I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF PICKING out songs for a playlist to give to a close friend. There was one song I remembered from a movie I saw many, many years ago. The song has always stuck with me, though I never knew the title. Searching online I sought out the movie first to see if I could get a list of its song titles. I remembered an older woman in the film sang the song as she stood still in place. It did not take me too long to find the song I remembered and see its title. Once I had it, I typed the title into my computer’s search engine to see what would come up. Little did I realize this was a popular song, because the choice of artists who sang this song went on for pages. Besides having a list of artists, there were also music videos of artists performing the song. I found myself going from one video to another to see what the musical artist would do with the song. It was interesting to hear the multitude of variations; every artist was trying to put their own spin on the song. I was enjoying this musical journey despite it causing me confusion in not being able to decide which performance I wanted to include in my playlist. TIME WAS SLIPPING AWAY AND I was no closer to completing my project. I had no idea how many renditions of the song I had seen or heard; but somewhere in the list of artists I saw this name that I had heard, but I had never heard her perform. I clicked on the link and out of my computer speakers came this rich, earthy, passionate voice. At times it delved into the alto range but would veer right into a tenor level; I think her voice would be considered a contralto. Her voice captivated me because I could not recall hearing a female voice with such a strong lower register. It was as if I was listening to this song for the very first time; it was something fresh and new as the notes hung in the air around me like Spanish moss. Who was this woman who could take a song from the past, from a film musical, and make me feel as if our hearts were beating in synch? As soon as the song ended, I replayed it several times. And once I had my fill, I sought out other songs this musical artist performed. Having this as my introduction, there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to learn more about Nina Simone. WITH PLANS ON BECOMING A CLASSICALLY trained concert pianist, one night performing at a nightclub would change the course of Eunice Kathleen Waymon’s life. Directed by Liz Garbus (Girlhood, Bobby Fischer Against the World), this film festival winning documentary delved into the life of Nina Simone. With archival footage, interviews and performances; I found myself yearning for more musical performances as the movie went on. This biography touched on many aspects of Nina’s life, from childhood to adulthood to political activism; all of it was interesting, but part of me wished there would have been more details offered in the non-musical scenes. The interviews with her daughter, I found to be telling. I read somewhere the daughter was upset about a film that came out about her mother, so she got involved in the creation of this documentary. I am glad she did because not having any knowledge per se of Nina’s life, this film was a beautiful way to learn about her. And I have that playlist I made for a friend to thank.
IN THE SCHEME OF THINGS, THEY may seem insignificant on your life’s journey; but they can have a lasting impact that changes your course. Looking at my evolution for loving animals, there was one breed of dog I did not like. I remember what happened that day, recalling the exact streets I was bicycling on. On a side street, I was riding my bike in a relative’s neighborhood. Suddenly a dog bolted out of a yard; I heard the barking first before seeing where it was coming from. This dog was heading straight to me and from my first glance the dog did not look friendly. I pedaled that bicycle faster than I had ever before as I raced down the street towards the intersection. Because I was afraid of what the dog could do to me, I did not stop as I swerved into the cross street which was a main thoroughfare. A car nearly hit me as the driver laid on his horn while dodging around me. I did not stop pedaling for blocks until I no longer heard the dog barking. That one incident stayed with me for years; I stayed away from that particular dog breed. It was not until college before I became comfortable around that breed, due to some of the classes I was enrolled in. THERE ARE SO MANY EXAMPLES OF little occurrences having a profound effect on one’s self; just off the top of my head I can recall several. From the name calling I endured when I was a kid, I believe I have an extra sensitivity towards the underdog. A person I knew would never eat fried food because when they were a child they accidentally were splattered with hot cooking oil. There was a friend of a friend I knew who would not wear any clothing that had a turtleneck or simply tight collar; she had a choking episode when she was a child and that constricted feeling was something she never forgot. I am sure you have come across this when you hear about a celebrity’s childhood; where they experienced something that planted the seed to create, let us say, the musical artist or inventor that they had become. This is one of the reasons I am always saying, there are no accidents; there is a reason for everything.” Everything I just told you here came about from my viewing of this dramatic, musical, film festival nominated movie. SUFFERING A HORRIFIC TRAGEDY IN SCHOOL put Celeste on a different life path, with the help of her sister. Starring Natalie Portman (Annihilation, Black Swan) as Celeste, Jude Law (Black Sea, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald) as the Manager, Raffey Cassidy (Dark Shadows, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) as young Celeste/Albertine, Jennifer Ehle (Zero Dark Thirty, A Quiet Passion) as Josie the publicist and Christopher Abbot (It Comes at Night, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) as the journalist; this picture started out with a powerful impact. Because of it I was expecting a different type of movie from what appeared on screen. Natalie gave an excellent performance, but it was not enough to hold my interest due to the confusing script. It seemed as if there were several story lines that could have easily taken charge; but none did, resulting in boredom for me. I did find the music interesting which helped me get through this picture. Honestly, I found this film overly self-indulgent. I could see some of the points the writers/director were trying to make but I did not find my viewing experience entertaining. Maybe somewhere down the road it will hit me that I have discovered or have been acting a certain way because I saw this film. For now, I could have waited a while before paying to see this picture.
1 ¾ 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
HAVING NOWHERE TO GO FOR the holiday a friend invited me to come celebrate with her and her family. Normally I decline such invites simply because I do not want to be the outsider at a family function. Some families are close-knit to the point where they have a shorthanded way of communicating with each other; sharing inside jokes, memories and/or conversing about family matters. I would feel out of place in this type of situation. Since I knew some of my friend’s relatives I agreed to go to their family dinner. I picked up a box of candy on the way to my friend’s house, so we could go together to her parents. Once we arrived I was warmly greeted by her parents and sister. I found it amusing when I was introduced to the different relatives who were present because I already knew about some of them from the stories my friend shared with me. Let me just say she has some crazy characters in her family and those are her words. In total there were approximately 20 relatives made up of aunts, uncles, cousins and some cousins with children; it was a full house. My friend’s parents had put up folding tables and chairs to accommodate everyone. IT IS ONE THING TO HEAR stories about people; it is another thing to actually sit down with them and share a meal. We had gotten through the appetizers and soup portion of the dinner before a verbal fight broke out between a couple of relatives. An uncle remembered a past incident a certain way and an aunt remembered it a different way. They were bickering back and forth as the main course was coming out to be served. The hostess asked the 2 combatants to settle down which surprisingly they did rather quickly. However, within 5-10 minutes the two were back at it, yelling at each other. Unfortunately, more relatives got involved so there was this crescendo of angry voices trying to out shout each other. I sat quietly as I ate my meal; I was not about to let a good meal go to waste. It was a bit surreal I admit; but on the other hand, I found it interesting to see these relatives swearing and calling each other names. My hope to stay out of the melee was dashed when one of the aunts tried to get me to agree with her point of view. It was then that I became uncomfortable and wanted to leave this family dysfunction. In a way I had the same reaction while watching this film festival winning documentary. WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play), this musical biography traced the life of Whitney Houston. I thought Whitney had an incredible voice, even buying some of her music. But once she started her decline I lost all interest in her. This is just my thing; once a celebrity becomes unprofessional in some way, I have no reason to support them. It doesn’t matter if they are gifted or incredible with what they do; once they cross that line I am done with them. This is where I was with Whitney. Seeing this documentary was eye opening in some respects. The use of past TV and movie clips were entertaining as were some of the interviews. Whether the director was getting honesty out of the interviewees is questionable; but for my needs I thought the director did a beautiful job in telling a story, albeit a tragic one. From watching this biography, I felt every person involved had a hand in Whitney’s extinction. In a way this story was not so different from other sad stories of dead celebrities; the difference here was we were able to see Whitney wanting to dance with someone, but most dancers were not suitable partners.
2 ½ stars
Whenever I see the city of my birth up on the big screen I immediately get a sense of pride. Even if the story shows an ugly side to the city, I enjoy seeing familiar surroundings. Let us face it, every city has positives and negatives; I choose to stay upbeat about my city and its possibilities. I have lived my whole life in the same city and have seen historic events throughout the years. When friends or family come into town you can always count on getting at least a mini tour of some area of the city or a visit to a local restaurant. I think having pride about the place you live in sends out a positive message. Not to come across as being too judgmental but I think if people took more pride in their surroundings and city it would become infectious to others. Having a good feeling can only create a better life, don’t you think? You have nowhere further to look than to your city’s local sports team to see the exuberant pride gushing out of the fans. If you have never been to an event where everyone around you was acting out in unison to a common pride, let me tell you it can be a heady experience. Please keep in mind I am not even talking about the people who over indulge in their celebrations. There was an exhibit that came to one of my city’s museums that was only going to be shown here, nowhere else in the country. You should have seen how all the people attending this exhibit were so excited and full of pride that the city snagged such an exclusive event. I even got so wrapped up in the enthusiasm I wound up buying a couple of T-shirts from the gift shop that was set up at the exit of the exhibit. It really is a good feeling to share your pride in something which is why I could relate to the fans sitting in the audience of this record breaking event. HOMETOWN native Kevin Hart (Central Intelligence, The Wedding Ringer) wanted to have a concert in the city he grew up in, Philadelphia. His love of the city helped break a record. This comedy movie for the most part was filmed at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. The opening and closing scenes were created as a big joke on how Kevin would pay for this comedy concert. It also gave him the opportunity to interact with Halle Berry (X-Men franchise, The Call), Don Cheadle (Iron Man franchise, Hotel Rwanda) and Ed Helms (The Hangover franchise, Vacation). Let me first tell you I am not a fan of Kevin’s films because I feel he does the same character over and over. As for his style of humor, there are a few amusing bits he performs; but generally I am not a fan of using foul or vulgar language to get a laugh. If you enjoy Kevin’s work then you will have a fun time watching this concert. For me this picture was just okay; however, I enjoyed seeing a stadium full of people all sharing in a good time.
There is an electrified energy felt when sitting with a group of like minded people who share a common interest. The size of the venue does not matter because everyone has the same purpose for coming together–to experience their favorite comedian or musician in the flesh. I sometimes can get that feeling in a movie theater, but it is only if everyone is into the movie. Live music or comedy acts are different because they start out by drawing people who enjoy that type of music or brand of comedy. There is nothing quite like the feeling of sharing laughter with a multitude of people. The laughter feeds on itself, carrying some people to a total release. Music concerts do the same thing; but instead of laughing, people can be transported to a world of magical musical notes and blooming colors floating in the air. Unfortunately not everyone can experience such things due to financial circumstances. For that reason I believe filmed concerts are a valid way for people to experience their favorite artists. With that being said; in reviewing this film I only knew Kevin Hart (Think Like a Man, The Five-Year Engagement) as an actor, not a comedian. I have never seen his act or comedy specials on television; so, I feel I may be at a disadvantage to write about this concert movie filmed at Madison Square Garden. The movie was only 75 minutes long, with the first 15 of it being a weak lead in to the concert. As for the concert I was surprised Kevin’s shows were sold out for such a large arena. So evidently there are people who like his humor. His stories and jokes focused on a more personal level; talking about his kids, divorce and relationships. I found them amusing but not really funny. The use of strong language got old for me; I feel comedians use profanity just for the shock value. There is not much more I can say about this comedy film except the patrons around me were all laughing loudly. If you like Kevin’s style of humor you will like the movie. On the other hand, you may want to see it anyway because a movie ticket is a whole lot cheaper to buy than a concert ticket. Strong language used throughout the movie.
The first woman in history to have five #1 singles off of one album is a major accomplishment. Even in this era of auto-tuning, the fact remains Katy moved records. With this documentary I was hoping to get a deeper glimpse into the life of this daughter of two pastors. Seated in the audience, I scanned the crowd, noticing the majority of people were 4 to 12 year old girls with their parents. It seemed odd that the younger kids would be into Katy Perry, but with her cartoon looks and sugar pop songs, I guess it made sense. For me, this film failed in providing anything meaningful; for the most part, it played out like an extended music video. To Katy’s credit, she is devoted to her fans and appears to put on the best concert each and every time. I looked for it, but I believe Katy sings live and for that I commend her. When it comes to concerts I am old school, expecting the artist to be singing live and I know that is not the case these days. Usually when the singer has complicated dance steps they are lip synching. As you will see, Katy kept her moves more basic and simple. There was nothing special in this movie. Scenes were snippets of places and times; I never felt Katy was letting her hair down, so to speak. So she was not wearing make-up, big deal. I found the entire movie experience bland and fluffy. And if it wasn’t enough having a noisy audience, this was the movie where I had the altercation with the father; who let his two daughters scream, cry, talk and whine. You have been warned.
1 2/3 stars