class was to do a quick demo of the completed pose and when I had the class join in, I did a modified version that took pressure off my shoulder. To the class, I explained what I was doing, but framed it as an option for those who might be feeling pressure/discomfort in their shoulders. No one had to know I was partially incapacitated, which I know is silly; however, I have it in my brain that I need to always appear 100% healthy to the members in my class. I have this fear that a member might assume any infliction I might have was due to exercising, causing them to stop. I know, it is ridiculous on my part to think of such a thing.     ONE OF THE HARDEST CLASSES I HAD to teach was my first cycle class after suffering a bout of E coli. My doctor had recommended I take more time off from work and teaching to recover, but my mind was telling me I needed to get back to work and teaching. The members in my cycle class knew I had been hospitalized; there was no way to pretend I was perfectly fine. Getting onto the cycle bike took more effort than I had ever needed. My thoughts of “will I be able to get through class” were clashing with my brain telling me I had to teach. The music started and off I went into the warm-up phase of our ride. I got through it okay but when I told the class to pick up speed and come off their saddles, I immediately could tell I was going to be out of breath in no time. With sweat building up and my breathing becoming labored, I had to dial down the tension on the bike’s flywheel. Almost every challenge the class and I went through on our ride; I had to modify or simply sit down and take a breather. It was the hardest class I ever taught; but the members were so supportive and appreciative, I felt good for the first time since contracting the E coli. Because of what I had gone through, I understood why the main character in this dramatic sports romance kept going.      HAVING PUSHED HIMSELF TO THE LIMITS to get to the level of competition he needed to be at, there was no way a pain in his body was going to stop Tyler, played by Kevin Harrison Jr. (It Comes at Night, Monsters and Men), from playing the sport he loved. He also did not want to disappoint his father. With Lucas Hedges (Boy Erased, Ben is Back) as Luke, Taylor Russell (Escape Room, Lost in Space-TV) as Emily, Sterling K. Brown (The Predator, Black Panther) as Ronald and Alexa Demie (Mid90s, Brigsby Bear) as Alexis; this film festival winner provided an absorbing viewing experience for me. I thought the acting was excellent from the whole cast because with a story we have seen before, they took the words in the script and turned them into something new and fresh. Also, the directing and filming made a difference for me in this movie. There was such authentic meaning ringing out in all the scenes, that I found myself experiencing some of the emotions that were taking place with the characters. This was a moving and emotional experience about family, pain, honesty, grief and forgiveness.

 

3 ½ stars

Flash Movie Review: Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado

WALKING INTO THE SHOP, I WAS immediately hit with the smoky smell of burning incense. There was the soft sound of a small bell or chime tinging at random intervals. The middle of the store had a few free-standing bookcases; leaning up against the walls were shelves filled with a cornucopia of crystals, rocks and oils or lotions. My friend convinced me to go with him to this shop. Honestly, I did not know whether to call it a bookstore, rock shop or coffee shop; since there were a few tables and chairs huddled around a short counter, that had a coffee machine and filled pitchers resting on top of it. I did have to give him the exact time of my birth, down to the minute and time zone. When I asked him why, he told me he wanted us to go see an astrologer/psychic, who needed this information before he would sit with us. I was okay giving this a try, to see what they would say about me. My friend walked over to a man reading a book, sitting behind a glass case. He told the employee about our scheduled appointment and the man nodded his head towards an entryway that had strings of rainbow-colored beads hanging across it. We walked through, entering a dimly lit space.      A PLAINLY DRESSED OLDER MAN CAME up and introduced himself to us. He asked for our names then wanted to know which one of us wanted to get our reading first. Before I could say anything, my friend volunteered me to go first; I did not object. The man led me to a 2ndroom that was better lit and had a round table in the middle with a white tablecloth covering it. Sitting down, the man pulled what looked like a folded map from a box on the floor next to him. He started unfolding it so he could press it out on top of the table. I saw my name written in a corner and a large circle drawn in the middle; it looked like a partially built bicycle wheel. The man did not waste any time as he immediately began telling me that the timing of my birth was unique. For the time I sat with this man, I was given a lot of information. For example, he told me I was a true Scorpion who had strong likes and dislikes. I was a loyal friend but if trust ever got broken, I would completely cut the person out of my life because once trust was broken it could never be completely repaired. There was a lot to take in, in such a short time. I would have enjoyed knowing what Walter Mercado would have said about Scorpions to compare the two, if I had only known about him. For those not familiar and those who are, you can now learn about him in this film festival documentary.      AT A YOUNG AGE WALTER MERCADO was different. It started when someone saw him bring a bird back to life. Directed by Cristina Costantini (Science Fair, Awakening: After Parkland) and Kareem Tabsch (The Last Resort, Dolphin Lover), this movie was a loving tribute to Walter. As I said, I had never heard of him; but as I watched this film, I was amazed and fascinated with Walter’s life. From humble beginnings, Walter looked at things differently and certainly did not conform to standard perceptions. I enjoyed seeing the reactions from his fans, especially the scenes that included Lin-Manuel Miranda (Mary Poppins Returns, Hamilton) and Eugenio Derbez (Instructions not Included, Overboard). The story had elements of sadness, fun and joy that were complimented by the tight editing between archival footage, animation and interviews. At first glance, I would have said Walter was a real character; however, seeing this film and hearing about his story made me appreciate the things he was trying to do. Hugely popular for years, I now wish I could have heard him tell me about my horoscope. There were multiple scenes that had Spanish dialog with English subtitles.

 

3 ½ stars

Flash Movie Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

WHAT I THOUGHT WAS SNOW FLOATING in the summer air was explained to me to be cottonwood seeds. It did not really matter because what attracted me to watch them was the way they randomly moved on the currents of air, slow motion fluffiness with no sense of direction. I was fascinated with flying; it did not matter if I was imagining doing it alone like a superhero or sitting in a plane, peering out the window at the moving landscape below. Looking at the cottonwood seeds, I wanted their ability to be lighter than air and let the currents carry me wherever they wanted to take me. Living on the 3rdfloor of an apartment building provided me with a unique view of air’s power. Seeing the tops of trees swaying and bending in the wind as if they were bowing and curtsying allowed me to visualize the wind’s path coming through my neighborhood. I can still remember being taught how to make a paper airplane then going out on our back porch; so, I could throw it into the air and watch it twist and turn, as it sailed towards the ground. Of course, I would then have to run down 3 flights of stairs to retrieve it then walk back up so I could fling the paper plane over the porch bannister again, out into the wind.      FROM PAPER AIRPLANES, I GRADUATED TO flying kites. My first kite was made of a tissue type paper in a light red color. I loved holding it up behind me while running, waiting for it to catch enough wind to rise into the air. One of my favorite places to do this was at the beach, despite the peril of the kite possibly catching a “bad” wind that would force it to spiral down into the lake. However, seeing my kite extend out over the lake always made me happy. Once I had mastered the art of flying a kite, I started to add homemade tails of cloth to the bottoms of my collection of kites. The tails made it easier for me to keep track of my flying kite when there were other kites nearby in the air. And in case you were wondering, it did cross my mind once to tie a key to the kite to see if I could get lightning to strike it. I wonder if this could be one of the reasons why I have always enjoyed sitting and watching a thunderstorm? The wind has provided me with an endless source of enjoyment, both in reality and my imagination; but I do not hold a candle to what the young boy did in this drama.      WITH THE VILLAGERS STARVING FOR FOOD during a bad drought, one boy was dreaming of a way he could help. Based on a true story, this film starred Chiwetel Ejiofer (12 Years a Slave, Doctor Strange) as Trywell Kamkwamba, newcomer Maxwell Simba as William Kamkwamba, Lily Banda (Deep State-TV) as Annie Kamkwamba, Aissa Maiga (Black and White, Anything for Alice) as Agnes Kamkwamba and Raymond Ofula (Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Jacob’s Cross-TV) as Mister Ofesi. This movie was a film festival winner and it deserved it because Chiwetel not only starred in it, he wrote and directed the movie. The story was incredible, and I thought as a newcomer Maxwell was a veteran of acting, he was that good. Now I will say the story is predictable, but I did not care; everything I was seeing seemed authentic and real. It also did not go unnoticed by me how one could see parallels between then and now with governments and science. The script was spoken mostly in English but there were several scenes where Arabic and Nyanja were spoken with English subtitles. This picture reinforced my fondness and appreciation for the wind.

 

3 ½ stars   

Flash Movie Review: All the Way

HE WALKED OUT ONTO THE STAGE and told us at one time we were his enemy. Well, I was not expecting that as the introduction to my college history class. The lecture hall was full of students; this was one course that was in high demand because of its professor. If I had not read his bio, I would still know what part of the world he came from based on his heavy accent. To tell you the truth it added authenticity to his lectures, I believed. He continued his introduction by explaining how he was forced to enlist in the army, to help in his country’s war against us. Though they ultimately lost the war, he claimed no one learned from it; people are stupid and will repeat history over again. There was dead silence all around as his last words lightly echoed through the hall. Until people stop hating, he proclaimed, they will never learn and help their society advance. He went on to talk about his experiences during the war, giving us insight into his countrymen’s perceptions and interpretations of known events. It was fascinating to me as I listened to a different version of the history I had been taught in school. For the first day of class, this professor was already stretching our minds.      THE TOPICS THIS PROFESSOR DISCUSSED IN his lectures many years ago still rang true for me as I was watching this biographical drama. The subjects that were being discussed back in the 1960s seemed just as current as what is taking place presently around us. I do not know if I can describe it, but it made this historical story resonate within me. History does repeat itself; the arguments that took place decades ago are still an issue today. Everyone has experienced some form of prejudice, I believe. For me, the attacks on me were based on a variety of things from weight to religion to the type of music I listened to, if you can believe that. I consider all of it, whether it is race, origin of birth, or some other aspect of a person; fundamentally hatred. People are afraid to learn; they would rather hang on to their prejudices that were instilled in them. I say instilled because hate is not something we are born with; it is taught to us. Watching this film and seeing what is taking place currently in the world only shows you we still have a lot of work to do.      UNEXPECTANTLY BEING THRUST INTO THE PRESIDENCY, Lyndon B. Johnson, played by Bryan Cranston (The Upside, Last Flag Flying), wanted to do what was right for the country. Unfortunately, there were many senators who did not share his idea of what was right. With Anthony Mackie (The Adjustment Bureau, Captain America franchise) as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Melissa Leo (The Fighter, The Equalizer franchise) as Lady Bird Johnson, Frank Langella (The Box, Robot & Frank) as Senator Richard Russell and Bradley Whitford (The Last Full Measure, Get Out) as Senator Hubert Humphrey; this film festival winner had Bryan giving a tour de force performance as Lyndon. And with Lady Bird by his side, I did not recognize Melissa Leo; she did an amazing job of acting also. So many people think of Lyndon as the Viet Nam president, but he was so much more. I thought the script was excellent as it played a cat and mouse game between several of the government officials. Everyone in the cast was excellent and with the script I felt the writers and cast really brought history to life in this picture. Adapted from the Tony award winning Broadway play, I was thrilled to have been able to watch this piece of history come to life. Now if we can just learn from it.

 

3 ½ stars 

Flash Movie Review: The Breadwinner

THIS WAS THE WAY I WOULD WATER my relative’s lawn. First, I would do battle with the reptilian garden hose that was coiled up onto the side of their house. Grabbing at its brass, pointy head I would pull it while walking backwards down the length of the house, until I made it to the front yard. From this point I would drop the green coils of its body on the ground while I continued to pull at the rest of its body; I needed enough length to get around the front bushes and out into the center of the lawn. Once this was done, I would attach the muzzle a/k/a oscillating sprinkler to its head and place it down on the lawn. Running back to the side of the house to the snake’s lair, I would find the water handle it was guarding and turn it on. I was already dressed in my bathing suit; so, I was ready to do battle with the spray of venom the snake was unleashing across the lawn. I would run and jump thru the wall of water the sprinkler was spraying up into the air as its head moved from side to side. My goal was to plant my feet firmly on each side of the wagging head then use my hands to push down the spewing venom water, until the palms of my hands could cover the sprinkler’s mad head. Once my hands reached the head, I knew I had won because of the gurgling sounds and the water pooling out into a puddle on the lawn. This was the way I helped water the lawns.      GROWING UP IN AN APARTMENT BUILDING, the only time I could help water and cut a lawn was when we were visiting a relative’s house. I was thrilled to play with the water hose, sprinkler and lawn mower whenever I was at one of my relative’s houses. With the lawn mower, I would plot out the path I would take, always based on some geometric or symmetrical pattern. Outline the lawn into a square that kept getting smaller as I got closer to the center or make diagonal stripes across the grass; these were just a couple of patterns I would make with the lawn mower. This was my way of helping a relative. Some of my friends had to help with things that were not nearly as fun. I had one friend who had to wash and wax the family car every other week; another friend had to keep the front and back yards clean after the family dog had been outside. I sympathized with them whenever they complained about their job. As I have been sitting and thinking about the work my friends and I had to do to help our families, it pales in comparison to what the young girl had to do in this animated, family drama.      AFTER HER FATHER WAS ARRESTED THE ONLY thing Parvenu, voiced by Saara Chaudry (Let’s Go Luna!-TV, Holly Hobbie-TV), could do to help the family was the one thing that could get her killed. And that was to go outside of the house alone. With Soma Chhaya (Poltergeist, Degrassi: Next Class-TV) voicing Shauzia, Noorin Gulamgaus (RoboCop, A Simple Favor) voicing Idrees/Sulayman, Laara Sadiq (The Invisible, Eight Below) voicing Fattema/Old Woman and Ali Badshah (Shazam!, Aladdin and the Death Lamp-TV movie) voicing Nurullah/Talib security man; this film festival winner was not a children’s film. This was an intense, at times riveting, story. Though I appreciated the animation, it was the script that sold me on this movie. Set in a Taliban controlled Afghanistan in the early 2000s, the scenes were a mix of harsh reality, fantasy and family life. I cannot recall a recent animated film that displayed such power from the spoken word. I try to avoid making comparisons, but I do not know how any child could still complain about their household chores after seeing this remarkable picture.

 

3 ½ stars  

Flash Movie Review: Da 5 Bloods

IT WAS NOT UNTIL I CAUGHT his sideways glance back at us that I realized we needed to stop talking separately. I understood because I had been in his position myself and knew what it felt like. Early on, I did not realize when two people are together in a relationship, they learn to talk to each other in a certain shorthanded type of way, that only they understand. They also can get a sense through their partner’s body language; people refer to this as non-verbal visual cues. I remember walking with their new significant other as mine was walking behind to catch up with their old flame. To me it sounded like they were conversing with sentence fragments; little snippets of phrases and idioms that made little sense to me. They would laugh at what I heard to be random bits; but to hear them, one would think they were a couple of comedians sharing their comedy routines with each other. I cannot say I was feeling hurt per se, however, I did feel as if I was being left out from being part of their clique. As I said, the first time this happened to me I was uncomfortable. But as I gained experience being in that role and with maturity, I stopped feeling threatened and instead, learned to respect it for what it was: 2 exes’ catching up in the way only they knew how to communicate with each other.      WHETHER IT IS TWO OR A DOZEN people who have spent a significant time together, it is understandable they form a special bond between themselves. The bond becomes so strong that a long expanse of time filled with absence barely shaves off a layer from the top surface of the connection. I remember going back to an elementary school class reunion and despite having had no contact with many of my classmates for decades, all of us immediately fell into that comfortable spot of familiarity and belonging. It was as if I had just been with them a short time ago as my memories burst into my awareness like a school of swimming dolphin coming up for air at the same time; I would see someone new walk into the room and I immediately recognized them and recalled the interactions we had together when we were back in such and such grade. Any of the petty issues that any of us were carrying about a bad experience shared got washed away from the excitement of being back together as one cohesive body of students who survived the formative years of elementary school. That special bond between people was something that resonated with me when I watched the group of friends in this dramatic war adventure film.      RETURNING TO VIET NAM AFTER MANY YEARS, four military Vets were determined to complete their mission to retrieve their buddy’s remains and a stack of gold that was left behind. The bonds between them would serve them well as they went back into the jungle. With Delroy Lindo (Malcom X, Get Shorty) as Paul, Jonathan Majors (White Boy Rick, Captive State) as David, Clarke Peters (John Wick, Marley & Me) as Otis, Norm Lewis (Winter’s Tale, Sex and the City 2) as Eddie and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Cedar Rapids, BlackKklansman) as Melvin; the story in this movie was loaded up with several topical themes. The acting was excellent to the point I believed the 4 Viet Nam vet characters really fought together in the war. Granted I have no personal experience about being in the military during the Viet Nam war, but I found the script authentic enough for it to be believable. There were times where I felt some preaching was taking place, but it did not distract me enough to care about it. There were several scenes with blood and violence. One other positive thing about watching this movie was it reminded me how good pictures can provide viewers with things to think about afterwards.

 

3 ½ stars

Flash Movie Review: October Sky

IT WAS A DOG AND A FALCON that steered me towards wanting to be an animal doctor. The dog was a relative’s pet and she was the first animal adopted into my extended family. She was a sweetheart who was always happy to see me. Anytime I was visiting my relative, I would always take the dog out for walks. She had a red colored ball that she absolutely loved to fetch, that I would spend nearly all my time throwing for her. This may sound odd; but whenever I was with her, I felt at peace. Yes, I know how that must sound but I was at my calmest when I was with her. She was the origin for my love of animals. I also think the comfort I had around her made me more receptive when it came to other animals. One of my summer camp counselors was a falconer. One day he brought a falcon with him. Where some kids were hesitant and shied away from the falcon, I only wanted to get closer and pet him. When he spread his wings out to their full length, I thought for a moment I was in the wild. He looked magnificent while perched on my counselor’s arm, wings wide and head turning to look at all of us kids.      THOSE TWO ANIMALS STARTED MY JOURNEY in studying to be a veterinarian. Though I did not get to the finish line, I never lost my love of animals. When I transitioned to a different major I wondered what would have happened if I had never encountered my relative’s dog or the falcon; one single event in time and a whole life can get steered down a particular path that had not been in your conscious prior. I remember a man I used to work with in a warehouse who wanted to be a fashion designer. Seeing his mother create her own outfits started him down his path. From having her teach him how to sew, to going to fashion school to getting a job at a fabric wholesaler where I met him; everyday he would come to work wearing something he had sewn himself. With row upon row filled with bolts of fabric, he felt he was working in heaven. I asked him once if there was anything else, he had wanted to be when he was growing up and he said yes. But after seeing what his mother could do with a needle and thread, he was hooked (pun intended). I admired his determination, just as I admired the determination of the main character in this biographical, dramatic family film.      GROWING UP IN A COAL MINING town meant there were only 2 choices high school students had waiting for them by the time they graduated; either earn an athletic scholarship to go to college or work in the coal mines. For Homer Hickam, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Stronger, Donnie Darko), those choices were waiting for him until he looked up into the sky and saw something that no one had ever seen before. With Chris Cooper (A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Adaptation) as John Hickam, Laura Dern (Marriage Story, Little Women) as Miss Riley, Chris Owen (The Mist, American Pie franchise) as Quentin and William Lee Scott (The Butterfly Effect, Pearl Harbor) as Roy Lee; this film festival winner based on a true story had an inspiring story that was wonderfully told through its script. Even at such an early age, Jake already was displaying his formidable acting skills. The whole cast was terrific and with the story set in the 1950s, there was an overall good homey feeling throughout this movie. Despite the predictability that was built into the story, I found this entertaining picture touching and inspirational. It also proved it only takes one event to change one’s life.

 

3 ½ stars

Flash Movie Review: Spelling the Dream

FROM AN EARLY AGE, I WAS ENTHRALLED with the written word. I was one of those kids who was a regular at our public library. Where most people would check out one to 4 books at a time, my usual batch of books totaled eight to twelve. However, during the summer months, I was known to check out 20 books at time, using a wagon to transport them home. One of my babysitters was an avid reader who started teaching me words that I was not being taught in school. Taking out the lettered tiles from a boxed game, we would turn all of them face down then mix them up. Next, we would split the tiles between us and turn them face up. The object of this made-up game was to create as many words as you could with the tiles picked. Obviously, she could have easily out listed me each time; but she always kept herself in check, along with helping me with my tiles. It did not occur to me until much later that she did not want me to ever feel defeated. When I made as many words as I could, she would move my remaining tiles into unfamiliar words for me. We would then get a dictionary to look up each word. This game was one of my favorite ones to play.      AS I WAS LEARNING ALL OF THESE new words, I had one semester where I had a teacher who was a horrible speller. At first, I thought they were joking and trying to test the students, but it was not the case. They were simply bad when it came to spelling; it was a good thing they were not teaching us English or literature. The irony of it was right after that class I had a class where the teacher was constantly telling us the origin for many of the words, he spoke to us. None of us really cared it turned out; though, I still have a memory that the word candelabra comes from a Latin term that literally means candle tree and the word hippopotamus comes from the Greek word for water horse. In the classroom there was a massive dictionary that the teacher kept at the side of the room on a ledge. Whenever a student did not understand or mispronounce a word, the teacher would have them walk over to the dictionary to look it up. Obviously, this was not enough preparation if any of us wanted to enter a spelling contest and especially if we wanted to go up against the students in this amazing documentary.      THE NATIONAL SPELLING BEE HAS BEEN around since the 1920s, but since the 1990s the contest has been dominated by one group of Americans. What was their secret? This film festival winning picture was written by first timer Chris Weller and director Sam Rega (League of Millions, Miami Noir: The Arthur E. Teele Story). With appearances by Sanjay Gupta (Anderson Cooper 360-TV, Monday Mornings-TV) and Hari Kondabolu (All About Steve, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell-TV) among others, I was impressed by this movie. Since I have never sat and watched the telecast of the contest, I was surprised by the competitiveness and intensity that was on display. There was a mix of older and younger students that added levity and insight to their passion or maybe I should say desire. When I started watching this documentary, I thought I was going to witness parents who were dominating and strict, with only one thing on their mind—the contest. There were a couple of scenes that felt a bit repetitive; but overall the kids’ stories were so engaging and entertaining that I found myself getting anxious whenever a contest was in progress. This was a cinematic treat that provided me sustenance; I better look up the word sustenance, to make sure I am using it properly.

 

3 ½ stars      

%d bloggers like this: