THERE ARE SOME FAMILY GATHERINGS THAT require a program to keep the cast of characters clear in one’s mind. I will avoid talking about my own since it would be easy for the family members to identify themselves in my stories. There have been many occasions where I have been included in another family’s event. From somber to joyful I have discovered each family has their own “baggage” whether they acknowledge it or not. Also, it has reaffirmed in me the belief that there is no such thing as a “normal” family. I was included in a friend’s family dinner where two sisters did not speak to each other because they had an argument months (yes, that is right months) ago. Do you have any idea how challenging it is to carry on a conversation where you have to address each person separately on the same topic? They never made eye contact nor referred to the other in any way; it was uncomfortable for me and yet the parents sat at the dining room table as if nothing in the world was wrong. The wildest part of it was when food was being passed around the table. Neither sister would hand the other any food going around; instead, would put it on the table to make the other sibling stand up and reach for it. Crazy, isn’t it? AT THE OTHER END OF THE SPECTRUM, I have been at family functions where nothing was held back; family members were sharing the most intimate details about their personal lives. In other words, WTMI (way too much information). There would be no need for me to hear what type of physical characteristics a relative is looking for in a mate. Or how about sitting around the living room as 3 relatives get into a heated argument, calling each other names and swearing at the top of their lungs. I remember looking around to get a cue on how to react, but the other relatives were just sitting there sipping their cups of coffee and nibbling on their snacks as if nothing was taking place. At one point I thought I was entering a boxing match as the yelling relatives were getting up into each other’s faces. Now I come from a point of view where everyone has the right to express their feelings; but not during a heated argument. It should be a calm setting with no fear of retaliation. If you are curious to see an example of a family with issues, then feel free to observe what takes place with the family in this dramatic crime mystery. RETURNING TO HER SMALL HOME TOWN for her sister’s wedding was to be a happy occasion for Laura, played by Penelope Cruz (The Counsellor, Broken Embraces). But when a tragic event took place, the cracks beneath the family’s surface spread further apart. This film festival winning movie also starred Javier Bardem (The Sea Inside, No Country for Old Men) as Paco, Ricardo Darin (The Secret in Their Eyes, Wild Tales) as Alejandro, Edward Fernandez (Biutiful, The Man with Thousand Faces) as Fernando and Barbara Lennie (Magical Girl, El Nino) as Bea. The acting in this film was excellent; whether it was joyful or heart wrenching, I was feeling the characters’ emotional states. With the acting so strong, this picture needed a tightly written script to keep the actors aloft. At times I felt some scenes went flat; luckily, there were not many of them. The other criticism I have has to do with the ending. It seemed to tidy as if it wanted to wrap up the story quickly. Otherwise, this picture still kept my interest as I wondered what other things this family had hidden below the surface. Spanish was spoken with English subtitles.
2 ½ stars
NO MATTER HOW HARD WE TRY, there is going to be times in life where we must deal with stuff (some people would use a stronger word) thrown our way. They may be anywhere between simple annoyances to heavy issues. Presently I am dealing with a continuous annoyance. Every time the temperature outside has a wide swing the tire pressure light goes on in my car. I never know if it is just a loss of air from the temperature, debris in the road or the start of an actual flat tire. I am stuck always going to an auto dealer to have the tires checked out. It is stuff like this that will drive me crazy because I do not have an outlet to release my frustrations. What I would like to do is kick my tires or bang on my dashboard when the tire light goes on; but that is not going to make anything better. However, I have been using my feelings as fuel to come up with an alternative that will give me piece of mind. My idea now is to buy a tire pressure gauge and one of those small air compressors; so, I can even out the air pressure in all my tires and get the tire gauge light to turn off, as long as there is not a flat tire. WHEN DEALING WITH HARD OR HEAVY situations, some individuals may not be fully equipped to handle the pressure. I believe it is better to submerge into your feelings than trying to ignore them. Letting yourself experience these emotions I find can be therapeutic, if not cathartic. In my past I have taken tragedy and taken all the feelings associated with it and wrapped it tightly around me to the point where I was nearly comatose. But during that time there was a part of my brain working on ways to learn and hopefully grow from the experience. Now there are some people who may experience a traumatic event and totally withdraw from reality. The pain is too much for them to handle so they find ways to avoid it. I hope I do not come across as judgmental but that is not something I could maintain. Sure, I can escape by taking a mental vacation for a while; but I am not the type of person who would try to fill the void I was experiencing with a substitute that could harm me. As I said, everyone handles trauma differently and this film festival winning action, crime drama will show you one of those ways. AFTER MANY YEARS A CASE DETECTIVE Erin Bell, played by Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased, The Upside), thought she had left behind resurfaced, stirring up strong emotions inside of her. To deal with the present she would have to revisit her past. This movie also starred Toby Kebbell (Fantastic Four, Dead Man’s Shoes) as Silas, Tatiana Maslany (Stronger, Orphan Black-TV) as Petra, Scoot McNairy (Argo, Monsters) as Ethan and Sebastian Stan (I, Tonya; Captain America franchise) as Chris. This was an unusual role for Nicole. Being a big fan of her work, I thought she would have been outstanding in the role. However, I never found her believable as the older version of her character; the entire time I was aware it was Nicole Kidman playing a role. The scenes that jumped into the past seemed more interesting to me, but I disliked the going back and forth in time throughout the film. This lead it to be not a very entertaining film for me. I found the script slow moving and at times dull. After the movie ended I took my disappointment and funneled it into a grocery store trip to buy myself a treat.
THERE WAS A NEWS ARTICLE ABOUT a celebrity so grieve stricken about the loss of her beloved dog, that she had the dog cloned. The puppy looked exactly like a younger version of her deceased pet. It appeared the celebrity had her pet cloned just prior to the dog’s death. From the experiences I have been a part of with pet owners, all of them did not immediately find a replacement for their furry companion; they allowed themselves to grieve and get settled into new daily routines first. I understand the love we have for our pets and we hate to see them go, but it is part of the life cycle. Besides the aching pain that is felt, I have had a tough time with the inevitable change of routines. Coming home expecting a happy greeting gets replaced with still silence. For some their daily walks were their only exercise or time for reflective thought. Just recently I was talking with a friend about the difference about two kinds of death. The one where the person/animal suddenly dies is harder on the remaining loved ones in my opinion. When the person/animal has spent an extended amount of time suffering before they finally succumb; then it is easier on the ones left behind because there is the element of relief that they are no longer in pain. WHO KNOWS BUT MAYBE THERE WILL come a time where anyone can clone their loved ones. Maybe the clones will be identical and start off right where the originals ended, but I have misgivings about it. For right now I have a fear that people’s loss of pain will drive medical companies to hurry something to market without knowing 100% that all will be fine. I get this image in my head of those gremlins from the movie that change into hideous, crazy things if they are fed water or given food past midnight. Can you imagine scientists cloning new life that will morph into creatures that cause death and destruction? I know love is a powerful force and the loss of love can be utterly debilitating for us; but that is the price one pays to be vulnerable and accept love into their life. Maybe because of all the movies I have seen or my vivid imagination, but right now there is something about cloning that frightens me. Long term we do not have enough information on what could happen. Due to my feelings I was hesitant to watch this mystery, crime film. WHEN A DEADLY ACCIDENT ROBBED HIM of the most important thing in his life scientist Will Foster, played by Keanu Reeves (Point Break, Matrix franchise), willingly risked everything to gain back what he loved the most. The only issue was no one could know about it. With Thomas Middleditch (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Kings of Summer) as Ed, John Ortiz (Silver Linings Playbook, American Gangster) as Jones, Alice Eve (Before We Go, She’s Out of my League) as Mona and Emily Alyn Lind (J. Edgar, Revenge-TV) as Sophie; this science fiction movie was startling in how it was poorly done. I mean bottom of the food chain nonsense. First, the acting was appalling; Keanu was wooden or better yet, lifeless. The script offered nothing new or exciting for me; pretty much everything taking place seemed to be a given. I will say, I was surprised by one twist in the story; but by that time, I did not care what was going on because I wanted the picture to end so I could go home. For me, this entire movie could be used as an example of what could go wrong by cloning a story that was done before.
1 1/4 stars
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.