WE WERE PART OF AN ELITE group, though none of us would ever admit to it. I do not know any other way to say this, but we were easy targets. We were always the last ones to be picked for a team in PE class. Because I was overweight, the athletic boys assumed I could not do any of the sports that we played in class. They were half right in some cases; but it was okay, I had no desire to be part of any team. I saw what happened to those who did not meet the jocks’ standards. One of the students in our elite group was picked on in brutal ways. In the locker room it was rare a week went by without him getting his head slammed into a locker door or being tripped in the shower room. One time a group of bullies waited for him to completely disrobe at his locker before grabbing him to hang out the window. To this day, I can still hear him screaming as they dragged him to the open window. I was frozen with fear because I had my own hell, I was going through, with some of these same bullies. Some of the less harsh treatments I endured were being shoved into lockers, punched, slapped with textbooks and stabbed. WHEN I WENT TO SCHOOL OUT of state, I decided to reinvent myself because I never wanted to go through what I did previously in school. I got a handle on my eating habits and started exercising properly, none of the competitive crap that was offered in my past schooling. It took a long time, but I started noticing the difference in my weight loss. By the time I finished up my studies and returned home, I looked quite different. Friends and relatives would get surprised when they saw the “new” me. One Saturday night, I was at a party and bumped into a guy who was part of our elite group from school. Back then he used to get bullied because he was extremely skinny (go figure) with these super long legs and short torso. Because he had not matured the same time as most of the boys in class, he was picked on and called names. Looking at him now as an adult, I was amazed at his transformation. From that gangly, prepubescent looking boy, who always carried a baseball mitt in his backpack; I was looking at a tall handsome man with a warm smile. We were both survivors who got to the other side of what life was meant to be. Having that survivor mentality, I immediately felt a connection to him, just like I did when I saw the musical artist of this documentary perform live in concert. ON THE OUTSIDE NO ONE COULD imagine what life was like for Anna Mae Bullock after she got off the stage. From this musical biography, this Grammy award winner will show you how to live a different life. Written and directed by Daniel Lindsay (Undefeated, LA 92) and T.J. Martin (Undefeated, LA 92), this film featured Angela Bassett (Black Panther, Contact), Oprah (The Color Purple, A Wrinkle in Time) and Kurt Loder (Get Him to the Greek, Airheads) talking about their feelings about Tina Turner. Right from the start, I was glued to this film. Granted I am probably biased, having seen her perform in concert 3 times. Out of all the musical artists’ concerts I have attended, she was the hardest working performer I had ever seen. From watching this thoroughly entertaining film, I can see where she gets her strength. It was obvious to me that this movie was made as a love letter to her fans and a goodbye; there were intimate scenes as well as tough ones. The concert footage was enough for me to want to see this film again. As far as I am concerned, she needs to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a single artist. It would be the perfect topping to an amazing life.
SHE DID NOT LOOK LIKE an average woman, whatever average was supposed to look like. I only say that because I remember hearing the comments made about her appearance. We worked together years ago when aerobic meant doing hard impact body movements. The best way to describe her would be to say she was thick because she was not overweight per se. Her arms and legs were large for her body due to her intense weight training regimen. I would see her on the fitness floor from time to time and was always amazed with the amount of weight she used in her exercises. She was usually the only female among the male weightlifters and it amused me when I could tell some of the men were intimidated by her strength. In the locker room I would hear guys talk about her. They always had something negative to say about her appearance, never about her achievements. I am not going to repeat them here since they were rude and ignorant; let me just say I felt the men had to tear her down to make themselves feel better. They could not lift the same amount of weight as she so of course they had to say something to save face, the cowards. MY HOPE FOR THE CURRENT times we live in is that men and women will get closer to be thought of as equals. Not to be crude or rude, but except for the different plumbing women and men can do similar skills and work; maybe with only some slight adjustments. The notion that one gender is weaker than the other is a dated falsehood that needs to be buried once and for all. I remember the teasing I took for having a female internist and the rude comments that were made about what must have taken place during my physical exams. Can you believe it? I did not care if the doctor was a man or women; I was more concerned if they graduated at the top or bottom of their class. No matter what doctor I go to, I always try to look for a copy of their diploma hanging somewhere up on a wall. This divide that has been around for centuries between the sexes is more about power than gender. Well I am here to tell you it was impressive to see the achievements women made in the African country in this action, adventure film. UPON HIS FATHER’S DEATH T’CHALLA, played by Chadwick Boseman (Get on Up, 42), would have to participate in an ancient ritual to determine who would become the Black Panther and lead the nation. Someone else had already had been working for years on how to seize the throne. This science fiction movie also starred Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Fantastic Four) as Erik Killmonger, Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Star Wars franchise) as Nakia, Danai Gurira (The Visitor, All Eyez on Me) as Okoye and Letitia Wright (The Commuter, Top Boy-TV) as Shuri. First off I have to tell you this was not your typical superhero movie. There were no aliens or monsters hell bent on destroying Earth. I was fascinated by the story line and especially the use of women in the script. Black Panther was almost secondary for me compared to the scenes involving women. Michael B. Jordan and Danai commanded the screen with their roles. A majority of the fight scenes were filmed in an odd way; sort of a jerky slow/fast motion type of way. It was not a major distraction since these scenes were not all focal points in the story. The character development along with the juxtaposition of ancient rituals with modern technology kept me fully interested in this picture. Oh and also the great visuals and musical choices for the soundtrack. For those not into superhero movies this one may be worth your time. I enjoyed the different way it told a story and hope going forward that the novelty will wear off in having strong female characters participate in leading a story. There were 2 extra scenes in the middle and end of the credits.
3 ½ stars
There are people who live to work; there are other people who work to live. I fall into the latter category. The jobs I have are only a portion of who I am; they do not completely define me. The top 2 responses I get from people when I tell them I am a credit manager is either I must be a mean man or they would be afraid to show me their credit score. Neither statement could be further from the truth; it just so happens this is what I do during the day as is teaching cycling and yoga at night. There is much more in my life besides theses jobs. Now I know there are individuals who define themselves by what they do for a living. I find it humorous when someone announces their job title as if they are landed gentry or royalty. On the other hand I recently was talking to someone who was under stress because they could not let go of their job once they clocked out for the day. Their sleep was being affected, grinding their teeth to the point of waking up with severe pain in their jaw. The lack of sleep was making them sluggish throughout the day, causing their work to back up to the following day which was adding more stress and so on. It was becoming a vicious cycle. I do understand for some folk they love what they do, so their career shares the same space as their life. However, if one begins to lose their identity this could lead to the breakdown of boundaries between personal and business dealings. To see this all you have to do is take a look at the occupation of the main character in this action thriller. FLYING to London to attend the prime minister’s funeral President Benjamin Asher, played by Aaron Eckhart (My All American, Thank You for Smoking), and his team found themselves in the middle of a world catastrophe that was planned especially for him. This sequel had returning cast members Morgan Freeman (Dolphin franchise, The Dark Knight franchise) as Vice President Trumbull and Angela Bassett (Malcom X, American Horror Story-TV) as Lynne Jacobs. The chase and fight scenes were intense; I especially enjoyed the one involving the President’s helicopter. When it came to the script I found it dreadful, filled with ridiculous prejudiced comments and generic catchphrases. For a crime movie all this picture provided was fight scene after fight scene for the most part. And something that I found to be the most unrealistic about these scenes were how in the middle of all these bullets flying around only the “bad” guys were getting hit but none of the good ones. It adds phoniness to the film in my opinion. The idea behind the story was interesting; unfortunately it just turned into a lame action picture. To tell you the truth the whole thing felt like the writers went on automatic to create this script.
1 3/4 stars
The use of satire to tell a story is a perfectly valid art form. Satire is defined as a way to use humor to show someone or something is foolish or bad. It was first used in the early 1500s. Many authors and film directors have used satire as a way to get their creations past some form of censorship that was imposed on them or the surrounding area around them. The first time I heard about this movie nothing was mentioned about it being a satire. The focus was on the title which is a combination of Chicago and Iraq. I have been following all the controversy about this film and what amazed me was how vehemently some people were complaining about this movie without knowing anything about it. Some elected officials of Chicago were up in arms that this film would paint a “bad” picture of their city. I found their thinking flawed due to the fact that innocent people are indeed being shot in the city; one cannot hide that fact. What is most troublesome is no one ever comes forward, so it seems, to identify the shooter for fear of retaliation. Freedom of speech is everyone’s right and if director and writer Spike Lee (Inside Man, Do the Right Thing) wanted to shine a light on one city’s particular issue, then he has the right to do so. SEEING yet another person being killed in her neighborhood Lysistrata, played by Teyonah Parris (Dear White People, Mad Men-TV), enlisted the help of her fellow female citizens in a plan she felt would force people to stop killing each other. With a story based on an ancient Greek play, this dramatic film immediately jumped into the viewer’s face. There was a powerful soundtrack and strong acting from actors like Nick Cannon (The Killing Room, Roll Bounce) as Chi-Raq, Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers franchise, Big Game) as Dolmedes and John Cusack (Dragon Blade, 2012) as Father Mike Corridan; there were several gripping scenes throughout this movie. There were two issues I had regarding how the story was being told. The first one was a majority of the dialog was spoken in a way similar to rapping or a slam poetry session. One had to pay attention to the words to get the meaning; however, there were times that it went too fast for me to understand what they were saying. Also, after a while I was tired of devoting so much energy to the dialog instead of the action and scenes. The other issue I had concerned the unevenness with the scenes; they came across choppy where some were strong and others weak in their attempt to tell a story. There were times where I felt they were even cartoonish. The bottom line here is this film is shining a light on a problem; it is using satire to make it palatable for the viewer. There were scenes with blood, sexual situations and strong language.
2 3/4 stars
Here is a little secret I will share with you on staying young: let the little child inside of you come out to play. There is no reason to suppress the joy and freedom we felt as children; it is therapeutic to find time to do something fun and it will keep you young. In our adult life we will encounter challenges, tests and a variety of events that harden us to be stoic and strong; I totally understand it. However, I do not know who decided the age of 18 or 21 is the dividing line between being a child or an adult. I have met a lot of adults who acted more like children than some children I have seen. The term “old soul” comes to mind when I recall some of the conversations I have had with younger people. Now I know reaching that magic age where you are suddenly transformed into an adult is a big deal; heck, I could not wait to vote for the first time in a presidential election. However, if a person is not responsible can they really be considered an adult? JUST before her 18th birthday Kat Connor, played by Shailene Woodley (The Fault in our Stars, Divergent), was faced with a terrible loss. Her mother Eve, played by Eva Green (Casino Royale, 300: Rise of an Empire); just picked up and left one day, leaving Kat and her father Brock, played by Christopher Meloni (Man of Steel, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit-TV), to fend for themselves. Pushed into being and adult, Kat slowly began to realize something was not right as she began to have dreams about her mother. The big draw for me to watch this dramatic mystery was Shailene. After her last couple of films I was looking forward to seeing her in this thriller. She did not disappoint; I really think she is becoming a well-rounded actress. Writer and director Greg Araki (Mysterious Skin, Kaboom) must have been thinking the same thing because he really dropped the ball on the script. It felt like he did not need to make a good script because he knew Shailene would squeeze the emotions out of his words. She did her best but sadly it was not enough to make this a good film. The story was slow and lifeless; I did not feel any passion coming out of the cast. And it was not their fault; I felt the responsibility fell squarely on Greg. Despite the group of actors assembled and the twists to the story, I did not experience much fun or enjoyment watching this movie.
2 1/4 stars
Around the globe there are iconic structures that mean something to a variety of individuals. From the Grand Canyon to the Eiffel Tower, their fame becomes part of our memories, whether we have seen them with our own eyes or not. The first time I saw the White House I was standing outside of it as a peaceful rally was taking place. Suddenly there was a whirling sound that increased in tempo. The president’s helicopter rose above the White House and began to head towards us. I remember the helicopter moving higher above our heads as if it was floating on the breeze from our waving hands. With this memory I already had an investment in this action film. Transferred to a different department job after a tragic accident; secret service agent Mike Banning’s, played by Gerard Butler (Law Abiding Citizen, Playing for Keeps), training kicked in when the White House came under attack. If it meant taking a bullet; Mike’s conditioning prepared him to do so in order to protect the president. The cast had a roster of fine actors to tackle the task of portraying powerful political figures. Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole, Thank You for Smoking) as President Benjamin Asher, Morgan Freeman (Invictus, Million Dollar Baby) as Speaker Trumbull and Melissa Leo (The Fighter, Frozen River) as Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan to name a few. Gerard was no-nonsense in his character; he handled his wisecracks as well as his killings. What bothered me was a majority of the fight scenes were cloaked in shadows, making it hard to see the action. Granted this would be an advantage for those who cannot watch bloody violence. The thing I found most annoying was the soundtrack. It was made of cloying dramatic musical swells that took tension away from the scenes. The story was standard good guy/bad guy fare with a couple of surprises and a few unrealistic notions. All the movie needed was the opportunity for the President to say at some point, “Not in my house!” Scenes filled with graphic blood and violence.
2 1/2 stars