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
EACH OF US I BELIEVE CARRIES a daily pill box container inside of us. I can see each of those little squares holding a small aspect of our personality, those things that make us, us. Not in a split personality way, but I feel we all have different personas we need to wear depending on the situation. I know when I teach my class I am a different person than when I am a credit manager at work. In fact, there have been many people in my classes who are stunned when they hear I am a credit manager. It is funny because several of them said the same thing, that I seem too nice to be in that position. Think about it; when you accompany your significant other to one of their work functions, don’t you act a certain way? I am willing to bet most of you who do, are conscious of what you say and how you act in front of your loved one’s fellow employees and superiors. It always stuns me when an employee’s partner winds up stinking drunk and makes a scene in front of everyone. NOW THERE ARE SOME INDIVIDUALS WHO act the same no matter what environment they occupy; damn anyone who doesn’t like the way they act. I used to be one of those people; I would say I was an extreme version of who I am now. There is this game where players must guess which answer you would choose for each scenario that gets presented to you. I had to stop playing because everyone knew exactly how I would react in each situation. I firmly believe everyone needs to be true to themselves. Where I used to make sure people knew I did not like them; now I can be civil and lessen my exposure to them if I can. I will not kid you, it takes some finesse. There just are some individuals who are not nice; feel free to put in any other adjective, since I erased them during my editing of this review. I am no longer an “in your face” type of person; however, if need be I have that aspect tucked inside of me. And that is what I meant about we have a pill box container inside of each of us. To show you an example, there is an incredible one inside of this film festival winning, crime drama. AS THE SOLE WITNESS TO A SHOOTING Starr, played by Amanda Stenberg (The Darkest Minds, The Hunger Games), knew if she revealed herself people’s perceptions of her would forever change. She did not know if she was that strong to do such a thing. Also starring Regina Hall (Girls Trip, Scary Movie franchise) as Lisa Carter, Russell Hornsby (Fences, After the Sunset) as Maverick “Mac” Carter, Anthony Mackie (Captain America franchise, The Hurt Locker) as King and Issa Rae (A Bitter Lime, Insecure-TV) as April Ofrah; this movie took me away to another place. The story, which was completely current and important, blossomed with the well written script and amazing acting skills of the cast. Amandla would be someone to watch for because she was beautiful in her role. I thoroughly enjoyed the way the script went from a humorous spot to an intense moment, to finally end up in a thoughtful place. It felt as if the writers and director precisely dissected the story to present a complete picture to the viewer. Though the story may be something you have already seen on the news; I found this picture presented a different take on it and I am here to say my eyes were glued to the movie screen.
HATE DOES NOT discriminate or it just has poor aim. I was standing outside with a group of people who came from diverse backgrounds. We were talking and laughing while deciding where we wanted to go eat. A vehicle driving down the street slowed as it neared us, not that any of us were paying attention to it. A beer bottle flew out the window at us before the vehicle sped away. Luckily no one got hit with glass as it shattered in front of us on the sidewalk, but a couple of people were splashed with beer. There was no reason for it; it wasn’t like we were provoking anyone. You could say it was a random act of violence but I would not believe it. I felt some of the people in our group were the target because I caught a glance of the vehicle’s bumper where there was a sticker. Maybe I was wrong for not mentioning it but I did not want anyone to feel worse or different than anyone else. THE THING THAT puzzles me about hatred is how it gets formed in a person. Having been the victim of both acts of hatred and bullying, I have tried to understand the prejudicial mind or let me say bigot. Why does the life of a complete stranger, who has had no contact with you or whose actions have no bearing on your well being, affect you in such a way to lash out at them? I have thought about this for years; in fact, I still remember a story I heard about a family friend who hated a particular minority group. The reason was because his brother was murdered by an individual of the same minority; that was it. That is one of the reasons why I say hate does not discriminate. I used to think hatred was this laser focused emotion that targeted only a single individual, but it appears to me as if that focus has widened to engulf anyone in its path or intent. And especially when the person filled with hatred is in a position of power it can become intensely lethal. This film’s story is based on true events, so you can see what I mean. THE TIMES WERE volatile as racial tensions rose in the city of Detroit during the late 1960s. From a single sound of a gun going off the guests of the hotel Algiers were subjected to a night of terror. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker), this historical crime drama starred John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Circle) as Dismukes, Will Poulter (We’re the Millers, The Revenant) as Krauss, Jacob Latimore (Sleight, The Maze Runner) as Fred and Algee Smith (Earth to Echo, The New Edition Story-TV) as Larry. The majority of this movie was filled with heightened tension and anxiety; I was mortified by the things I was seeing on screen thanks to Kathryn’s eye for detail and buildup. She did an incredible job as this picture felt part documentary, part reenactment. The acting from John Boyega and Will Poulter was outstanding. I swear John reminded me of a young Denzel Washington; it was amazing to see him in this role and to see the depth of his acting skills. The same has to be said for Will too. There was a bit of manipulation I felt where the violence and human ugliness were used to move the audience members. Despite feeling that way I still was affected by the story. A majority of people might feel uncomfortable sitting through this film and that would be a good thing.
3 ½ stars
Once upon a time I had only known police officers to be friendly and helpful. There was a relative’s relative (you know, from the other side of a marriage) who was in the police force. The few times where we would be together for an occasion they were simply kind and quiet. I was told they were tough at work but I never witnessed it. In high school there was a narcotics officer who stationed himself in the cafeteria during all of the lunch periods. I remember him kidding around with the students as he patrolled the large lunchroom. He was always at the entrance first thing in the morning to greet all of us; though I always wondered if he was looking for something in particular. There was only one time where I saw him interacting with a student in a forceful way. It turned out the student was high on something and tried to resist the officer’s request to come with him to the principal’s office. That was my only contact with police officers. Sadly when you hear people talking about the police these days it tends to be with disdain and mistrust. The use of video cameras, installed on the officers and in police cars along with bystanders’ cell phones, has changed the general public’s opinions about the police. With the altercations that have been recorded and shown on the news these days, I cannot imagine someone not being affected by it in a negative way. The one reason I am not surprised by the things I have seen is because I have always had this philosophy for every occupation: someone has to graduate at the top of the class just as there has to be someone who graduates at the bottom. UNDER pressure to commit a criminal act a group of crooked officers have to set up a code 999, which means an officer is down. This crime thriller had an amazing cast of actors that included Chiwetel Ejiofer (The Martian, Z for Zachariah) as Michael Atwood, Casey Affleck (Tower Heist, Gone Baby Gone) as Chris Allen, Anthony Mackie (Ant-Man, Our Brand is Crisis) as Marcus Belmont and Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs, Titanic) as Irina Vlaslov. Now you would think with such a group of actors this movie would be stellar, wouldn’t you? The action scenes were absolutely intense but the story went nowhere. I felt no connection to any of it; none of the scenes flowed together, it was disjointed. Sitting here and recalling the characters reminds me I knew nothing about them. It felt as if I had only seen a portion of the film; the part that had the blood and violence in it. The actors did what they could with the script but the only one that stood out for me was Casey. Kate was wasted on her role and I felt I had wasted my time watching this picture. Maybe the people involved with making this movie graduated at the bottom of their class.
1 3/4 stars
The pool of friends started out large enough where they could have used a small school bus to fit them all in. They all grew up together having survived the blizzard of the century that kept them home from school for several days, besides puberty. During their high school years the group expanded whenever any of them started dating; the dates just became a part of the culture they had created, hanging out at the pizza place or meeting at the beach when the weather was warm enough. When it came time to go to college the group temporarily diminished by those friends that went out of state. However, any time they returned home there always would be plans in place for everyone to meet up. A change started forming around this time, where those in relationships that were solidifying did not hang out as much with the gang. It wasn’t too soon before that school bus could be traded in for a limo or minivan to fit in all the friends. Not that they did not stop being friends, they just did not hang out due to new commitments like relationship and job. Once the college years were over, the group got even smaller. Some friends had to relocate to a new city or country for their employer. It was time to trade in the minivan for a compact car. And do you know what the hardest part was among the friends? It was the one friend left standing, who was still available to be the driver since they did not have any commitments that would take them away from hanging out with their friends. It could be a tough spot to be in which explained why some friends set up a rotating date to see each other, just like the friends in this comedy. EVERY Christmas Eve childhood friends Ethan, Isaac and Chris; played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Walk, Don Jon), Seth Rogen (Steve Jobs, The Interview) and Anthony Mackie (Our Brand is Crisis, The Hurt Locker); got together. Growing older would eventually challenge their annual night of fun. I found this movie to be a mixture of good and bad. The story was nothing new but there were some funny scenes throughout the film. There were times whereI felt things were scattered, going from serious to comedy and back; but at least the actors were okay doing it. Though I have to say Seth’s role seemed no different to several of his other ones; this one appeared a bit stale to me. I did enjoy the cameo roles through this picture which helped me stay alert since I found some scenes dull. Will this film turn into an annual Christmas movie? I do not know; but if one needs to take a break from the hectic frenzy of the season, this movie could be a candidate to let you sit back and do nothing.
2 1/4 stars
It seems no sooner do I leave the voting booth that another election campaign revs up its marketing machine. I finally throw away my homework on the candidates (I’m not a political junkie but I do want to know something about the person I am voting for in an election) and I am supposed to startup with a whole new batch? The political landscape has changed so much from what I remember years ago. Facts it seems are no longer important or less important than the amount of money in the candidate’s coffers. If I were ruler for a day I would make election day a national holiday, restrict all advertising to start only 90 days before the election, make all candidates hold at least a dozen town hall meetings across the country and do away with a majority of the super PAC funds that seem to have been set up to sway the candidate to be sympathetic to one particular interest group. What I find most troubling is the use of smear campaigns to discredit an opponent. I can handle it if an opposing campaign discovers something that actually happened in a politician’s past; however, the use of innuendo or implication without having proof appears to be more prevalent today and I find it ugly. Overall I do not like negative campaigns; I feel if a person wants to run for office then they must explain how they would do it without knocking down one of their opponents. If what was shown in this comedic drama is anywhere close to true then I am more naive than I imagine myself to be. DOWN in the polls a Bolivian presidential candidate, played by Joaquim de Almeida (Fast Five, Behind Enemy Lines), hired an American strategist with killer instincts nicknamed Calamity Jane, played by Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side, The Heat). She would quickly discover she was in a race against her arch nemesis Pat Candy, played by Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade, The Man Who Wasn’t There), who was working for the leading candidate. With Ann Dowd (Side Effects, Compliance) as Nell and Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker, Real Steel) as Ben, the cast was well rounded for the story line. However, the script got more dysfunctional as the story progressed in this drama. There were several scenes that seemed so ridiculous that I could not imagine they came anywhere close to actually happening, since this picture was a fictionalized story based on a past event. I was left with bored feelings as if I was watching a live version of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons, with each of them taking turns on the receiving end. The dramatic parts that could have been effective were glossed over making them more like an afterthought. On the other hand, maybe this story was closer to reality than I realized which in this case would make me feel more disturbed about the modern election process.
1 3/4 stars
Those who had the larger sized box of crayons were the cool kids. If I remember correctly the largest size was the 128 count box; I mostly had the 32 count, though one year I did get as a gift the 64 size. With double the number of crayons the possibilities to me seemed endless. Since I had so many crayons I felt I had to use every single one, so my drawings took on a more colorful palette. I started making trees different colors, sometimes making their leaves multi-colored. There were times they looked like large chocolate ice cream cones topped with candy sprinkles. When I started giving extra colors to people I remember a couple of students telling me I could not do it. We would argue back and forth with them saying they were not human and me telling them they were still humans. The people I drew had two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth. Now these arguments had nothing to do with racial prejudices; those students were following the norm and expecting everyone to do the same. I just did not care what the skin color was nor give it any importance. It is something I have and continue to carry into my adult life which is why I thought this film had an important message. AFTER his wife was killed in a car accident Elliot Anderson, played by Kevin Costner (Draft Day, Man of Steel), was left alone to raise his granddaughter Eloise, played by Jillian Estell (So This is Christmas). That was until Eloise’s paternal grandmother Rowena Jeffers, played by Octavia Spencer (Get on Up, Snowpiercer), decided she should get full custody of her granddaughter. This film festival winning drama had two good things going for it, Kevin and Octavia. The two were not only good in their individual scenes, they really were fired up for their mutual scenes. That is not to say the other actors in this movie, like Anthony Mackie (Runner Runner, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), were bad; they were all decent. Acting aside, the story was the most important part to this picture. Its message was something that needs to be repeated over and over. I felt the 1st half of the movie did a good job to tell the story, but then the writers started to complicate the message. It seemed as if scenes were being designed to manipulate the viewer just to add emotional value. I found it to be predictable, with a layer of syrupy sentiments that made me almost groan. With that being said I do believe most viewers would still appreciate the story/message of this film more than the execution of it.
2 3/4 stars
The first time it happened you chalked it up to a coincidence, but when it took place again you became suspicious. You shared sensitive information with a coworker. Later in the day you bumped into a fellow employee from a different department who made a comment that seemed odd. Feigning ignorance you let it slide, but as you returned to your desk you thought it was unusual for that employee to make such a comment out of nowhere, especially since the two of you were not close business associates. Later in the week you saw your coworker talking to that very same employee and you immediately understood why that employee made the comment to you; your coworker must have said something to them about you. When trust gets broken with me the first feeling I sense is the quick evacuation of oxygen from my body, as if someone had jumped on my stomach with both feet clad in steel toed boots. All the connections that were created between us shudder and crumble as the aftershocks prevent me from finding balance. It is a horrible feeling to place trust in a person or business and later discover you were betrayed; they were not who you believed them to be. In this action adventure Steve Rogers aka Captain America, played by Chris Evans (The Losers, Fantastic Four franchise), would question the placement of his trust when a new threat appeared to be getting the odds stacked in their favor. This film had a super throwback vibe between the forces of good and evil. I had a sense that all the actors like Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation, Don Jon) as Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow, Anthony Mackie (Real Steel, The Adjustment Bureau) as Sam Wilson aka Falcon and Robert Redford (All is Lost, The Electric Horseman) as Alexander Pierce were having a fun time filming this exciting movie. If you are not familiar with Captain America you may be at a slight disadvantage though the writers worked to fit in the back story of how Steve Rogers became Captain America throughout the film. There was a constant flow of action and excitement, but I found some of the fight scenes were so fast and in close-up that it was hard to make out each character’s actions. With a smart script filled with fun quips, an exciting story filled with surprise twists and a cast that met the physical demands of their roles while keeping solid chemistry between each other; I trust the powers that be will keep the Captain America franchise strong enough to yield more sequels. There were a couple of extra scenes up to the very end of the credits.
3 1/3 stars
Each of us one way or another has in some type of form gambled. Not necessary with money, but based on choices we made on a daily basis. Everyday I drive to work I have to take a gamble on which route will get me to the office the quickest. If I choose the highway there may be a backup of cars that would delay me. Taking side streets will take longer but if traffic is flowing I could get there earlier; it is a calculated gamble I have to take each day. How many of us have had to lift something that was extra heavy? There is a risk that some of us may injure our backs; isn’t that taking a gamble? I have very little experience when it comes to gambling with money; never understood the attraction of it. However, I certainly have no problem watching other people play with their money. In this dramatic thriller the gambling was done entirely online. Justin Timberlake (Friends with Benefits, The Social Network) played Princeton student Richie Furst. Discovering he was cheated out of his tuition money on an online gambling site, Richie decided to take his proof to the site’s headquarters in Costa Rica and confront millionaire owner Ivan Block, played by Ben Affleck (Argo, The Company Men). Impressed with Richie’s moxie, Ivan made him an enticing offer. The story had all the elements to make an exciting film, even if none of them were original. I could have dealt with the cliches and obvious setups if the acting stood out. Unfortunately, it did not nor helped this crime film. Part of it may be due to the direction, but Justin could not carry the story as a lead character. As long as Ben was doing gentler scenes he was okay, but his intense scenes fell flat. Gemma Arterton (Quantum of Solace, Unfinished Song) as Rebecca Shafran was forgettable, lacking any chemistry with her co-stars. Anthony Mackie (The Adjustment Bureau, Real Steel) as Agent Shavers was wasted on his stereotypical character. There was nothing new being offered in this movie; parts dragged for me. As I mentioned in the beginning, all of us have gambled in some way and that holds true for the movie studio that made this film. It took a risk and lost I am afraid. There were a couple of brief scenes with blood in them.
1 3/4 stars
The pairing of the words pain and gain is something I associate with working out. I have heard gym teachers tell their students, “work through the pain” or “you won’t get stronger if you don’t feel the pain.” To me these are not words of encouragement. The closest I come to saying something like that in my classes is to say, “it is ok to feel a muscle working.” I am afraid members could injure themselves if they think that feeling pain is the only way to know they are doing the exercises correctly. Thanks to this action film I now have a different association for the words pain and gain. I will always remember how painful it was for me to watch this film and how I wanted to gain back the time I lost. Based on a true story, director Michael Bay (Transformers franchise, Armageddon) filled this movie with an abundance of blood and violence. The actual story was so outrageous that I kept thinking that what I was seeing on the screen could not have really happened. And herein was one of the issues I had with Michael’s directing; there was so much time devoted to showing the violence I never got a real sense of the three main characters. Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, Ted), Dwayne Johnson (Snitch, Get Smart) and Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker, Real Steel) played bodybuilders Daniel Lugo, Paul Doyle and Adrian Doorbal. Not wanting to spend the rest of his life as a personal trainer; Daniel Lugo hatched a plan to kidnap his wealthy client Victor Kershaw, played by Tony Shalhoub (Hemmingway & Gellhorn, Monk-TV), for his money. With Paul and Adrian on board; what was to have been a fast, easy job turned into a cluster blunder. The only good acting came from Tony Shalhoub and Ed Harris (The Rock, A History of Violence) as Ed DuBois. If Dwayne Johnson’s goal was to look like a moving mountain, he succeeded. Maybe with the story being so unbelievable, Dwayne wanted to look as non-human as possible. After some time I was bored with this film. Though I did not get pumped up by the story, I did get a sudden urge to go to the health club and work out.
1 3/4 stars