THE man standing up on the stage was of a large stature, making the stage look less immense. Queried by the judges he politely answered their questions. There was a hint of nervousness in his voice. One of the judges asked him to begin his audition. A song began to play with a solid beat and the man began to dance to it. The television camera cut back to the judges who all were sitting in a row, each one with a look of disbelief on their faces. The big man shocked all of them with his dancing that was part cheerleader moves, part dance and part pole dancing; all were being done exactly to the beat. To finish off his performance he did a twirl with a leap into the air, coming down into a full leg split with one leg stretched all the way in front of him and the other in the opposite direction behind him. The audience erupted with applause as well as the judges who were still in a bit of shock. Because of the man’s size the judges as well as the audience assumed dancing would have been the last thing the contestant would have performed. I have come across similar scenarios in my fitness classes. A person would walk in and look like they would rather be at the dentist’s office getting a tooth drilled than being in an exercise class; however, once I started the class the person would get into it in an intense way. Years ago I taught an aerobics class that was made up of a mixture of strength and dance moves. First I have to tell you I took one look at this one man and thought he would hate the class, figuring his wife standing next to him had forced him to come with her. He was over 6 feet tall and stocky. Talk about shock for both of us; I was stunned he stayed for the whole class and he was amazed how tough of a workout it was to keep up. It goes to show you one can never assume something based on a person’s appearance. It is a lesson well learned since I was surprised with what I discovered in this biographical music drama. FROM a young age Afeni Shakur, played by Danai Gurira (The Visitor, Mother of George), taught her son that words were more important than a basketball. Based on true events this film went through the life and death of actor/rapper Tupac Shakur, played by relative newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. Normally I am not a big fan of a story jumping back and forth in time; however, the way the script was written made this a non-issue for me. Starring Hill Harper (Concussion, CSI: New York-TV) as the interviewer, Kat Graham (17 Again, The Vampire Diaries-TV) as Jada Pinkett and Dominic L. Santana (Love for Sale, Dead Heist) as Suge Knight; I thought the acting was excellent. There was not a time I did not think I was watching Tupac. Since I am not too familiar with his work I found this movie enlightening. If one already is familiar with Tupac this film may only be repeating known facts. I will say I wished the script had given more personal background about Afeni and Tupac. Now get this, as people were leaving at the end there was a tap on my shoulder. A man stopped to ask me what I thought about Tupac. I said I had no idea where he came from or who he was, but was now impressed with what he accomplished in his short life.
2 3/4 stars
EVERY day starts with him coming outside to begin his squirrel watch. He stands still in the middle of the backyard with his head tilted upwards, scanning the tree branches for any movement. If something even twitches for a brief moment, a plethora of barking takes place as my neighbor’s dog begins racing around the tree trunk, daring the animal to take a step down towards him. Having recently celebrated his 2nd birthday this dog is actually a big hunk of crazy love. Anytime I come out of my garage and he is in the yard, he squats down on the ground like an ancient sphinx, waiting in anticipation for me to call out his name. You see he will not run up to my fence until I call him. Now here is his secret; he is being trained to be a search and rescue dog. His owner, my neighbor, told me about one of the exercises he performs with the dog. At the facility’s swimming pool, my neighbor pretends he is drowning. The dog is released and jumps into the pool, swims over to the man, grabs a hold of any piece of clothing or a limb in his mouth and begins pushing or pulling the man to the edge of the pool. SOME of the other stories my neighbor has told me have been extraordinary. There is such a bond between this man and his dog that is quite noticeable. When both are in the backyard, the man will do exercises with the dog; some are with verbal cues while others are done only with different hand gestures. It amazes me that within the span of 2 years, if even that, this dog has achieved so much with his owner. As I said before just looking at him running around and barking his head off in the backyard, you would think the dog is a hyper bundle of energy. I would love to see him on one of the search and rescue missions, just to see how he focuses on the task. Until then I will be satisfied watching the dog in this film based on a true story. WITH nowhere to go in her hometown Megan Leavey, played by Kate Mara (The Martian, 127 Hours), enlisted in the army. Assigned to cleanup duty at the dog pound that housed one of the most aggressive dogs, Megan would have to confront her fears. This biographical war drama also starred Tom Felton (Harry Potter franchise, A United Kingdom) as Andrew Dean, Common (Selma, Now You See Me) as Gunny Martin, Geraldine James (Sherlock Holmes franchise, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as Dr. Turbeville and Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods, Scent of a Woman) as Bob. The script was kept simple; there was not much surprising about the story. However, the script with the directing created an engaging story filled with bits of drama, tension, tears and joy. The actual story is incredible; though I felt things were kept more subdued overall in this movie. I think it would be hard for someone not to enjoy watching this picture. For me I honestly never gave much thought to the role dogs play in the military; my only encounter on this type of level would be in the security lines at the airport or city events. When a friend asked me if they might cry watching this film, I asked them if they planned on bringing any facial tissues.
DECISIONS usually come with consequences, some good others not so good. Personally I am more comfortable with a person who can make decisions as opposed to those who never have an opinion or prefer deferring decisions to someone else. This concept of there being consequences for one’s decisions seems to be losing favor with the newer generations. I say this because I have seen multiple examples where a parent reprimands their child, explaining what the consequences will be if they act out in a certain way and the child still acts in an inappropriate way. The parent then does not make good on their ultimatum, so the child has just learned they can continue with their behavior. I am sure I have mentioned this example before; but I had a friend who early on always gave her young daughter the option to choose her own decision, explaining what the consequences would be for each action. When the daughter was fussing over being toilet trained, the mother told her she could learn how to use the potty or keep wearing the dirty diaper; but if she kept the dirty diaper on no one would want to play with her. The little girl immediately learned how to use the toilet. NOW there are some decisions that can have a profound effect on one’s life. I think the top stressful situations are death, dissolving relationships, moving and job changes. To me the list should also include those who are given the responsibility to decide the fate of a dying loved one. If you ever had to make a decision that involved a group of people it can be stressful. I am not necessarily talking about restaurant choices, more life changing decisions. Here is the thing though, I learn from mistakes. When someone complains to me they made a mistake I ask them to look at it as an opportunity, they may learn something new. If the story in this biographical drama is indeed true, it was a surprise to see how past actions had such a profound effect on the main character. DAYS away from the allied forces launching a massive assault against the German army Prime Minister Winston Churchill, played by Brian Cox (Troy, Rob Roy), has deep reservations about the laid out plan. With Miranda Richardson (The Hours, Empire of the Sun) as Clementine Churchill, John Slattery (Spotlight, Mad Men-TV) as Dwight Eisenhower, Ella Purnell (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Never Let Me Go) as Helen and Julian Wadham (The English Patient, War Horse) as Bernard Montgomery; this thriller based on true events made it due to the acting of Brian and Miranda. They were outstanding in their roles to where I wished the writers had given them more scenes together. The rest of the cast was okay, though I thought John’s portrayal of General Eisenhower was odd; it was nothing I imagined Eisenhower would be like in the situation. Part of the issue falls on the script; some of the dialog felt out of place, almost ringing false for me. Because I was fascinated with the story, after the movie I reached out to a history teacher to see how much truth was involved in what was depicted in the film. I will not tell you because I prefer as always the viewer experiencing a film with the least amount of information. Due to the decisions the director and writers chose, they created a movie that did not live up to the actual events.
2 ¼ stars
“BECAUSE I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me; The carriage held but just ourselves And immortality.” What I just wrote came from a poem by Emily Dickinson. I know of her but very little of her poetry. Like many artists Emily’s work was not fully known or appreciated until after her death. Some say she was one of the greatest American poets. One of the best pieces of advice I received was, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” In other words, focus on the things that stimulate, excite and connect with you; everything else will fall into place afterwards. I do not think artists craft their trade with the idea they will become wealthy from their works. They do it because they simply love it. Yet even with that much love there are artists who suffer with their personal demons. There was a famous pianist who could draw the emotions out of any musical piece he played. Sadly he started to believe his fingers were made of glass and became afraid they would break if he continued to play the piano. DESPITE any type of turmoil I cannot imagine what the stress level must be if one is trying to earn a living from their craft. Just from the little I do with these film reviews and my teaching fitness and yoga, if I did not have my full time job there would be no way I could survive. Presently this site generates no income and my pay for classes is at an hourly rate. When I started these two activities each fulfilled an emptiness I had inside of me. Seeing people feel good about themselves after class was a revelation for me since I spent most of my life unhappy with my physical self. Writing my reviews nourishes the creative side of my brain that had been lying dormant for many years. As I watched this biographical drama I was surprised to see Emily experienced similar issues. STARRING Cynthia Nixon (James White, Sex and the City franchise) as Emily Dickinson, Jennifer Ehle (Pride and Prejudice, Zero Dark Thirty) as Vinnie Dickinson, Duncan Duff (Wild Target, Burke and Hare) as Austin Dickinson and Keith Carradine (Nashville, Our Very Own) as Edward Dickenson; this film festival winning movie follows the life and death of Emily. The excellent acting, especially from Cynthia and Jennifer, was brilliantly on display in several scenes. As I said I am not that familiar with Emily’s life, so I was fascinated with her determination and fears. It was such an interesting contrast between the beauty of her poetry and the darkness inside of her. Interestingly there were many scenes that looked dark, staying authentic with the available light source only coming from lit candles. Due to some scenes shining while others were dim, the movie had an uneven feeling to it. I felt the cause of it was from the direction; the pacing was slow in many parts. There were times I became bored because after seeing a wonderfully acted scene a dull one would take place. I think those who are familiar with Emily and her work will enjoy this film more than I did. If for nothing else this picture worked because I left wanting to read Emily’s poetry.
2 ½ stars
ALL the furniture was pushed into the center of the room. A large old tarp with splotches of color looking like fireworks was covering all of the pieces. A white haired man dressed in white overalls was carefully outlining the walls with fresh paint. Using a paintbrush that he told me was made of natural bristles, he started at the top of the wall making his way across by sidestepping down a plank of wood he had stuck between two ladders. Once the top of the walls were all done he slowly filled the sides all around so each wall looked like it was a blank picture frame. I would watch him pour cans of paint into a big bucket, stirring it like it was a thick porridge. Once he was satisfied he would start at one side of the room and begin to paint in the walls. He had a steady rhythm as his arm would rise and fall, leaving a trail of fresh paint from his brush or roller. The thing that amazed me the most about him was his overalls; I do not recall every seeing any drops of paint on them. He told me he had been painting houses ever since he got out of high school. Though he may have been in his early 60s, which meant he had been doing this for decades, he still felt the same pride for every paint job. TIMES have changed as far as I can tell. Over at a friend’s house recently, they showed me the poor job their painter did on their front door. The new color did not always reach the boundaries of the door or it would go beyond. It was ghastly looking and he was quite upset. I have had my share of poor service either from repair people in my home or out at a store. Recently in the news I assume most of you have seen the videos of poor customer service with some airlines. It almost looks like a war situation doesn’t it? One has to wonder if some employees are afraid to let people know what they do for a living when they are not at work. It is something the main character in this dramatic crime story experienced on a daily basis. FOLLOWING in the footsteps of his uncle and father Albert Pierrepoint, played by Timothy Spall (Harry Potter franchise, Secrets & Lies), wanted to surpass their records and be the best in the country. He just did not want anyone to know. Based on true events, this film festival winning biography also starred Juliet Stevenson (Bend it Like Beckham, Mona Lisa Smile) as Anne Fletcher, Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes franchise, V for Vendetta) as James ‘Tish’ Corbitt and James Corden (Begin Again, Into the Woods) as Kirky. With Timothy’s outstanding performance I was quickly tied up into the story. It really provided the viewer with things to think about regarding one’s profession, beliefs and feelings. I have to say the topic was something I had not given much thought to and ironically it has been in the news recently. No matter what is your belief system regarding the industry Albert dwells in, I think there is much to gain by watching this DVD. My guess is no one would have thought customer service would be a part of this story.
3 ¼ stars — DVD
RESTING outside on a sunny day I gaze up at the bulbous clouds drifting by. If I look long enough I can make out images among the folds of the clouds. I get a kick out of seeing what might not initially be seen at first glance. As the wisps of cloud matter slowly swirl about, I can make out what looks like an eagle with outstretched wings. Continuing to stare at the same spot the eagle soon disintegrates and becomes the face of a rabbit with attentive ears. Since I was young I have always looked at things with an eye to reality and one to fantasy. Even when I am stuck in traffic I try to keep myself busy by scanning the landscape around to see if images can appear based on how I focus on the shadows or the bright spots of an area. Once there was a flatbed truck alongside of me that had crushed automobiles stacked up to haul to a scrap yard. With traffic barely moving I was able to find outlines of a variety of different objects like a leopard and a clown. THIS ability, if you will, helps me I believe in my attempts to understand modern art. I am fortunate to live in a city that has a modern art museum and some of its exhibits have been a fascinating experience for me. There was the artist who created large sculptures of ordinary things like monkeys and dogs; however, they looked like they were made out of blown up balloons. You know, like the kind a clown or magician would make at a carnival show. I can appreciate the effort and work that went in to create such a piece. Now there have been some shows where I feel clueless with what is on display. A canvas covered totally in black paint doesn’t move me; I wonder if I should focus on the brushstrokes, the consistency of the color or its relationship to its surroundings. My confusion can supersede my involvement with a work of art or what someone is saying is a work of art. I felt the same towards some of this extraordinary artist’s works in this film festival nominated documentary. PERFORMANCE artist, visionary, crazy, unorthodox are some of the terms one can apply to Chris Burden. Whether you understand his craft or not, you will certainly get a reaction from it. I had never heard of this artist until I watched this film, directed by Richard Dewey (The Leisure Class) and Timothy Marrinan (Invisible Lives). Right from the start there were times where I sat and thought this man has a death wish and then another scene would take place where I was amused with his creation. As the movie continued I found myself more and more intrigued with learning about Chris and his motivations. The raw footage interspersed with his current life provided a well rounded presentation of his growth and legacy I thought. Though I did not understand what he was trying to do with some of his performance pieces (if that is how he classified his “live” pieces), I certainly had a reaction to them. Maybe that was the point he was trying to make all this time; I honestly cannot give an answer. I will say I certainly walked away from this picture with a new appreciation for people who want to be artists.
3 ¼ stars
PEOPLE were lined up since 4 am. The line snaked around the museum’s front lawn. Some individuals had camping gear with them, which led me to believe they had been there since the day before. Everyone in line was upbeat and excited about the new exhibit that had opened at the history museum. From ancient Egypt the advertisements for this show stated the artifacts were nothing like anything on display before; they were in pristine condition, only discovered recently from a king’s tomb. The local newspapers showed photos of the long lines which is why we decided to get to the museum so early; at least we thought it was an early time, but there were a lot of people who thought the same thing. We finally entered the exhibit at 11 am and our agonizing wait quickly faded from our minds because the artifacts were all glowing in their temperature controlled glass cases. The craftsmanship was incredible, with such fine details; you would have thought they were recent copies loaned from the souvenir shop. THOUGH that exhibit was a long time ago, I still can see many of those objects clearly in my mind. It is fascinating to me how a society from centuries ago can create such incredible objects. Some people may consider ancient civilizations primitive; but I feel one has to take into consideration what was available at the time. These days we have 3D printers making things for us, but back then what did they have, a chisel and hammer? There have been times where I noticed an underlying prejudice of a person or group solely based on their ethnicity from someone who believes they are enlightened. They do not overtly show it but you can see or hear it in the way they communicate; there is a disdain or dismissive quality to their tone. If I am not making much sense then please watch this lush film based on a true story to see what I mean. DISCOVERING what he believed to be proof of an unknown ancient society deep in the Amazon Percy Fawcett, played by Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim, Sons of Anarchy-TV), set out to convince the naysayers back home in England. This film festival winner also starred a nearly unrecognizable Robert Pattinson (Water for Elephants, The Twilight Saga franchise) as Henry Costin, Sienna Miller (Burnt, Foxcatcher) as Nina Fawcett and Tom Holland (Locke, The Impossible) as Jack Fawcett. Set in the 1920s this movie had richness similar to director Werner Herzog’s (Fitzcarraldo; Aguirre, the Wrath of God) movies. The story unfolded in a quiet deliberate pace, almost to the point of boredom early on; however, the more the actors moved deeper into the story the more interesting it became. I thought Charlie and Robert stood out in their roles. On one level I sat in my seat in a bewildered state trying to understand how Percy could undertake such a challenging task. It felt like I was being propelled back in time; the directing and cinematography lent itself to this feeling. Another aspect I admired was the sense of respect presented in the script; something that I feel is lacking in these present times. This was like watching one of those old fashioned flicks, letting the setting contribute to the narrative. Though I felt this picture could have used a touch more editing, I walked away with a new respect for the men and women who sacrificed to bring to light the accomplishments of mankind.
MINIATURE golf covers my experience with playing the game of golf. For those of you who know my love of travel, you will especially appreciate when I tell you about a miniature golf course I used to play at when I was a small boy. The majority of the holes each had a replica of a national or world landmark that you would have to negotiate, to get your colored golf ball to the cup. For a kid who had not yet seen the actual structures, this was a big deal. I remember one hole that had a tall skyscraper which would light up at night. The goal was to hit your ball between the elevator doors so you could watch your ball rise up to the top of the building where it would be dropped off and disappear for a moment. By the time you ran to the back of the skyscraper you would just see the ball coming out of an exit door right by the cup. My favorite was a reproduction of a famous amusement park roller coaster. If you could get the ball up the entrance ramp, you could watch your ball take a ride on the coaster before it was dropped off at the cup. This was the extent of my golfing prowess. FROM the different comments I have heard about the game of golf, there are a lot of people who consider it a rich man’s sport or a gentleman’s game. Whether it is or not does not make a difference to me. I can appreciate the dedication, raw talent and competitiveness on display; but because I have a hard time justifying the amount of money given to professional athletes compared to school teachers, I find the large sums going into prize money, advertising and betting very odd, troubling. I know this is not exclusive to golfing by any means; at almost any given time I will hear about someone betting on such and such game or being a part of an office pool. Little did I know that this practice has been going on for a long time. SCOTSMAN Tom Morris, played by Peter Mullan (War Horse, Tyrannosaur), had been the groundskeeper and golf club maker of the St. Andrews golf course for many years. The club members assumed his son Tommy, played by Jack Lowden (A United Kingdom, Denial), would take over the family business; however, Tommy had something different in mind. This film festival winning drama based on a true story also starred Sam Neill (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Jurassic Park franchise) as Alexander Boothby and Ophelia Lovibond (Guardians of the Galaxy, No Strings Attached) as Meg Drinnen. The story was the fascinating part for me in this biography; watching how the game of golf was originally played truly was a trip back in time. Unfortunately the script caused this movie to be a bogey instead of a hole in one. For such a game changing story, this script really needed to get gritty and make the characters more than one dimensional. The thing that kept me interested was the historical value the events had in this picture. I may not have any interest in playing golf, but at least I now know how it came to be.
2 ½ stars
SITTING comfortably behind the steering wheel, cruising down the road, the celebrity driver was expounding on the finer things about the automobile. It almost looked like this was their main means of transportation. Now I do not care if a celebrity wants to earn income by doing a commercial; everyone deserves to make a living. Will this person persuade me to buy that type of car when I am in the market for a new vehicle? The answer is absolutely not. In fact that goes for any celebrity endorsement. Though I am a big fan of movies and such, I am well aware of the financial inequity between celebrities and let us say teachers. Not that there is anything wrong with making as much money as you can; however, I have a hard time with anyone who uses their position of wealth as a bully pulpit to tell everyone else what they should do. I have experienced this in my own circle of friends and family, where those who were financially well off starting acting like they knew everything and the rest of us were not as smart. That type of behavior is offensive to me. THE area where I can support celebrities is when they use their wealth and status to help a cause they believe in. I know about one celebrity who works with an organization to bring clean water to third world countries. I remember when parts of Louisiana were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. There were celebrities down there helping and rebuilding houses; they had the means and connections to bypass the red tape to get things done. With some celebrities their support of a cause may be due to personal reasons; they could be experiencing it in their own family, for example a celebrity with an autistic child. Whether you feel the same way or not, I admire someone who overcomes challenges in their life to then become a social activist against those very same tribulations. What I saw in this film festival winning movie, which was based on a true story, both stunned and amazed me. THIRTEEN year old Waris, played by newcomer Soraya Omar-Scego, had to leave her village in Somalia. What was done to her there would have a strong impact on her life when she made it to London. Before I talk about this biographical drama I want to say I have very little knowledge about the customs that were performed in this movie. They may be based on religious beliefs or native; I do not know and I do not want to offend anyone who believes in them. Starring Liya Kebede (The Best Offer, Lord of War) as older Waris Dirie, Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Happy-Go –Lucky) as Marilyn and Timothy Spall (Denial, Mr. Turner) as Terry Donaldson; the actual story had to be more powerful than what the script provided here. The back and forth between the young and older Waris dampened the intensity for me. I had a hard time watching some scenes because I could not believe what was being done. The acting was fine; I have always enjoyed Sally’s performances and Liya was perfect in this role. Honestly I still cannot get over that this custom takes place in the world. This DVD provided me with a whole new respect for those who overcome difficulties in their life and decide they want to do something about it.
2 ¾ stars — DVD
SEEING a person willingly jump out of an airplane could elicit one of two responses: the individual is courageous or crazy. Though there is no way I would ever go skydiving, I would not judge someone who wants to experience such an activity. As I go through my daily life I am constantly witnessing acts of courage. There is the individual who admits to being out of shape, who comes to a fitness class, because they want to make a change in their life. The blind person who is navigating down a crowded, noisy city street or the parent who gets sick on roller coasters, sitting next to their child who is thrilled to be on the ride with their parent; to me all of these individuals are courageous and strong. There are so many other examples of courage that I could write about but it would take up all of my time today. FOR the past several months I have viewed news reports with an eye to the future. The news segments can range from peaceful protesters to refuges to the environment; I look at each one of these and am usually amazed at the amount of courage an individual has in the face of life or death, let alone the person who is willing to make a stand against injustice. Thinking back to some of the famous scientists who left their homeland for a better life or to just stay alive, there is something to be said for that individual’s braveness. Imagine if the scientist was not strong enough or courageous enough to leave a place where they were being persecuted; how different would the world have turned out? Whether a person actively engages in a cause or donates time or money to it, for them they are acting in a courageous way. One cannot necessarily compare different acts of courage; however, some do take on more risk and this movie based on a true story shows you how much risk one person was willing to take to make a difference. AFTER German forces took control of Warsaw they set up a camp in the middle of Antonia and Jan Zabinski’s, played by Jessica Chastain (Miss Sloane, The Martian) and Johan Heldenbergh (The Broken Circle Breakdown, The Misfortunates), zoo and got rid of most of the animals. The couple formed an idea that could save lives but they needed the zoo to remain open. This biographic drama was powered with Jessica’s acting. She was the dominant force in this film, though other actors such as Daniel Bruhl (Rush, Woman in Gold) as Lutz Heck and Shira Haas (Princess, A Tale of Love and Darkness) as Urszula still drew my attention to them. The story was amazing, frightening, tragic and a few other adjectives. I will say the script did not come up to what I felt could have been a more powerful story. There were a few scenes that I am willing to bet were created simply for dramatic effect. This produced an odd seesawing effect between intensity and sweetness; for entertainment value it was okay but the story deserved more intensity in my opinion. Regardless, to see Jessica acting in this courageous story was time well spent.
2 ¾ stars