IT WAS A STORY I HAD seen done in the movies over and over, but now I was witnessing it firsthand. I must tell you it is a classic story and despite being so familiar with how it plays out, I still enjoyed watching the journey of discovery my friend experienced. It all started when she went to a club with a few of her friends. While at the club one of her friends bumped into a friend of theirs, who came to the club with a couple of their friends. Introductions were made and the two separate sets hung out together by the bar. The way she described it to me, her friends and the other friends were breaking off into separate conversations, with her in the middle. When she participated in the conversation with the group to her left, she missed what was taking place to her right; that is, until someone from that group got her attention to ask her opinion. At some point a guy from the other set of friends had gone to the restroom and when he returned, he wound up standing next to her. The two of them found themselves having their own conversation, discovering they both worked in the same industry. The evening ended, but not without invites for a party that was taking place the following weekend. AS MY FRIEND TELLS IT, SHE was not attracted to the guy she wound up talking to for part of the evening. As she described it, “he was too crazy for her,” whatever that meant. However, with coaxing from her friends she went to the party. This guy was there and her first impression of him stuck; he seemed like a party animal who was going from one room to another, acting out with his celebrity impressions and silly antics. She did not care for him at all. My friend did not stay long and went home early. The following week, the guy called her at work on the premise of it being work related. He needed a credit reference on their mutual customer and for the weeks following their calls at work became more frequent and longer, always starting out with a business question. She learned a lot about him, finding a side of him that he kept hidden out in public. After covering all the initial topics that two recently introduced people discuss, their conversations were being held on a deeper level. Her first impression of him was melting away as the guy’s real personality was emerging. They decided to go on a date. Their first date led to a second and a third and before you knew it, they became a couple. I enjoyed watching their story unfold, just like I enjoyed watching this animated movie that dealt with first impressions. TO AVOID JAIL, A BAND OF criminals must go through a rehabilitation program to prove to the city they can be model citizens despite how they look. Believing they could fool everyone; the group discovers something they were not expecting. With Sam Rockwell (Richard Jewell, Mr. Right) voicing Wolf, Marc Maron (Respect, Glow-TV) voicing Snake, Awkwafina (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, The Farewell) voicing Tarantula, Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Machine franchise, Pineapple Express) voicing Shark and Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born, In the Heights) voicing Piranha; this adventure comedy conveyed a wonderful message. I thought the script was excellent with its smattering of humor, poignancy, and excitement. The animation was wonderful, and I enjoyed the way the actors melded themselves into their characters. With the different elements, the director still created a solid, even paced film that devoted the right amount of time to each scene. I was surprised how good this picture was put together and as I said, I loved the message it laid out for the viewers. There was an extra scene in the middle of the credits.
3 ½ stars
CONSIDERING I FIRST SAW HER WHILE sitting inside a shopping cart, it is rather amazing the memory of her is as strong today as it was decades ago. It was the only grocery store I knew as a little boy; she worked behind one of the cash registers and her name was Henrietta. With wire-rimmed eyeglasses and her shiny, light brown hair pulled tightly back into a large bun that was stuffed into a black hairnet; I always perked up when she was the checker for our checkout line. She knew my name which even for my young age, made me feel important and special. Not all the time, but often enough she would give me a lollipop or a small candy bar. Always with a smile on her face, to me she was the kindest and sweetest person I knew. When I got old enough to go to the grocery store myself, I always chose the check out aisle she was working. Though I had outgrown the desire to eat every bit of candy given or bought for me, Henrietta would give me some kind of small trinket or object. One time I received a pencil sharpener that was shaped like a rocket ship; another time I received a bottle of bubbles. She was such a strong fixture at the neighborhood grocery store; I could not think of the store without thinking about her. NEXT TO THE GROCERY STORE WAS a laundromat and next to it was a hot dog place. Once my friends and I were old enough, we would go to the hot dog restaurant for lunch instead of the school cafeteria. The restaurant was a fast-food joint that served hot dogs and hamburgers in these red plastic baskets that were lined with a red and white checkerboard sheet of waxy paper. The cook knew we students had to be back to school on time, so he made sure to get our orders out to us quickly. Sometimes after school, I would stop at the restaurant to get a soft drink before walking a couple of blocks to the local drugstore. The store had the look of an old-fashioned apothecary with its wooded shelves going high up the sides of the walls. Light fixtures hung down by black piping and the ceiling was made of stamped tin. The pharmacists knew me and would let me take family members’ prescriptions home without a signature. Each store in my neighborhood was a familiar and welcome place; many of the store owners knew me. Nearly all the residents in the neighborhood knew each other. The apartment I grew up in never seemed small to me because my home was my entire neighborhood, just as it was for the residents in this musical drama. ONE WAS NEVER ALONE WHEN THEY lived in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood, both in good times and bad. With Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born, Honest Thief) as Usnavi, Melissa Barrera (Vida-TV, Dos Veces Tu) as Vanessa, newcomer Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island) as Benny and Jimmy Smits (Star War franchise, NYPD Blue-TV) as Kevin Rosario; this film based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (Hamilton, Mary Poppins Returns) Broadway musical brimmed over with singing and dancing. The music was infectious, accompanied by electrifying choreographed dancing. I thought the directing was crisp, providing a few opportunities to create powerful scenes. There were a few scenes that did not resonate with me; either they were offshoots to what I thought was the main story line or the scenario presented was predictable to me. If one is not a fan of musicals, I do not feel they will enjoy watching this movie as much as those familiar with Lin-Manuel’s style of song writing. The sense of belonging within a community, done in a vibrant and bold style, was a nice change of pace from the typical pictures that have come out this year. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
3 ¼ stars
THIS HAPPENED A LONG TIME AGO, but I had a relative who was caught in the middle of a riot. He was a hands-on business owner, working at his store nearly seven days a week. I cannot remember the details if he knew there was going to be some type of trouble in the neighborhood or he simply got caught in the middle of the protesters, but he was working at the time the riots broke out. The protesters were throwing debris at storefront windows, overturning vehicles and setting fire to trash piles. He was afraid his store was going to get looted or worse, destroyed because he stocked alcoholic products. The store meant everything to him since it was his livelihood and the only thing he knew how to do. He made up his mind he would lock and barricade the doors, staying in the place until things calmed down. His family was distraught with the news when he called them; pleading with him to get out, but he refused. As far as he could see there was no one coming to calm the crowds down and he could not ask any of his employees to put themselves in danger by staying with him. He did not leave the store for three days. ALL DURING THAT TIME THE ENTIRE family feared for his life. As far as any of us were concerned the people rioting were all bad and our relative was an innocent victim. I was too young to understand the reasons behind the crowds taking to the streets and damaging property. Looking back at that incident I realize two things: there had to be some legitimate reasons why people were angry and secondly, there were some individuals who saw an opportunity to wreak havoc in the neighborhood. When a violent act or tragedy takes place, people witnessing it may only see things at face value. They may not be interested with someone else’s concerns. Maybe that is part of the problem; it certainly seems more so these days from what I have seen and heard on the news. This may sound trite, but I find it so true; “You don’t know someone until you walk in their shoes.” Or what is that other saying that goes, “There are two sides to every story and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.” With more and more people responding to disagreements/conflicts with anger, thinking the louder they shout the more they will be heard, it is no wonder the world seems more like a scary place. This dramatic, film festival winner reminded me there is more to a story than what one sees for themselves. THE KILLING OF A BLACK MAN by a Brooklyn police officer affected more than those who knew the two men. Starring Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born, White Girl) as Manny, John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman, Love Beats Rhymes) as Dennis, Kelvin Harrison Jr (The Birth of a Nation, It Comes at Night) as Zyric, Jasmine Cephas Jones (Blindspotting, Mistress America) as Marisol and Giuseppe Ardizzone (Boardwalk Empire-TV, Gotham-TV) as Officer Jim Gambini; I found the story gripping throughout the movie. This was writer and director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s first full length feature film and I found his script and direction new and fresh, considering the subject matter has been done before and is a current issue in society. I found the acting to be this raw realness that added to the tension I felt throughout the picture. This movie has the ability to allow the viewer to look at the bigger picture, pushing the boundaries beyond face value. Living near a city where violence occurs on a weekly basis, this story could have easily taken place here.
3 ½ stars
I AM MORE OF A “don’t fix it if it isn’t broken” type of guy. As long as the item is meeting my expectations/needs, then I am fine with it. If you recall in one of my recent reviews I said, “Just because something is new does not make it better.” This is true to me based on the multiple examples I have experienced while buying replacement items. When my refrigerator finally stopped working I had to buy a new one. The salesperson had all these reasons why the newer refrigerators were so much better than mine. I originally asked if mine was fixable which led the salesperson to go into their sales pitch for the newer models. Granted, the ones I looked at were nicer looking, brighter inside and had a variety of shelf configurations I could adjust depending on what I needed to store inside. After I came to the realization that the cost to fix my old fridge would be better spent on buying a new one, I chose one similar to what I had and had it delivered. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with my new refrigerator; but for some reason it does not seem I can fit as much food into it as my old one did. MY PHILOSOPHY CAN BE EASILY APPLIED to movie remakes. If you look back at the reviews I did of movies that were remakes, you will not find many that were favorable. Just last week the film Little Women I reviewed was an updated version; it was one of the worst remakes I had seen in a long time. For the life of me I could not understand how the studio looked at that remake and thought they made a good picture. It makes me wonder where are the writers who have an original idea for a story? Honestly, I do not fully understand what the reasoning is behind the decision to do a remake of an established movie. Remember, don’t fix it if it isn’t broken; why would a studio want to take a well-known, classic film and do a remake of it? If the bar is already set up high, what are the studio’s chances of having a success? Maybe it is an economic decision, where if the 1st movie was successful then the new one has a built-in fan base. I do not have the answers, but I must tell you everything I just said about remade movies does not apply to this romantic, musical drama. HAVING BEEN TOLD SHE WAS NEVER good enough Ally, played by Lady Gaga (Machete Kills, American Horror Story-TV), had no reason to believe famous music celebrity Jackson Maine’s, played by Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, Silver Linings Playbook) comments about her. There was only one way to show her. With Sam Elliott (The Hero, I’ll See You in my Dreams) as Bobby, Andrew Dice Clay (Blue Jasmine, Pretty in Pink) as Lorenzo and Anthony Ramos (Mobsters and Men, Patti Cakes) as Ramon; I was stunned with this being Bradley’s 1st stint as a writer and director. His direction was simple and pure which was a beautiful compliment to Lady Gaga’s expressive face. Acting was in top form from everyone, but I do have to say I forgot Bradley was playing Jackson Maine; he was that believable. Doing all the singing live was a brilliant decision because it added a vibrancy to the scenes that truly made them stand out. Now there were a few slow spots for me, but they were just a minor distraction that I did not mind much. This is the 4th time this story has been done in movie form and I believe this not only can stand on its own, but it shines the brightest.
3 ½ stars