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
THOUGH I KNEW THE RESTAURANT’S DINING tables were crammed together, I did not know I would learn a valuable lesson. There was no way we could not avoid hearing the conversations at the tables around us; one of them intrigued me enough to pay attention. A couple was sitting at the table next to us, talking about the upcoming holidays. They appeared to be husband and wife based on their conversation and the fact they were both wearing wedding rings. What stood out prompting my attention was the wife telling her husband to “suck it up.” I will not go into all the details of their back and forth exchange; but the part that stood out for me was when the wife said they were a couple, which meant sometimes one of them would have to do something they don’t want to do but do it anyway for their spouse. I let that concept sink in a for a moment and found myself agreeing with the wife. It was funny; I almost turned around to give my support to her. Her statement rang true to me; there are some things we just must do. So, no need to complain about it, just do it. In the scheme of things how big of a deal would it be anyway? I REMIND MYSELF ABOUT THAT COUPLE sitting at the restaurant from time to time because there are things I would rather not do; but feel I must do. One of them is going to see a movie that I can tell will be rough for me to watch. Sometimes I cannot avoid the amount of bad press that has come out about a film I have planned to review. A lot of the time my choices are dictated by the available times; if I am at the theater and the movie is scheduled to begin then I go in to see it. Now besides the bad press issue, there are some films that reveal their true nature right in the trailers. You can imagine how many trailers I must sit through based on the amount of films I go out to see. When I am aware I am going to a poorly done picture, I used to complain to friends and family. Also, I have people in class who will ask me why I went to see a movie I knew was going to be a tough viewing. Remembering that couple at the restaurant I tell people the reason I go is because this is what I do; I review all movies. I do not pick and choose only the ones I think will be good; there is no one to blame, so there is no reason to complain. Still, I wanted to complain about this dramatic family film. AMBER HILL LOVED TO SING WITH the church chorus, but after her husband was killed in Afghanistan she stopped singing. She pretty much stopped living. With Jordin Sparks (Left Behind, Sparkle) as Bridgette, newcomer LaDainian Tomlinson as Pastor Williams, Andrew W. Walker (Steel Toes, Against the Wall-TV) as Cody Jackson and Robin Givens (Blankman, A Christmas to Remember) as Karena Williams; this romance movie quickly sunk. As I have said before I do not have an issue with these faith-based films; but I am sorry, there is no reason why a little effort cannot be put in to make a decent picture. All these studios think is pound the message of faith into the script and people will flock to see their film. There were so many cringe worthy scenes in this film that I sat in my seat speechless. No character development, poor direction and acting with hardly any connection to the story lines; it was enough to almost drive a person to religiously convert.
1 ½ stars
THERE WERE THESE BLACK AND yellow booklets/study guides I remember you could buy at a bookstore, which some folk a/k/a students used in lieu of reading an entire book. For example if a student was assigned the novel Moby Dick or Great Expectations, they could buy the study guide of the book. I have to say these booklets were an interesting idea because they did help in one’s ability to understand what they had read in the actual book. This would be beneficial if one had to write a book report or do an oral presentation of a novel. However to only read the bumblebee colored study guide would not give you the full richness of the story. Taking Moby Dick as an example, the description of the story in the booklet would be something like, “A fisherman is determined to catch a big fish.” The study guide would not give one the depth of each character with all the nuances and mannerisms of them. I believe they were only supposed to enhance the reading experience, not be a substitute for the novel. NOW PERSONALLY I HAD SEVERAL of these study guides and not to sound like a “goody two shoes,” but I needed them to help me comprehend some of the passages I had read in several assigned books. Being a slow reader there were times I barely could finish a book before my book report was due. When I read a novel the imagery the author is creating appears right before my eyes. I feel as if I am right there with the characters. For me this is what I feel the reading experience should provide the reader. If an image cannot form I have a hard time connecting to the story; something every author wants to avoid. Another way of describing these study guides is to say they are the same meal as the original novel less the spices and condiments. As I was watching this action drama film based on a true story, I felt like I was missing some of the ingredients. SOON AFTER THE ATTACK ON the World Trade Center an elite group of soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan for a secret operation. All of their military training did not prepare them for riding into a battle on horseback. Starring Chris Hemsworth (In the Heart of the Sea, Rush) as Captain Mitch Nelson, Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Take Shelter) as Hal Spencer, Michael Pena (End of Watch, American Hustle) as Sam Diller, Navid Negahban (Charlie Wilson’s War, Homeland-TV) as General Dostum and Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight, Lady Luck) as Ben Milo; the actors needed a better script. The story itself was pretty unbelievable I have to say; from that aspect I was in step with this film. The fight scenes were intense and honestly the outcomes were somewhat shocking to me. However the script went from one battle to another to the point I felt I was just watching several videos of the soldiers’ battles. I never really knew the men’s motivations let alone their connections to each other. There were only a couple of scenes where I felt an emotional connection. In a way this picture reminded me of another war film that was shown in the past year or so, that was mostly tension with little story. Now I do not want to downplay the historical aspect of this story, but the script could not lift it to the level it needed to be in urgent importance. Based on this movie I would have rather seen a documentary about the unbelievable feat these soldiers endured.
2 ¼ stars
How annoying is it when you get a new item and it isn’t what you expected or does not work? When it comes to food products our feelings are usually based on the item’s taste; I understand since I have tried some items touting their new great flavor, only to get a nasty taste in my mouth. This type of stuff I either give away or toss into the garbage. The rules are different when the products are not food based. I may have mentioned I bought a new computer. After the store transferred my old information to the new one, along with adding some new programs, I excitedly brought the computer home and turned it on. Everything about it was great until I left it for a moment. When I came back to continue my work the computer would not wake up from its sleep mode. To say I was annoyed would be putting it mildly. I did get it fixed but it is stuff like this that ticks me off. Just a couple of weeks ago it was reported that a department store would no longer carry their line of Egyptian cotton bed sheets. And do you know why? It turns out the company that was making the sheets for the store was not using Egyptian cotton. Can you believe it? The thing that amazes me is the audacity some of these manufacturers have in thinking they are “pulling the wool” over the eyes of their customers. And who really is affected by these actions? It is the consumers who wind up on the losing end. I know the example I gave here is just one of many that take place around the world. CHILDHOOD friends Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, played by Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street, True Story) and Miles Teller (Fantastic Four, The Spectacular Now), found themselves taking on the bigger players in the defense field when they landed a $300 million contract from the Pentagon. The question was how were they going to fulfill it? Based on a true story this comedic drama also starred Ana de Armas (Exposed, The Boarding School-TV) as Iz and Bradley Cooper (Burnt, American Snipe) as Henry Girard. Along with all the other actors in this war film, this still was Jonah’s and Miles’ show. Their acting and chemistry was strong, though I felt Jonah was starting to be typecast with this type of character. The steady pacing kept the story going forward and I have to say even while I was watching this picture I still could not believe some of the things that were taking place. I think that is part of the attraction of this film; viewers will sit in disbelief by the outrageousness of some events. This will make up for the script that did not offer much depth to the characters along with having a little weakness towards the end. In spite of these things the story was so startling that I think it would grab the viewer to stay engaged with it.
The older people are getting the more I have noticed they incorporate an escape plan into their world. If I do a quick count I believe a majority of the people I know have some kind of activity they can escape to, withdrawing from the realities of their day. Off the top of my head I know individuals who do scrap booking, knitting, jigsaw puzzles and reading books just to name a few. I, if you have not noticed, do movies to escape the pressures that come up in my daily life. Films offer me the fastest way to leave the present moment and be whisked into the alternative world of a movie. Even a poorly done movie that I have given a 1 1/2 star rating will partially transport me away; however, the better the film the more I will be drawn into it. If you have read my description for what merits a 4 star rating, you know the movie has to completely remove me from the theater and allow me to become part of the story; where I do not see the actors playing out their roles only the actual characters. Personally I feel everyone should have some kind of activity that allows them to disconnect from their everyday routines. I do not know about you but it seems the older I get more things become challenging for me. A simple activity like driving a car has become harder due to so many distracted drivers, besides the endless construction projects that constantly close roads and lanes. It is no wonder a person feels stuck in their life and just wants to escape to somewhere or something else. With that in mind, I was surprised to see what the main character chose to do in this comedy. JOURNALIST Kim Baker, played by Tina Fey (Sisters, Muppets Most Wanted), felt she was stuck; her life was going nowhere. That is until an opportunity came up for her to take an assignment in Afghanistan. Based on a true story this war comedy had a well rounded cast that included Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, About Time) as Tanya Vanderpoel, Martin Freeman (The Hobbit franchise, Hot Fuzz) as Iain MacKelpie and Alfred Molina (An Education, Chocolat) as Massoud Sadiq. There were parts of this film I enjoyed, but the more the story unfolded the more I lost sense of it. For some reason I started to disbelieve the scenes because they seemed so outrageous or maybe more accurately they lost the emotion of the action. I did not find much humor in this picture; it slowly became ridiculous to me. It is a shame because the idea of the real Kim Baker taking on this assignment is extraordinary; I just wished this script would have come across more real. Part of the blame would have to go to the director. I never once felt I was watching the actual characters, only seeing the actors playing them. This film did not provide me a total escape.
2 1/4 stars
The sentences that were being verbalized to us were losing some of their words on the way to me. It was as if their voice had been heard enough to transform into a blur of white noise, causing my eyelids to become heavy as they wanted to slowly come down like a drawbridge. The lecture was only halfway completed and I did not know how I would survive the rest. My head was starting to look like it was on an old weak spring as it would droop down periodically. I pretended there was something in my eyes so I could fake rubbing them, giving me a few extra seconds of shut eye. The individual leading the training seemed to know what they were talking about; however, their delivery was turning the participants into mindless drones, only coming back to life if a direct question prodded them back to the present time. I am sure many of us have experienced a similar situation during a training, lecture or workshop; the facilitator pretty much is going on automatic since they have done it for so long. And it does not matter whether it is done in person or via a webinar; they follow the same script, the same pre-planned ice breakers and the same jokes. To me the delivery is so important in making the event a success. If you cannot keep the participants engaged and interested in what is being said, then the session becomes a waste of time for a majority of the them; similar to what took place in the movie theater as we watched this musical comedy. LITTLE did rock manager Richie Lanz, played by Bill Murray (Aloha, Lost in Translation), know his trip to Afghanistan would lead him to the beautiful singing voice of Salima, played by Leem Lubany (From A to B, Omar). Unfortunately it was coming out of a female in a country that frowned on women singing. With a cast that also included Kate Hudson (Wish I was Here, Almost Famous) as Merci and Bruce Willis (Die Hard franchise, Looper) as Bombay Brian; I could only sit and wonder if they realized they were stuck in such a poor product. This movie provided nothing new or exciting for me. I still cannot get over the fact it was directed by Barry Levinson (Liberty Heights, Wag the Dog), a director I have respected for a long time. The script made no sense to me; for example, what was the point of including Bruce Willis’ character into the story? Bill Murray was utterly dreadful; he brought absolutely nothing different to his character, having done this type of role over and over previously. I was bored through the majority of this film except during a couple of songs. When the picture was over I felt as if I had been slipped a tranquilizer or what some people call a roofie.
1 1/2 stars
Before the majority of the world became wired, broadcast news provided us with a recap of noteworthy events. We would see the aftermath to a variety of events that spanned from a car accident to an earthquake. Unless there was a personal connection to the story, most of us would not feel an emotional attachment to what was being shown. When broadcasters report about traffic jams on the highways I travel to get to work, it causes a reaction in me, albeit a negative one. I guess I should consider myself lucky that I have not had a personal connection to any traumatic news stories. The only thing I can recall is when I was at friend’s house back in the 70’s; everyone became quiet when there was news about Vietnam. My friend’s older brother was sent over there during the war and the family always listened for a familiar town or place they had heard about from him. When one has a personal reference to the news it has more of an impact. With movies based on true stories, having information being told from one of the real life characters creates an accessible emotional bond to the story. Based on his best selling book, I was acquainted with this story due to seeing news clips of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell discussing his 2005 failed operation in Afghanistan. Mark Wahlberg (Pain & Gain, Boogie Nights) portrayed Marcus in this biographical film. The rest of the team sent out with Marcus to capture or eliminate a vicious Taliban leader was Michael Murphy, played by Taylor Kitsch (Savages, Friday Night Lights-TV); Danny Dietz, played by Emile Hirsch (Killer Joe, The Girl Next Door) and Matt “Axe” Axelson, played by Ben Foster (The Messenger, Contraband). This action drama was essentially split into 2 stories. The first half of the movie showed the Navy SEALs while stationed on base. The second half was all about the mission and this is where the intensity exploded open. I have seen war films before but the fight scenes in this intense section were bloody real looking and I do mean bloody. Some of them were handled a bit heavy by slowing down the motion. I cannot call this entertaining per se; however, for an action scene it seemed to be one long continuous fight. The acting was good, though I still have an issue with Mark Wahlberg’s acting. I never forget it is Mark playing a character. This story was amazing simply because there was an individual who lived to tell it. Many scenes had violence and blood in them.
There was a time when newscasts were the place to get the news of the day. They were hosted by trusted individuals, who felt like family for some of us. Out of this group the most popular ones were Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite. When they retired a new breed came to the forefront, with names like Rather, Jennings and Brokaw. For me they were the last keepers of an era where news was meant to inform, not garner ratings. I will say I have the utmost admiration for today’s news reporters who risk their reputation, career or possibly life to get to the heart of a story. In this Sundance Film Festival winning documentary Jeremy Scahill, national security correspondent for The Nation magazine and author of the bestseller book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army; traveled to Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia to put the pieces together of a covert operation that led to collateral damage. In the movie there was a film clip of a television show where talk show host Jay Leno asked Jeremy why he was still alive and I felt the same way. It was nerve wracking to see Jeremy go into some of the most troubling hot spots in the world. Watching his reporting process was fascinating; he looked like a jigsaw puzzle master as he tried fitting together snippets of news. Some scenes did seem as if they were used for a dramatic effect, but the pacing remained consistent. There were some interviews Jeremy conducted that were unbelievable to me, regarding his ability to sit down and talk to those individuals. Considering the topic I felt there could have been more suspenseful and engaging scenes. If for no other reason, I have to give Jeremy credit for his courage in traveling to such places. Compared to him it is almost silly that I am afraid to go into some parts of my own city. There were several graphic scenes with blood.
2 1/2 stars
In a discussion with a member in my yoga class who is a magazine editor, we talked about the current state of reporting on the news. If someone does not have a direct connection to an event, the story becomes abstract. We specifically were talking about war coverage since we had been talking about the movie Zero Dark Thirty. She mentioned the differences in media coverage between the Vietnam and Afghanistan wars. In the 1970’s newspapers and newscasts put battles and casualties right in people’s faces. These days it tends to be mentioned as a statistic with less importance, which angers her. Unfortunately we had to end our conversation since I was about to start class. Believing in synchronicity, I found this movie came at the perfect time; right after I had seen Zero Dark Thirty. Where one was a Hollywood production, this movie was a documentary distributed by National Geographic. Directors Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger spent over 1 year with the men of Battle Company 2nd of the 503rd Infantry Regiment 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, starting with their deployment to Afghanistan. These men were being sent to Korangal Valley, an area that could easily have been called “Death Valley” due to the never-ending deadly skirmishes with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. What I appreciated most about this Oscar nominated and Sundance Film Festival winner was the matter of fact way it was filmed. There were no political agenda, no slanted interpretations; it was more about the daily lives of these courageous men. Where Zero Dark Thirty had its intense scenes; so did this film in a different way–these men were shooting real bullets. Some people may find parts of this movie slow because there was not a story line to be followed. We were watching real soldiers up close, from deadly battles to burning their own feces. Foul language and a couple of brief scenes with blood.
3 1/2 stars — DVD