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
THE LACK OF hope in one’s life can create situations fueled by desperation. It is one thing to ignore the perceived bleakness; but when one comes face to face with it, life looks like it has turned into a series of extremes. There was a person who used to work in the same department as me whose life was a series of extreme events. She would tell us about some of her hardships, but only after the fact. In other words, for example she would sign up for these different so called easy money earning jobs that promised big earnings. The only thing she would have to do is pay a couple of hundred dollars for the sales kit that would have everything she needed to start making money quickly. If she would have said something to anyone in the department beforehand they could have warned her it was just a scam, but she never did and then wondered why she could not get ahead on her bills. BELIEVING YOU WERE dealt a bad hand in the game of life can feel like a constant burden of negative emotions. Depression, anger and hate would be a few that come to mind. I remember there was a new fashion trend in clothing that everyone in school was running to the stores in search of, not wanting to be left out of it. I was one of those who also went on the hunt for the clothing; however, every store I went to did not have my size. At first I wistfully hoped they were just out of stock but I knew better. None of the stores I visited carried my large size. This may sound trivial but back then school was all about fitting in or becoming an outcast. I am embarrassed to admit this but I even saved up money to see if I could have a tailor or seamstress make the clothes for me in my size. Looking back the adult me would never have cared one way or the other whether I wore a new fashion trend, but as I said desperation has a way of altering one’s priorities. WITHOUT A SENSE of hope or purpose Frankie, played by Harris Dickinson (Home-TV movie, Clique-TV), was looking for something that would satisfy the feelings he had bottled inside. Friends and family would not be able to provide any help. This film festival winning drama also starred relative newcomer Madeline Weinstein playing Simone, Kate Hodge (Rapid Fire, She-Wolf of London-TV) as Donna and Neal Huff (Split, Moonrise Kingdom) as Joe. Set in Brooklyn I found the style of filming created a stark realness to the scenes; in some ways it almost seemed like I was watching a documentary. There were multiple close-up scenes that lingered on characters’ faces so the viewer could get a feeling for the emotions being felt. This style helped the acting but overall I found the pacing exceptionally slow and drawn out. With the lack of any major dramatic scenes I felt everything was contained in a narrow band of emotions which did not help in the entertainment value of this story. I did not feel any connections to the characters, along with not knowing exactly what motivated them. There was a physical darkness to the film that I took was done on purpose to make scenes look more bleak. Unfortunately that despair was being felt by me as I did not see my feelings about this movie improving.
“THAT IS THE way it has always been done,” is a response that I have had a love/hate relationship with for a majority of my life. On one hand I am of the mindset “if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.” In other words if things are working fine then do not make any changes. Having lived this way for a long period of time, I am challenged when it comes to making changes. Since I am not a spontaneous type of person, you can imagine how stressful it is for me when my routine is altered. But on the other hand, there have been times in my adult life where I survived a change and found out it made an improvement. One example would be changing from using multiple charge cards for making various purchases to only using one card; I saved time by only having to pay one bill a month instead of several. So I am aware some change is good. AN AREA WHERE change comes slowly is religion. Not that I am an expert by any means but I have seen where some traditions have been updated. I am referring to both the religion I was born into along with other ones I have been exposed to via friends and family. There are some traditions that I admit seem odd to me. Maybe in a different time they made sense but to my sensibilities they appear to have little relevance to the current world. I remember a time where only males led a service; the first time I saw a female do it, I recall how some in the congregation were, shall we say, uncomfortable. Personally I did not think it was a big deal since I always felt everyone had the right to communicate to a higher power the way they saw fit. I do not believe one person has an inside track to their God’s ear. It can be a struggle for some people; it was obvious in this dramatic film festival winning movie. LIVING IN AN ultra-orthodox community in Brooklyn widower Menashe, played by newcomer Menashe Lustig, was being told he could not raise his son Fischel, played by Yoel Falkowitz (The Hudson Tribes), without a mother. Menashe wanted to prove them wrong. With newcomers Ruben Niborski, Meyer Schwartz and Yael Weisshaus, this picture at times seemed more like a documentary than a fictional story. The emotions portrayed by the cast came across as real, with several touching scenes throughout the movie. Some viewers may be totally unfamiliar with what is being portrayed on screen; I do not think it will have an impact on following the story. Speaking of the story, I found this one interesting as it touched on religious beliefs, parenting, family and childrearing. I could see it easily becoming a topic of conversation for viewers afterward. My issue with the script was the lack of dramatic variance. It felt like the scenes remained in a certain pocket of intensity. At one point I was losing interest because it seemed as if the same scenario was repeating itself. Because I enjoy getting exposed to different religious traditions, I still had a curiosity about the unfolding story. Yiddish was spoken with English subtitles.
2 ¾ stars
Living amongst them daily I am not always conscious of their significance. It is when someone is over to my place and asks about something hanging up on a wall or sitting on a surface that I experience the memory associated to that particular item. To the average person my home looks like a hodgepodge of different pieces of art and objects; but to me, each one has a story about my life. There is a large woven basket that sits next to an easy chair that I bought from a little non-profit store in Charleston, South Carolina. All the items in the store were made by disadvantaged women from third world countries, who were trying to improve their lives my selling their wares. That alone was enough reason for me to buy something at the store; however, I wanted something to remind me about the fantastic road trip I was taking through the southern United States. On a coffee table sits a turquoise vase that was originally placed on layaway by someone I was dating some time ago. I called the store and paid for it, asking the salesperson to call the phone number on the receipt and tell them the vase was accidentally knocked off the shelf and broke into pieces. It was a few minutes after the store must have called them when they called me to complain about the store’s incompetency. I never let on I knew, keeping the vase for a couple of months, until I wrapped it up and gave it to them for the holidays. I was greeted with several words I cannot print here. So you see I love having all of the things around me and their memories. I do not know how I could ever part with them, just like the couple in this dramatic movie. AFTER many years living in their Brooklyn apartment with the great view Ruth and Alex Carver, played by Diane Keaton (Mad Money, The Family Stone) and Morgan Freeman (Now You See Me, Driving Miss Daisy), felt it was time to downsize and move to a place more conducive for an older couple. They soon discovered there were challenges to moving 40 years worth of stuff. I wished I would have enjoyed this film more because the two actors separately were wonderful, though I did not feel much chemistry between them. The script was lame; quite predictable and cliched; the two actors needed more depth to their characters. It was a shame because I enjoyed the flashback segments of a younger Ruth and Alex at the beginning of what would be their long term relationship. And obviously I appreciated the acknowledgement of one’s memories associated to inanimate items. Too bad the memory I have of this picture is not very good.
1 3/4 stars
My biggest accomplishment in summer camp one year was making a coat hook and a chessboard. The day camp offered a variety of classes for the campers; I chose wood shop. The first time I tried making a chessboard I got frustrated. My colored blocks of wood that I had cut out were not all symmetrical. Yes, even back then I was already a bit obsessive. Wanting to trash the whole idea, it was the camp counselor who took the time to encourage me to try again, after showing me a different way to cut the blocks out. I was not the only one who received help, there were other kids who received the counselor’s help. It was this individual’s patience and encouragement that made this class my favorite that summer. When a child receives positive motivation, the possibilities are endless for what they can achieve. In this inspirational documentary, the teachers of inner city school I.S. 318 are living proof of what a student can accomplish over challenging circumstances. With 70% of the student body coming from homes that were below the poverty level set by the federal government, the school’s chess team were national champions, the best in the country. They had won more championships than any other school in the nation. To hear these students’ personal stories only made their achievement that more impressive to me. This story followed the chess team as it attempted to repeat its past success, despite looming budget cuts that could eliminate them even before the start of competition. The film makers did a wonderful job of filming, giving the viewers a front row seat to the tension, nerves and fears these students experienced during their matches. If anyone has doubts on how much a teacher can influence their students, they need to see this impressive documentary.
3 1/4 stars