ONE CAN NOT HELP BUT FEEL special as they walk into the building. The heavy glass doors with the gold trim are the first clue that one is about to enter a place that cannot be considered ordinary. The vestibule has a sturdy tiled floor; the low ceiling is held up by walls covered in deeply colored damask fabric. The material is framed in portions with an intricately carved plaster, painted in gold to match the trim of the doors. Entering the main lobby is not so dissimilar from walking into a grand hall of a European palace. Marble floors replacing the tile in front, there are huge crystal chandeliers that are longer in height than width. They look like oblong, translucent candy wrapped with intricately patterned, colored wrappers with the ends twisted shut. There are matching grand staircases both front and back with red velvet covered steps and oversized, limestone balustrades. One can only imagine they are used by royalty. Spaced equally between the two staircases are doors that all lead into an amphitheater. Undulating rows of seats perched on a sloping floor descend to a stage where a red colored curtain blocks everyone from seeing anything behind it. Only when the lights dim does the curtain rise to reveal the actors who were waiting behind it. THERE IS A FEELING OF INCLUSION when one goes to see live theater. You could be sitting in the middle of a packed auditorium of strangers but feel as if the actors are bringing you into their story. I am a huge fan of seeing staged shows; there is something about seeing actors in the flesh compared to the big screen. Actors on stage have no chance for a retake; whatever happens they must be prepared to “go on with the show.” Seeing their emotions on display adds authenticity to the performance that I find connects me in a different way from actors in movies. Neither one is better than the other; it is simply a different form of communication. As you know I can get lost into a movie where I feel I am part of the movie; this is part of what I need to give a film a 4-star rating. At a play or musical the actors have more time to form relationships that carry them through the entire production. It connects them on a deeper level than acting in movies where they can do take after take of one scene. When I saw today’s film I felt I was at the theater watching a live performance. WITH A BABY ON THE WAY Tish Rivers’, (played by relative newcomer KiKi Layne), joy was short-lived when the baby’s father Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt, played by Stephan James (Race, Across the Line), was arrested for a crime he did not do. This Golden Globe and film festival winning romantic, crime drama also starred Regina King (Ray, Enemy of the State) as Sharon Rivers, Colman Domingo (Selma, Lincoln) as Joseph Rivers and Michael Beach (Aquaman, Soul Food) as Frank Hunt. Based on James Baldwin’s novel, this film slowly unfolded to reveal a real-life portrayal of two families in Harlem. The acting was outstanding from every actor; I especially enjoyed the chemistry that KiKi and Stephan poured into their roles for each other. With a beautiful soundtrack and thoughtful cinematography, this was another achievement for writer and director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, Medicine for Melancholy). Scenes seemed to be grouped into a series of acts, where I felt I was watching entire and complete feelings between the characters. I honestly believed everything I was seeing was totally real. There is nothing more I need to say, except this picture was a perfect conduit between film and theater.
THE ONLY WAY TO AVOID DISAPPOINTMENT is to not have hopes or expectations. Sounds simple but it really is not. I have learned to avoid placing expectations on people’s behaviors. We all react to situations in a different way; one is not better or worse than the other. Trouble starts when an individual makes statements that use the word, “should;” something like, “You should have known…” This actually was a hard lesson for me to learn, where I would react to what I thought a person should have said or done. It took me a long time to realize no one has the right to tell me how to feel, that I am the only one responsible for how I am feeling. However, as we each go through our daily life there are things that crop up that disappoint us. For example, going to a particular restaurant to get your favorite dish and it winds up they are out of it. Seeing an article of clothing that you feel is perfect for you, only to find it does not look good on you or does not do what it was advertised to do. Things like this can cause us to feel disappointed; we had our mind set for one thing, but then the reality did not match our expectations. THE PAST HOLIDAY IS SOMETHING I look forward to because the movie studios release what they believe will be their heavy Oscar contenders and audience blockbusters. Every year I spend most of the day at the theater watching one movie after another. This year was no different and in fact, I was extra excited because a couple of limited release films were opening at a theater near me. I studied the movie times to figure out what would produce the maximum viewing experience. This also was taking into consideration the duration of the movie trailers; the average amount of time devoted to them is around 20 minutes. I was starting the day at one theater to watch three films then drive to another theater to finish up with 3 more. After finding a parking spot at the 2ndtheater I walked in to discover the films I needed to see were all sold out for the present time slots. Even rearranging start times did not help me; there was only one movie available and I had no desire to see it. The reason being, I saw the trailers and the main star does the same thing for every movie with no discretion towards the scripts. I was so disappointed and after watching this comedy I was even more disappointed that I wasted my time on this picture instead of one of the ones I had on my list. ONLY ONE DETECTIVE COULD FIND THE CULPRIT who was threatening the queen of England and that was Sherlock Holmes, played by Will Ferrell (Daddy’s Home franchise, Get Hard). With the help of his trusted friend Watson, played by John C. Reilly (The Sisters Brothers, Life After Beth), the two would have to work fast to save the queen. This adventure crime film was one of the worst movies I have seen the past year. How it got saved to be released during the holiday season was baffling to me. There was nothing funny since the jokes were noticeable a mile away and were of the lowest level of anything remotely humorous. I was bored out of my mind and angry that I had to pay to be subjected to this mess. Will has done the same schtick in his comedies for so long that his actions and acting must be on autopilot. Notice I did not list the rest of the main actors because I did not want to embarrass them any further.
1 1/4 stars
TO ALL THAT KNEW HER SHE was a successful businesswoman. She had owned through her life a few businesses; there was never an exact number because she was modest. With a good heart and kindness, she believed these two attributes would always set her apart from other business owners. Her companies were never staffed with many people; honestly, maybe a handful at the most. There was one company that operated over state lines, but for the most part her businesses were kept locally. I agree kindness and a good heart are wonderful attributes to have; however, I feel one also must have a head for business. All businesses involve making tough decisions that might not appear to be kind. The question is if you can remain honest and true then you can accentuate your success. In her case, she was too kind. Some of her employees took advantage of it. Oh, who am I kidding; they stole from her. As time went on, though sales remained steady, there was less money coming in then going out for bills. There was a problem here, especially when most of the company’s transactions were done in cash. You see, her employees would write up fake invoices that were lower in prices; so, they could pocket the extra money they officially charged the customer. A BUSINESS CAN ONLY LAST SO long with losses before it must close its doors. In her case, this pattern of thievery would follow her from business to business. I am sad to say she never learned from her mistakes until it was too late. The method she would use time and time again to try and keep her various companies open would be to tap into her personal savings. This would also include funds that were set aside for retirement purposes. By the time she was close to reaching retirement age she had no funds left. All those years of trying to be successful at her different companies through the years left her penniless in the end. It was a horrible situation and what made matters worse was the fact she did not have the skill to keep accurate records. The result of this was the reason she never won a court case, for those times she even brought an employee to court. Do you want to know what she is doing now? In her advanced years she is cleaning an apartment building to get a discount on her rent, while living on a small government subsidy. The main character in this crime drama chose a different route when he had to close his business. WITH HIS HOUSE IN FORECLOSURE AND his once thriving horticultural business decimated; the opportunity to make some easy cash was the reason Earl Stone, played by Clint Eastwood (Trouble with the Curve, Million Dollar Baby), decided to be a driver for an unknown company. All he had to do was not ask questions. With Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born, Joy) as Colin Bates, Michael Pena (12 Strong, Ant-Man franchise) as DEA Agent, Taissa Farmiga (The Bling Ring, The Nun) as Ginny and Dianne Wiest (The Birdcage, Rabbit Hole) as Mary; I liked this film more than I had expected. The pacing was steady and Clint, who also directed, created a character that one could easily see him being in real life. The story inspired by a true event was interesting, but I found the script was heavy-handed with its messages. It seemed as if the writers wanted to make sure we knew what we were supposed to be feeling for the scenes. Also, a bit more mystery and tension would have livened up this picture. Though predictable at times, I did not mind watching this film; I just hope I am never put into such a predicament in my “golden” years.
2 ½ stars
FROM ALL MY YEARS OF TEACHING I feel I am intuitive when it comes to judging people’s attitudes. Maybe instead of attitudes I should say impressions because standing in front of a class I am able to see the members’ eyes. With me facing them while I teach, I can usually tell when a member is feeling annoyed with another member. Another thing I see is when a member is judging someone else because it is quite noticeable to me. There was a club I used to teach at that had a cliental that was predominantly single people. I soon became surprised with the catty comments I would hear, and the dirty looks members would shoot at other participants in the class. If someone was in class who did not appear to be physically fit, more than likely they would cause the members around them to get a look of disdain on their faces. A prime example was a guy who was large in stature; he was over 6 feet tall and well over 200 pounds. He had some tone to him and from participating in my classes, he built up his aerobic capacity to the point where he could get thru the whole class. ONE DAY A MAN CAME INTO THE aerobic studio to participate in my class. I took him to be a weightlifter because he was extremely cut with prominent muscles sticking out from his torso and limbs. You should have seen the face of this weightlifter when the big member came in and stood near him. It was obvious to me he was judging the guy, thinking this large person would not be able to handle the class. Boy, was he wrong because not only did the larger member plow thru my workout regiment, he finished it. The weightlifter had to stop frequently to catch his breath. I had to assume he spent most time at the health club lifting weights instead of doing something with aerobics. The larger member had no clue that this guy standing near him had judged him solely on his looks, assuming there was no way he could do aerobics. I would be lying if I did not tell you I was amused by the weightlifter’s look of disbelief towards the larger man. It really goes to show you that one should never judge someone solely on their looks; because there are times where your assumptions could get you in trouble. Proof can be found in this dramatic, crime thriller. HAVING NOTHING IN COMMON EXCEPT THEY each lost their husband; a group of widows were forced to work together to survive the fallout from their husbands’ actions. Starring Viola Davis (Fences, The Help) as Veronica, Michelle Rodriguez (Fast & Furious franchise, Lost-TV) as Linda, Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby, Guardians of the Galaxy franchise) as Alice, Liam Neeson (The Commuter, Taken franchise) as Harry Rawlings and Colin Farrell (The Beguiled, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as Jack Mulligan; if nothing else, just watching these women act was a privilege. Viola was outstanding, and I was surprised with Elizabeth’s performance. The story had twists and turns in it, though it took some time before things started to pick up and move the story forward. I thought there were a few predictable scenes, but the wonderful direction kept things exciting for me. Filmed in Chicago, I was aware how scenes went from beauty to being gritty and back; adding to the texture of the script. There have been other crime heist films made before, but I was thoroughly brought into these females’ plights and stayed with them for the entire trip. Please do not solely judge this movie by its marketing; there is more here than meets the eye.
3 ¼ stars
FROM THE CLASSES I ATTENDED AND the personal stories that were shared with me, I would have thought after all this time I would have a better understanding about the parent/child relationship. Even to this day I still can be surprised by the things I see and hear regarding children and their parents. There is a mother I know who was told by her daughter that the only way she could see her grandchildren would be if she goes into therapy. That is all I know but I can assume something intense happened between the daughter and her mother. There is a father I know who has many prejudices; essentially, he doesn’t like anyone. His daughter is the complete opposite, gratefully. It has come to the point where the daughter tries to avoid social functions with her Dad because she knows he will be offending someone before the evening is over. This is the thing that fascinates me; where the daughter turns out to be a complete opposite to her father, there are other children who turn into their parent(s). How does that happen? I know a man who has the same prejudices as his deceased father; it makes me wonder what type of environment the boy was raised in. As I have said before, no one is born being a racist, sexist or prejudiced; it is something that gets taught. NOW WHEN IT COMES TO BULLYING and abuse, studies have shown a majority of those who act these out were themselves victims to it. I believe it because I have seen it happen. There was a kid in my neighborhood who was a bully; he took pleasure in tormenting other kids. It turns out his dad picked on him, hitting or slapping him besides calling him names. Of course, it doesn’t excuse the son’s behavior and I am guessing the father was abused or bullied when he was a kid. When I was in college one of my classes spent time looking at ways to stop this vicious cycle of abusers creating more abusers. Think about it; parents are supposed to be the protectors of their children. It seems to me when something is off, the home environment becomes a breeding ground for the unhealthy behavior to flourish and be handed down generation to generation. I find it awful and sad. There was a time in school where I felt every human being needed to go into therapy; to help them understand themselves and become of sound mind and body. This certainly would apply to the sisters in this dramatic, crime thriller. HAVING A REPUTATION FOR BEING A BRILLIANT computer hacker; how then was Lisbeth Salander, played by Claire Foy (First Man, Unsane), set up so easily? It would have to be from someone she knew. With Beau Gadsdon (The Crown-TV, Rogue One: A Stars Wars Story) as young Lisbeth, Sverrir Gudnason (A Serious Game, Borg vs McEnroe) as Mikael Blomkvist, Lakeith Stanfield (Sorry to Bother You, Selma) as Ed Needham and Sylvia Hoeks (Blade Runner 2049, The Best Offer) as Camilla Salander; this movie was mostly all about the action. I thought Claire did a fine job in the role, but it did not stretch her due to the weak script. By the end of the story I found the script to be silly and a letdown. There were a few exciting scenes; but I found most of the acting one dimensional, without much focus to it. While watching some scenes I thought it was odd that Lisbeth could be easily followed considering she was such a computer “genius.” If the producers plan to churn out this level of work, then we need an intervention to make them stop.
1 ¾ stars
EACH OF US I BELIEVE CARRIES a daily pill box container inside of us. I can see each of those little squares holding a small aspect of our personality, those things that make us, us. Not in a split personality way, but I feel we all have different personas we need to wear depending on the situation. I know when I teach my class I am a different person than when I am a credit manager at work. In fact, there have been many people in my classes who are stunned when they hear I am a credit manager. It is funny because several of them said the same thing, that I seem too nice to be in that position. Think about it; when you accompany your significant other to one of their work functions, don’t you act a certain way? I am willing to bet most of you who do, are conscious of what you say and how you act in front of your loved one’s fellow employees and superiors. It always stuns me when an employee’s partner winds up stinking drunk and makes a scene in front of everyone. NOW THERE ARE SOME INDIVIDUALS WHO act the same no matter what environment they occupy; damn anyone who doesn’t like the way they act. I used to be one of those people; I would say I was an extreme version of who I am now. There is this game where players must guess which answer you would choose for each scenario that gets presented to you. I had to stop playing because everyone knew exactly how I would react in each situation. I firmly believe everyone needs to be true to themselves. Where I used to make sure people knew I did not like them; now I can be civil and lessen my exposure to them if I can. I will not kid you, it takes some finesse. There just are some individuals who are not nice; feel free to put in any other adjective, since I erased them during my editing of this review. I am no longer an “in your face” type of person; however, if need be I have that aspect tucked inside of me. And that is what I meant about we have a pill box container inside of each of us. To show you an example, there is an incredible one inside of this film festival winning, crime drama. AS THE SOLE WITNESS TO A SHOOTING Starr, played by Amanda Stenberg (The Darkest Minds, The Hunger Games), knew if she revealed herself people’s perceptions of her would forever change. She did not know if she was that strong to do such a thing. Also starring Regina Hall (Girls Trip, Scary Movie franchise) as Lisa Carter, Russell Hornsby (Fences, After the Sunset) as Maverick “Mac” Carter, Anthony Mackie (Captain America franchise, The Hurt Locker) as King and Issa Rae (A Bitter Lime, Insecure-TV) as April Ofrah; this movie took me away to another place. The story, which was completely current and important, blossomed with the well written script and amazing acting skills of the cast. Amandla would be someone to watch for because she was beautiful in her role. I thoroughly enjoyed the way the script went from a humorous spot to an intense moment, to finally end up in a thoughtful place. It felt as if the writers and director precisely dissected the story to present a complete picture to the viewer. Though the story may be something you have already seen on the news; I found this picture presented a different take on it and I am here to say my eyes were glued to the movie screen.
IS A PERSON JUST BEING GOOD to you enough to have a relationship with them? I have always had a curiosity about the things that are important to a person seeking and being in a love relationship. One of the things that piqued my curiosity was seeing news reporters interviewing the love interest of a person who had recently committed a crime or was in an altercation. Hearing the girlfriend say her boyfriend has always been good to her after he had just been accused of bludgeoning a man to death was the oddest thing to me. Let us say it was true, that he was kind and respectful of her; is that all one needs to fall in love? There seems to be more similar examples currently than I can recall years ago. A husband is stunned when he finds out his wife has been embezzling money from her place of employment for years. Behind the husband and reporter, parked in the driveway of the couple’s house, was a brand new expensive car. I find it all bizarre; how can someone only focus on certain aspects of an individual and base their affection solely on those features? I know I cannot do it. IN MY WORLD ACTIONS HAVE AS much importance as words; in other words, it is not just what a person says that will cement my feelings towards them. I think anyone can say anything and I have been in relationships where the person said things they knew would pull at my heart strings. And the words did; however, there were things they did that did not earn my trust. I had friends who had warned me, but you know how that goes; unless they are in your shoes, you feel your friends are not able to see the whole picture. It is funny because I have been in their place where I expressed my concerns about friends’ love interests. There was one person who was a user, who only cared about himself. Yes, he would do these sweet things for my friend that made her heart swell; but he had no empathy and was a cheapskate. If the opportunity came up where she asked me for my opinion I would tell her exactly what I thought. The one thing I would not do is tell her what she “should” do; I knew she would have to figure out what worked for her. Also, I remained respectful around him. My motto is, “I do not have to accept anything, but need to respect it.” And when it comes to this biographical crime film, no truer words have been spoken. If not, one could find themselves getting killed. DESPITE BEING COLOMBIA’S MOST NOTORIOUS DRUG LORD there was something about Pablo Escobar, played by Javier Bardem (The Sea Inside, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) that made journalist and anchorwoman Virginia Vallejo, played by Penelope Cruz (The Counselor, Vicky Cristina Barcelona), fall in love with him. It wasn’t long before everyone knew. This film festival winning action movie also starred Peter Sarsgaard (Jackie, The Magnificent Seven) as Shepherd, Julieth Restrepo (At the End of the Spectra, Moria) as Maria Victoria Henao and Oscar Jaenada (The Shallows, Cantinflas) as Santoro. It goes without saying that Javier and Penelope were a perfect match since they are married to each other. I enjoyed the two of them in this story and picked up a couple of things I did not know about Escobar. However, the script was too superficial; I would have preferred if the writers went deeper into the characters. Instead there were scenes of blood and violence which were expected, but I felt there had to be more to this story than what was shown.
IS THERE ANYONE WHO DOES NOT wonder where those stains and marks come from in a hotel room? I for one cannot ignore them when I see them. This is why I am never 100% comfortable when I am staying at a hotel. On a trip to the southwest I stayed at a hotel that was one of the tallest buildings in the city. When I walked into my room everything looked fine. Just like most hotels I have stayed in; this one had a bed, 2 nightstands, an armoire, a desk, an easy chair and a floor lamp. When I walked into the bathroom I was immediately horrified because there appeared to be a blood-stained streak on the shower curtain. My mind was flooded with scenarios that could have caused blood to get splattered in the bathroom. I was not going to attempt to clean it, nor could I simply ignore it. If that was not enough, I decided to relieve my bladder before going downstairs to request a room change. When I went to flush the toilet, the water gurgled inside the bowl but never flushed down; it looked as if the water was simmering close to a boil. I wasn’t about to wonder what was causing the toilet not to flush. The room and in turn the hotel creeped me out. ON ANOTHER TRIP I BOOKED A ROOM in this huge, old majestic hotel. I do not remember the year the building was constructed, but it was originally built as an apartment building. With terra cotta appointments on the façade and a lobby that looked like it came out of 1920’s detective story, I thought the hotel was cool looking. The elevators with jet black doors and silver trim creaked as they traveled up the floors, slightly unsteady like an elderly patient. When I walked into the room I was met by a wall that had worn-out flocked wallpaper. As soon as one entered the room they had to make an immediate right turn to go into the living space. It appeared the original apartments must have been carved up to form the hotel rooms; the room had odd shaped corners and the bathroom door nearly grazed the toilet bowl when it was being closed. There was something about the hotel that made me think about the original residences who must have resided here earlier. During my stay little things happened such as the lightbulb burning out and the water faucet groaning whenever it was turned on. I stayed there despite the odd sounds and my concerns for my safety and hygiene. But I will tell you this; I would rather stay in either of the hotels I mentioned than the one in this mystery thriller. A GROUP OF STRANGERS CHECKED INTO the El Royale but not all of them would check out. This dramatic crime film starred Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) as Father Daniel Flynn, Cynthia Erivo (Widows, Mr. Selfridge-TV) as Darlene Sweet, Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, A Bigger Splash) as Emily Summerspring, Jon Hamm (Baby Driver, Million Dollar Arm) as Laramie Seymour Sullivan and Chris Hemsworth (Thor franchise, 12 Strong) as Billy Lee. I enjoyed the cast and the diversity of the characters they portrayed. This picture had a great look to it with a smoldering script, which allowed every actor a chance in the spotlight. I also liked the way the pieces of the story fit together; however halfway through I started to get bored. It seemed as if scenes were written with less detail and emotion. Sometimes it appeared shocking twists were put in for the sake of shocking the viewer. For me this was not as much of a thriller as a slow burn and I had no desire to book a room at this hotel.
2 ¼ stars
THOUGH SHE APPEARED TO BE AN OLDER woman, I would never ask her age. She had been taking my yoga class for several weeks, bringing her own yoga mat and a bottle of water. Maybe I am stereotyping; but she had long gray hair pulled back into a ponytail that trailed halfway down her back, looking like a former hippie. Every week while I lead the class into warming up poses I provide a little distraction by listing celebrity birthdays for the week. One of the reasons I do this is to break the ice with any new participants who have that “new kid on the block” mentality, coming to class for the 1st time. I will ask the class if they know so-and-so, wait if anyone guesses what the celebrity did to make he/she famous, then reveal their age. So, this one week after I went through my list of celebrity birthdays, the older woman piped up it was also her birthday. I and the rest of the class wished her well. She then said she was happy to say she was 82 years old. I knew she was an older individual but honestly, I would never have guessed that was her age. She told us she loves yoga and has been doing it for decades; what an inspiration. I WAS JUST AS FORTUNATE IN the work world to have met people like that woman in my yoga class. They loved their job, so they stayed employed way past their retirement age. At one of the companies I worked at, the owner came to work every day. He was always busy and kept this up way into his 90’s. There certainly is some truth in finding something you love or are passionate about to feel successful. I had a relative who would always say they were not going to work, they were going to play because they enjoyed what they did at their job. You know how some people are married to their work; where all they think and talk about is their job? Well they do not necessarily love what they do; they have formed an identity for themselves based on their occupation. The individuals I have referred to each have their identity in tack; they just want to continue what they do because they love it. I feel this way about doing my movie reviews and hope I can continue doing them for a long time because they bring me such joy. The same thing can be said about the main character in today’s comedic, crime drama. FORREST TUCKER, PLAYED BY ROBERT REDFORD (The Natural, Truth); was good at what he did, besides getting immense joy out of it. The only downside was the consequences would be steep if he had a misstep. With Casey Affleck (A Ghost Story, The Finest Hours) as John Hurt, Sissy Spacek (The Help, Coal Miner’s Daughter) as Jewel, Danny Glover (Proud Mary, Back in the Day) as Teddy and Tom Waits (Seven Psychopaths, Down by Law) as Waller; this film festival nominee was based on a true story and what a story! Rumor has it this will be Robert’s last acting role. If it is he at least can end his chapter on a high note with this role. It was such a treat to watch him and Sissy, two seasoned actors, play off each other. The story started out slow for me but continued building itself up to a point where I was enjoying watching the mixture of emotions that took place on screen. It was obvious Robert was having a good time doing this character since it came across fully. I must give everyone who worked on this film credit; this will sound cheesy but if there was any labor involved in the making of this picture it was a labor of love.