THERE WAS AN EERIE GLOW throughout most of the apartment. It was not caused by sunlight or incandescent lightbulbs; the only way I could describe the color, was to say it was a cross between bright fluorescent with bright neon greenish white. We were picking up a friend’s friend at their house which none of us had seen and our friend never warned us. As all of us entered the apartment I noticed an aquarium in one corner with the source of the erie glow perched above it. As it turned out almost every room had 1 to 3 aquariums set up with the same type of light. I did not recall fish tanks having a light above them, but I never had fish for pets. However these fish tanks had no water in them and the top parts were covered with a heavy metal mesh. One of my friends asked about the aquariums. It turned out they were not empty but each of them held a snake. I am not talking worm size or small garden variety; they were jungle sized snakes. I have only seen these type of snakes in a zoo or adventure/horror film. THE OWNER OF THESE SNAKES had them as pets. Pets, I wondered; did he actually take them out and pet them? I was never a fan of snakes and I got creeped out when the owner took one of his snakes out and draped it around his shoulders. A couple of my friends petted the reptile when offered, but I declined. I had to admit I had a bad attitude about all of it, but as the owner explained his reasons and fascination with snakes I realized I had no right to judge him on his choice of pets. When I thought about it more, I came to the conclusion what really is the difference between having fish or snakes as pets? They are not for me but if they provide comfort to someone else, so be it. For many people pets are part of their family. Animals provide unconditional love, affection and even emotional attachments. Some pets are more like family to us than our own relatives. It certainly was obvious in this action, adventure science fiction film. AS THE GORILLA HE RAISED from infancy was growing in unheard of speed and massive height Dave Okoye, played by Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), would not give up on his friend; even as everyone around was becoming frightened. With Naomie Harris (Moonlight, Skyfall) as Dr. Kate Caldwell, Malin Ackerman (Watchmen, 27 Dresses) as Claire Wyden, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Red Dawn, The Losers) as Harvey Russell and Jake Lacy (Miss Sloane, Obvious Child) as Brett Wyden; the first thing I have to say is this: there is no way one cannot like Dwayne Johnson. In this role he fits right into his comfort zone of acting. I have seen this exact style in his recent films and I hope he starts mixing it up a bit. Granted I believe he knows his capabilities and limitations, so picks projects that suits his acting abilities. In this big production of special effects set in Chicago, the story had some holes in it as well as the script. I thought the dialog was childish at times and felt the movie was cartoonish. However I was not put off by it because I liked the special effects. This is the type of picture I call a “popcorn film;” one where you do not have to think much, just sit back and watch it. If one can watch “stupid pet tricks” then they will have no problem with this movie.
2 1/2 stars
From what I have seen and heard all it takes to find a date is swipe your finger to the left or right. The dating world has certainly changed now that almost everyone has a smartphone or access to the internet. I understand there is a phone app that alerts you whenever there is a person near you that is active on the same dating site that you enrolled in. You might be able to tell I really have no idea what I am talking about here. Call me old fashioned but all of these “new fangled” methods of dating do not appeal to me. Maybe because we have become more of an instant gratification type of society, but I still do not understand why the art of talking/communicating has taken a back seat to physical appearances and close proximity when it comes to having a date. Back in the “old” days single people would meet each other through friends, at their job, the grocery store, on public transportation; a multitude of places but it was usually face to face. Sure there were tricks of the trade that were used depending on the circumstances; for example, a blind date could be set up to meet for a cup of coffee at a café. The reason being if you were not interested in the person the date would be short. Doing a dinner and show type of date would give you more time to learn about the other person plus if conversation was tentative the movie would occupy part of the time together. Some people prefer having an activity to do during their 1st date, such as a bike ride or bowling to find some commonality between each other. Personally I have found these old ways of dating to be more civilized. Now here is something to wrap your brain around; imagine having a first date that went on for the entire day, continuing into the night. FIRST dates could be a challenge for some but intern Barack Obama, played by Parker Sawyers (Zero Dark Thirty, Survivor), thought he had everything planned out unbeknownst to his work mentor Michelle Robinson, played by Tika Sumpter (Ride Along franchise, One Life to Live-TV). This film festival winning biographical drama was about the actual first date Barack and Michelle had back in Chicago before anyone knew their names. These two actors were the main focus of the film though there were a few scenes with Vanessa Bell Calloway (Cheaper by the Dozen, Daylight) and Phillip Edward Van Lear (Meet the Browns, Prison Break-TV) as Marian and Frank Robinson. I did not connect with this movie at first because I found it slow moving. It is funny, as I sat watching this picture I was saying to myself, “Pick up the pace.” But then as things progressed it occurred to me that I was witnessing an actual date. The actors did a good job of acting instead of impersonating their characters. The way the two slowly became comfortable with each other was sweet in my opinion. I wonder how many people today could or would go on a first date like the one in this romantic picture.
2 ½ stars
When we get together we not only come up with solutions to each of our problems, but we can provide the same for most of the world’s issues. There is something about getting together with friends on a regular basis to hash out anything that is troubling one of us at the time. I am part of a small group who has gotten together every three months for many years now. It is a time for us to take a break from the daily treadmill of our lives to catch up with each other and share a meal. I wish I could say I can solve any problem I am experiencing; but the fact remains, extra opinions can provide different pathways to a solution that I am not wired to come up with on my own. Because I feel every single person has a unique set of skills (doesn’t this sound like the beginning of a Liam Neeson movie?), there is always an opportunity to learn something new from other people. Another great aspect of getting together with friends is the sense of community and support. I am a person who needs down time, where I remove myself from the outside world. Having a re-occurring date to mingle with friends energizes, enlightens and relaxes me among other things. There is someone I know who leads a support group for like-minded individuals; they meet once every 4 to 8 weeks with the purpose to share their experiences on that night’s topic. I know what I am about to say is a cliché, but there is some truth in the phrase, “strength in numbers.” The people at this barbershop are the proof. WITH the neighborhood changing business partners Calvin and Angie, played by Ice Cube (Ride Along franchise, 21 Jump Street franchise) and Regina Hall (Scary Movie franchise, Think Like a Man), came up with an idea they hoped would start a change in the residents. This dramatic comedy sequel took me by surprise. It is difficult to blend comedy and drama in a story, yet I felt the writers did a real good job with this script. The movie was relevant as it tackled the issue of violence in a major metropolitan city. A tough topic to be sure; but the actors such as Cedric the Entertainer (The Soul Man-TV, A Haunted House franchise) as Eddie, Common (Selma, Now You See Me) as Rashad and Nicki Minaj (The Other Woman) as Draya provided a balanced mixture of humor and seriousness. All the actors I found created a believable sense of community. I know I saw the previous films but honestly I do not remember them; it was not an issue in viewing this picture. Where Spike Lee’s film Chi-Raq tackled the same topic, I liked seeing the contrast in the way this movie handled it. Who knew one could learn so much from one small barbershop in the city of Chicago.
I try very hard to keep a barrier in my daily life between the real world and my fantasy one. It can be hard to accomplish at times due partially to the vast amount of movies I have seen. One of the reasons is because there have been instances where my real life has mirrored something I have seen in a film. Before you say that sounds like a cool thing to experience I have to tell you, though it has felt that way at times, there have been moments where it was not a pleasant situation. There was the wedding I attended where the parents of the bride and groom had a fight at the reception causing the bride to run out of the room and go sit in a bathroom stall, crying her eyes out. Another time I was driving on a highway when I saw a car spin out of control that started a chain reaction of accidents. Of course for every negative experience I have encountered I also have found a pleasant one. I vividly remember the time while I was standing in a long line for an amusement park ride I spotted a stranger and as they turned around to look at me everyone else disappeared into the background just like the gymnasium scene from West Side Story. So you see there are pluses and minuses to living a life filled with movie excerpts. It would be special if I was able to pick and choose the film genres, wouldn’t it? I will tell you I certainly would not freely choose a horror story like the one that appeared in this comedy. LEAVING Chicago for Beverly Hills Carl Black, played by Mike Epps (The Hangover franchise, Resident Evil franchise), hoped to make a better life for his wife Lorena, played by Zulay Henao (Takers, Boy Wonder), and his children. Unfortunately once the family settled into their new place they soon would become part of a horror story. This comedy had a curious premise of incorporating a story line similar to a recent horror film franchise. I actually liked the idea however it was the script that was horrific. The repeat use of curse and derogatory words is something I have never found to be funny. As for the humor I found very little of it in this comedic spoof. It was weird for me to sit through this film because at first I thought the story was the same as an old television show called, “The Beverly Hillbillies.” It was about a poor family that struck oil on their land and moved to a mansion with a cement pond. But then the story shifted to horror and what I mean by horror were scenes of blood and violence. There was plenty of horror for me just by sitting in my seat through this whole picture so I could write my review. I hope you never find yourself in a situation similar to what took place with me in the theater and this movie.
1 1/2 stars
I do not know if it is an actual term but I call it “deceptive packaging.” If you walk through a grocery store you will see many examples of these false packages. There are so many liquid products that come in these colored bottles that look like you are buying a full size of the product. However, after you take it home and have used it for a short time you cannot believe you already ran out of the item. Let me tell you, hold that bottle up to the light and you will probably see the bottom of it is much thicker then any other part of the bottle; I am talking thick like those funny eyeglasses that you might see an actor wear for their character in a comedy movie. The type of eyeglasses that were called “soda pop glasses” because they were as thick as the bottom of soda bottles. Another way companies use deceptive packaging is in their use of photography to create these sumptuous looking foods on the cover of their products. A frozen dinner on the cover looks homemade with big chunks of vegetables and steaming meat in a thick bubbly sauce; but after you open the box, the meal consists of a couple of pieces of shriveled meat with tiny cut veggies of a lesser assortment than the picture of it. These things are why I not only look at prices when I am at the grocery store, but I also look at the amounts. This may make my shopping trip longer but I and I am sure everyone else do not like feeling deceived. TRIS, played by Shailene Woodley (The Fault in Our Stars, White Bird in a Blizzard), had a feeling inside that there was something beyond the wall surrounding Chicago. No matter what others said she had to find out for herself even if it meant she would lose some of her friends. This next installment of the action adventure series kept my interest going because of Shailene, Jeff Daniels (The Martian, Looper) as David and the futuristic products that were on show in the story. Outside of that this mystery science fiction story had a tired script. There was barely any emotion in the scenes or characters and the reason for that was the bloated script. The movie studio took the last book and decided to split it into 2 films and I was not buying it. With these types of movies I look forward to watching battles and hand to hand combat in a futuristic make-believe setting, using ray guns and other fantasy devices. I was bored for a good part of this film; it would have been better if the studio had filmed the entire book in one movie. Since I did not read the series I have to tell you I do not know if I want to run to see the next picture because I feel like I was duped.
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
The day was a dull grey with roaming packs of spewing dark clouds threatening the landscape. I was determined to make the hike since it was the only day I would be in the area. Trekking along the marked trail, I was grateful I wore long pants since the plants with their lush soft edges had a real bite underneath their green leaves. Whenever I was lucky to feel a breeze filter into the dense forest, it was always filled with a dampness that my skin soaked up. The reason I was doing this was because I had read there was an ideal vantage point where I would be able to see the two stepped waterfall in its entirety. If there was going to be rain I was hoping it would wait until I could take a few photographs. As I reached a sharp turn to the left I felt I was walking onto a stage. The dense foliage had split apart like a heavy, green velvet curtain and a single slash of bright sunlight tore a sliver in the sky. Laid out before me was not only the waterfall but appearing like a ghost was a rainbow forming through the mist of water crashing down on the lower rocks. It was such a beautiful site that surprised me more than I imagined. Watching this gem of a documentary gave me the same sense of surprised wonder. Seeking out old photographs for a project, John Maloof was high bidder for an old trunk filled with film negatives. It turned out all of the frames were shot by a Vivian Maier. Though an internet search of her produced nothing, John realized he found something special. This film festival winner was a double surprise for me. First, there were her photographs which were shown throughout the film. Having minored in photography back in college I was not only fascinated with her style, but with the incredible depth in her shots. Her photos had their own personality that seemed to come alive no matter the subject. Secondly, the story about Vivian’s life, which was mildly non-descript, was unreal to the point where I almost found it hard to believe she was the creator of such incredible work. On a personal note, I got an extra charge out of this movie because I had been to some of the same places as Vivian. If you do not have an appreciation for photography, you may not get as excited about this film as I did. However, there still was an amazing story that would still surprise you.
3 1/2 stars