THROUGHOUT MY ELEMENTARY AND HIGH SCHOOL years, I only met two individuals who had been adopted. They happened to be half-sisters, who shared the same mother; a married couple agreed to adopt them both. When I was told about their adoption, I became curious about them. They had the same color hair and eyes; one was taller than the other. That was pretty much all they had in common as far as I could see. The taller one was studious and quiet, while her younger sister did poorly in school and was considered a wild party person. They were not part of my circle of friends for the most part; however, there were times we would be eating at the same lunch table. While eating, I would keep an eye on the two of them to see if they ate the same type of food items. I do not know why I focused on this; I guess I was simply intrigued about their story of being birthed by one woman and raised by a different one. As I said earlier, I had never met anyone who had been adopted. From my observations, I chalked up their differences were due to having different fathers. I have not thought about them for some time, but I wonder with the easy availability of DNA testing if they ever were curious to learn more about their genetic history. THE REASON I MENTIONED DNA TESTING, is because I had recently heard about a woman who, out of curiosity, decided to get tested because she was curious to find out what countries her ancestors originated from. When she received the results, she learned something more that she was not expecting; her DNA did not match with her dad. This news did not settle in immediately; but after studying her results again, it sunk in that the man she knew her entire life was not her father. Sadly, she could not ask either of her parents because they were both deceased. As far as she was concerned, her mother must have had an affair with another man; either her father knew and her parents decided to never say anything about it, or her mother kept it a secret her entire life. The woman was devastated by these results. I know it bothered her because she became angry that she could not confront her mother to find out the truth. Since this person is only an acquaintance, who I have had no contact with for some time, I now wonder if she delved deeper into her DNA results to see if she might have had any half siblings she could reach out to for any answers. It would be a shock if she experienced anything close to what happened in this startling documentary. AWARE SHE WAS ADOPTED, JACOBA BALLARD was curious to know if she might have any unknown relatives. A DNA test could help, and it did, but not the way she was expecting. Directed by first time director Lucie Jourdan, this film played out like a suspenseful crime story. The story is so incredible that I was in synch with what was unfolding for Jacoba. The use and mix of actual recordings with reenactments went seamlessly and made for a more powerful statement in my opinion. As the story progressed, I found myself going deeper into shock from what was happening. I will also add that I became angry while watching the outcome of an issue that was being worked on. To think before we had the ability to test our DNA, there could be many people living under a delusion/fantasy. Be prepared when watching this documentary; it might have a bigger effect on you than you expect.
OUR VISITS WERE INFREQUENT BECAUSE HE lived out of state. We grew up together, though he was several years older than me. When I was a small kid, he would make me laugh with his offbeat humor. I remember his laugh; it would come out of his mouth with a blast, close to an octave higher than his speaking voice. In a large gathering, his laugh was always distinguishable among the voices. Through the decades, my humor evolved like most other kids growing up. The jokes that were told back in elementary school, if I were to hear them now, I would not find most of them funny. As they say, there is such a thing as kid’s humor. Let me ask you, how many kids do you know that if you say the child’s name for digestive waste will burst out laughing? There is a handful I know presently that laugh at the word being spoken. If I give it thought, the type of humor I enjoy most of the time is satirical and deadpan absurd. I had a relative who was the best when delivering satirical punchlines/comments. No disrespect to any comics out there, but those that use foul language to make a joke, I do not find funny. IN MY ADULT YEARS, WHEN I have gotten together with the out of towner, I realized his humor never evolved. It was the same type of jokes that he told when I was a little kid, which I no longer found funny. Weirdly, I also find them annoying now. Part of the issue I believe is due to him never taking a break from trying to be funny. I like a good joke and a laugh like anyone else, but I do not want the entire conversation to be filled with joke after joke; I enjoy talking back and forth about current news, feelings, and an assortment of other topics. The out of towner never gives a serious answer to a legitimate question; it is so irritating. I do not want someone to answer my question with a question or to make a joke about everything I ask them. For example, “How is you family?” He could not say “fine” or “doing well.” The answer would be some obtuse comment or pretend he does not know what I am talking about. When I would push back to try and get a serious answer to my question, he still would not offer one. I found our visits becoming strained; there was nothing new to talk about with him. This is the same feeling I had while watching the latest installment of this action, comedy franchise. THOUGH THEIR BODIES ARE OVER TEN years older, the crew from the original movie are back with the same type of pranks. With Johnny Knoxville (Bad Grandpa, The Ringer), Steve-O (Guest House, Sunset Society), Chris Pontius (Charlie’s Angels: Full throttle, Action Point), Dave England (The Bet) and Ehren McGhehey (All Hell Breaks Loose, Portlandia-TV); I used to find this crew’s antics amusing. Granted, there is that aspect of unbelievability that can draw in the viewer; however, with this picture I had a mixture of disgust and boredom part of the time. There were a couple of stunts that were amusing; but most of them seemed to have been created for the cast to be at full exposure and I do mean full exposure. I will say that one can see the deep level of friendship/camaraderie the cast has for each other. It is admirable, but I had to wonder if some of the stunts were designed to test that bond between them because they seemed mean spirited to me. If you are a fan of these films, then you probably want to see this latest one. I felt there was nothing new that surprised me; it only made me uncomfortable.
THERE WAS NOT AN ANNOUNCEMENT, LET alone any acknowledgement, but I knew someone had walked into the ballroom. There was a shift in the air, like that moment before lightning strikes when the air has an electrified, static crispness. I was attending a fundraiser that was being held in the ballroom of a downtown hotel. Easily, there were over two hundred people in the room, dressed in tuxedos and evening dresses. When I felt that shift in the air, I started to look around the room. My gaze shifted to the far end of the ballroom when my ears detected a low buzzing sound from that direction. It was the crowd murmuring to each other as President and Mrs. Obama had walked in. The two who were tall compared to the guests around them, were easy to spot. I am not exaggerating when I say there was a definite shift of energy in the room; a building excitement and respect as the guests started to nonchalantly shift around to get a better look at this couple. The term “power couple” was something I had heard before, but I had never experienced it live, until now. These two were a major power couple; one could feel it on and below the skin surface. It was an extraordinary feeling, I have to say. It was as if the energy in their bodies was emanating out to every person standing in the room. THE TERM “POWER COUPLE” TO ME is more of a modern term. I cannot recall it being used back even in the 1970s or 80s. It seems as if a marketing department created the title to bestow on a couple where both participants are active in their fields of interest or work. One of the earliest couples I can remember who were considered a “power couple” was Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. I remember how the news reported on them, from walking the red carpet of a movie premier or awards show to a humanitarian trip at a place that had experienced a natural catastrophe. For some reason, I never thought of a king and queen being a “power couple,” though I guess it could happen. By my definition, Eva and Juan Peron of Argentina would be labeled a “power couple.” It is funny, I never thought of the couple in this documentary as a “power couple;” however, after watching this movie I have to say they were most definitely a strong, dynamic couple who deserved to be called a “power couple.” WITH SO MANY TV SPECIALS AND articles having been done on Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, one would think there was nothing more to learn about them. Luckily, it turns out not to be the case with the release of this intimate, biographical comedy. Directed by Amy Poehler (Baby Mama, Parks and Recreation-TV) and written by Mark Monroe (The Cove, The Dissident), this film focused on honoring the celebrity couple. With the blessing of Lucy’s and Ricky’s daughter Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, never seen footage was expertly mixed within the story and celebrity interviews, which were given by such celebrities as Carol Burnett and Bette Midler. It was obvious while watching this movie that Amy has a strong fondness for Lucy. But I also appreciated how Amy handled Desi’s successes and demons; he does not always get the credit he deserves for the new and progressive things he did for the industry. The home footage used was wonderful to watch. I felt like I was seeing Lucy and Desi in a fresh, unique way. Part tribute, part history; this was a well-done film that provided not only entertainment but unknown facts about one of Hollywood’s true “power couples.”
3 ½ stars
THE STORY HAD MAGICIAL ASPECTS THE more I listened to it. A friend of mine had met someone on one of her social media sites. They started a conversation that went back and forth in an easy, rhythmic way for a short time, before they advanced to video chats. When both were comfortable, they agreed to meet at a popular park in the city. They wound up from walking around the park to sitting on a park bench for a total of 4 hours; never was there a lull in their conversation. The way she described it was saying he showed her the part of his heart that had been healing from a past hurt. She added that he was a sensitive man who teared up when they were talking about their pets, and he spoke about the pain he suffered when he had to put down one of his cats. Evidently, the four hours flew by, and they agreed to go out on a longer date for a meal. A week later they met for dinner then afterwards, walked down to a coffee shop where they sat and talked for two hours more. As I was listening to her tell it, it did cross my mind that all of it was too good to be true. I felt I needed to play the devil’s advocate to make sure she was not missing something about him. It turned out things just got better and better for the two of them, to the point where they decided to get married. I WAS SO HAPPY FOR MY friend and that everything fell into place for her with this man she met online. This was in such sharp contrast to another friend of mine who has had no success meeting people online. Every time we get together, she always has a new story about one of her online dates. There was the one guy who was too eager to date, texting her everyday with little “inspirational” messages and quotes. Then there was this fellow who never mentioned having any friends, along with having no outside interests from his day job as some type of buyer for a company. She always carries pepper spray on her and once, she almost had to use it on a guy she had met who got aggressive with her on their 2nd date. I know how difficult it can be trying to meet someone online; one needs to go through a lot of choices before finding one that clicks and moves in synch with you. If you want to see what I am talking about then feel free to watch what happens to the women in this unbelievable documentary, when they thought they had found the perfect man. WITH ONE SWIPE A PERSON’S LIFE can change drastically when on a dating app. Directed by 1st time director Felicity Morris, I could not look away from this film that at times played out like a crime thriller. The story was so outrageous that there were moments I thought this could not be real, yet it kept on going. I was not sure how authentic all the re-enactments were, but it did not matter to me. However, the way the scenes tightly unfolded added believability to what was taking place. Also, I enjoyed the way the director built up the story; it took me from one emotional extreme to another. I felt the story would be relatable to anyone who watched it. Maybe not on the same level, but everyone has their level of trust. It is funny; when I asked people who had seen this film what they thought, they were divided into two camps. One group sided with one side and the other group felt it was the other side. I will leave it up to you. This movie can be watched by anyone, but especially those who have used dating sites.
3 ½ stars
AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER, I believe each of us has planned an escape. From something as small as an uncomfortable conversation to leaving one’s home. When I was sending applications out to colleges, I felt I was working on an escape out of the hard times I was experiencing in high school. I purposely chose schools out of state, to get as far away as I could and reinvent myself to no longer be the victim. It was a hard adjustment at first because it was the first time I was ever away from my home. What I learned in my new environment helped me immensely. The knowledge I gained helped when two of my friends wanted to leave their husbands. One friend who I will refer to as Carol, had been married for nearly 20 years and grew tired of the mental and physical abuse inflicted on her by her husband. His physical abuse was confined to pushing and squeezing, at least that is what she told me. I did wonder though when I would catch a glimpse of her arms and see a bruise or two. It came to a point where she needed to get away from him; I did my best to provide her with emotional and mental support through the process of leaving him. The difference in her once the divorce was final was amazing; she was filled with joy and happiness. MY FRIEND, LET ME CALL HER, Mary was married for years also. She had a low level of confidence in herself, so the relationship was one-sided in my opinion. She let her husband make all decisions and believed whatever he said was true. Through the years she started working on herself through therapy and personal growth avenues, to the point she started feeling confident. As you might imagine, it caused conflict between them because she was for the first time voicing her opinion and discovering not everything her husband said was right. It came to a point where she wound up staying with me until she could figure out her next steps. In this case, they both started couples therapy and are still married to this day in a healthier place. Of course, there are other reasons a person feels they must leave a situation. I met a man who left his family and home because the religion he was born into did not accept him. There is more to it, but I want to respect his privacy. The main character in this Oscar nominated, Sundance winning film had a good reason to find an escape; you might want to see it for yourself. WITH HIS COUNTRY BEING TORN APART, the family of Amin, voiced by newcomer Daniel Karimyar, had to find a way to get to a safe place. The effects of their plan would have a lasting effect. With Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal, Encounter) voicing the adult Amin, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (The Silencing, Game of Thrones-TV) voicing Rasmussen, newcomer Milad Eskandari voicing 8-year-old Saif and Belal Faiz (Rita-TV) voicing 13-year-old Saif; this animated dramatic documentary based on a true story was extraordinary. This was a new fresh way of telling a story via animation and live footage. The story was incredible and the way it was told fascinated me. Scenes of present times were separated by memories of the past; it really brought me into the story. When an animated film is nominated for an Oscar like this one, I assumed the animation would wow me. That was not my reaction at first because the animation was kept simple; however, its simplicity made the story more vivid for me. Also, I saw the English version of this film; in the original Danish, Dari, Russian and Swedish were spoken with English subtitles. With its other nomination for best international film, this picture is a strong contender in getting the Oscar award. This movie might just be one you do not want to escape you. This is not a film for children.
3 ½ stars
I HAD TWO TYPES OF BABYSITTERS. There were those that were living and there were those that hung on the walls of our home. For the ones that were alive, I had a couple of great babysitters and one who was horrible. She was so awful, my family came home one time and found me hiding from her in the stairwell of our apartment building. The inanimate babysitters were the artwork that was placed throughout our home. On two end tables sat two tall lamps shaped like Grecian urns. Around the circumference were the heads of golden lions holding a chain in their mouths, that formed a circle. I would sit and imagine a variety of fantasies where the lions were my pets/protectors. On the walls there were framed paintings and sketches, done in a variety of genres. There was Ludwig van Beethoven looking down on me while I had my piano lesson. A boy dressed in a raincoat and rain hat peered out at me. I had to come up with ways to save him from the impending storm that was sweeping over the ocean. A long-necked woman kept watch over me while I would play with my toys on the floor; her eyes appeared to follow me wherever I moved in the room. Another painting on the wall was a forest scene where all the leaves were turning autumn colors. I considered it one of my hiding places because the variety of colors would always keep me hidden. MY IMAGINATION BEING QUITE ACTIVE ALLOWED me to spend lengths of time in the presence of these pieces of art, creating an alternative world while playing with a toy or acting out make believe. I did not have a total understanding at the time of what the entire process was to create a painting. They were borderline magical pieces in my mind since they were the catalysts for my imagination. Imagine, at a young age, discovering a television show that showed me how a painting gets created. I do not remember my age at the time; but I can see myself sitting close to the TV to watch this artist with the big hair create what I thought were masterpieces within 30 minutes. It was pure magic to me. Springing solely from his mind and memories, this man would quickly create a beautiful landscape. It did not matter if it was a winter or summer scene, he could do anything as far as I was concerned. I especially loved watching him paint clouds because they were some of my favorite fodders for daydreaming. When I discovered this documentary was playing, I could not wait to see it. BELIEVING EVERYONE HAD CREATIVE TALENT INSIDE of themselves, painter Bob Ross wanted to find a way to convince them. All it took was one television station giving him 30 minutes of time, to show the world what could be done. Directed by Joshua Rofe (Swift Current, Lorena-TV), this film was created with the help of Bob Ross’s son Steve. Knowing it is being told from one point of view, did not distract me from seeing the journey of Bob’s life. I came into this with a fondness for Bob and his show; so, seeing some of the events that took place behind the scenes was troubling for me. Not due to any type of blood or gore, but due to the circumstances that befell him. The live footage was fascinating to me; part of it was due to seeing him outside of his studio, among his fans. It was like being at a rock concert for art; how often does one get to see that?!?! Overall, I found this movie to be entertaining; there was drama, sadness, humor and surprises, at least for me. My guess is that this film will appeal more to those gifted with an artistic flair.
MY FIRST APARTMENT WAS IN A neighborhood known for its nightlife. There were a multitude of bars and clubs, with most of them all on the same stretch of road. Though they each served pretty much the same alcohol and beverages, they were distinct based on the clientele. There were the clubs that attracted the young crowd, those barely legal by the state’s standards. Other bars were known to attract minorities which I always found odd. There was one place where the patrons were Hispanic for the most part. When I would go there, I would sit and try to figure out what made the place attractive for Hispanic people. It had a similar setup to other bars with colored flashing lights, a dance floor, mirrors and a live DJ. It made no sense to me; yet there was another club where the patrons were mostly Black. Again, I did not find anything distinctive about the place that would, to tell you the truth, attract any minority. Now before you think I am some big-time drinker; let me tell you, I do not drink alcoholic drinks; I never liked the taste of them. If I did not ask for a glass of water, I usually got a clear carbonated drink with no ice or straw. It is weird, but I have encountered people who would get an attitude if I did not have a drink in my hand. It was as if they thought I must be there for some nefarious reasons because I was not drinking anything. DESPITE THESE ESTABLISHMENTS DRAWING DIFFERENT CLIENTELE, there was one place where everyone was welcome, and they showed up in droves. It was the disco. I had never seen such a place; walking into it was like entering a different universe. There were the usual-colored lights and mirrors; but they had fog machines and confetti canyons, besides live statues. I still remember this one statue who was dressed all in silver including painting their skin in the same color. They stood perfectly still on top of a large pedestal for several minutes before moving stiffly like a robot, into another position. Periodically they would burst into a dance routine, then suddenly come to a dead stop and be motionless again. The dress code was anything and everything. I had a couple of pairs of shoes that I would only wear when I visited this club. Looking back, I cannot believe I used to wear these copper-colored metallic looking pants that appeared iridescent. Funny, no one even batted an eye when I was on the dance floor. There was such an energy in the place with people moving on the massive dance floor; I used to think I wanted a job there because it was an uplifting place. It has been years since I have been to a club, but I felt like I had while watching this fun, musical documentary. ONE MAN HAD THE IDEA TO sell the music first before coming out with the movie and it changed the whole world. Directed by John Maggio (The Perfect Weapon, American Experience-TV) this film was about Robert Stigwood, the producer for such films as Evita and Tommy, besides being the manager for the musical groups the Bee Gees and Cream. This movie focused on the creation of the hit film Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta (Grease, Pulp Fiction). If you were not a fan of disco music, I do not know if you will enjoy this picture as much as I did. Honestly, I can remember buying the musical soundtrack to this film and hearing the songs playing wherever I went; that is how popular it was. Seeing how the movie came into existence, with the little tidbits of information scattered throughout this film, I enjoyed watching this documentary. I will say it did start out a bit slow, but just hearing the music from that time and seeing the archival scenes; this was just a great blast from the past that I settled into for the night. And who knows, if you choose to see this movie, you might want to get up out of your seat and dance for a bit.
I JUST DO NOT GET THESE extreme sports/activities that people willingly do. There is High Lining which is crossing from one cliff to another by balancing and walking on a single rope. Free solo climbing is another activity that makes no sense to me, as well as a 6-day marathon that crosses 154 miles through Morocco, I believe. Why would anyone want to do something so dangerous? There was a documentary I reviewed some time back about a man who does free solo climbing. Seeing him climb without any safety apparatus seemed crazy to me. Granted, the extent of my climbing achievements was climbing trees when I was a kid. The highest I ever went was to the level of a 2nd floor of an apartment building. I understand a person who wants to be the fastest runner in the world or hit the most home runs in baseball; but doing something just for the sake of saying you did it, is not a good enough excuse for me to risk my life. I hope this is not coming across like I am judging, because it is not my intentions. I just do not understand the appeal of such an activity and to tell you the truth I am sure those who participate in such activities do not understand why I like to sit and watch movies. ON THE OTHER HAND, I APPRECIATE individuals who do remarkable things. For example, I enjoy more individual sports than team ones. Someone who can lift more weight or run the fastest or hold their breath underwater the longest are things that I admire because it is humans doing nearly unhuman things. Since I have been active in the fitness field for decades, I appreciate such activities because I am looking at the upper limits of what a human body can do. Seeing the body do unhuman things fascinates me; I think that is the main reason why I like that traveling circus with the different acts from around the world. The acts seem to be always pushing the limits of their bodies. I can remember a student from elementary school who was double jointed. They could bend their arms and legs in all these weird positions that no one else in class could do. So, you might be wondering why, knowing what you know about me, would I sit and watch this documentary. It was not on my radar; however, someone told me about it, and I was curious to see the scenery. And let me tell you, climbing a mountain would be the last thing I would want to do, unless they had a designated easy trail and gift shop/restaurant along the way. But I must tell you I was mesmerized by what I was watching in this thrilling adventure film. WITH SOME OF THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN peaks in their country’s backyard, a man from Nepal feels the world does not fully recognize what role his country has played in the activity of mountain climbing. He wants to change the perception by doing the unexpected. Directed by Gabriel Clarke (Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans, Finding Jack Charlton) and Torquil Jones (Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager, The American Fall), this award nominee was a thrilling and awe-inspiring movie. Nirmal “Nimsdal” Purja, the mountaineer from Nepal, was something to see with his infectious personality. The filming was exquisite to the point I felt I was experiencing the location without leaving my couch. I admit the idea for this audacious project was borderline insane; but I appreciated the message Nirmal was trying to convey. And a shoutout to his wife, who at least in the film supported his plan. I know it is hard to compare any one feat from another person; but I have to say, this movie will show you something that you have never seen before and I am guessing will be glad you got to see it. Several scenes had Nepali spoken with English subtitles.
3 ½ stars
I KNEW GOING IN THERE WOULD be a good chance my ears would be ringing by the end of the night. It was part of the event. We would be sitting with anticipation in a cavernous stadium with 20,000 people who all came for the same reason. Sometimes there would be a wall of speakers on both sides of the stage; other times, they would be hidden behind some type of fabric or paper scenery. I knew if there were added speakers suspended from the ceiling then the sound would be massive. Either way we knew we were going to hear music; we just did not know if it would be clear based on the acoustics of the arena. I loved going to concerts so much, that at one point, I was going nearly every weekend during the summer months. The places would be either enclosed or outdoor spots, though I preferred indoor so I would not have to worry about any precipitation. Those times when we could use public transportation to get to the concert, were extra memorable because the train cars were usually full of other concertgoers. There was such a festive atmosphere on the train; some people singing, others dressed up like one of the members of the band. Going to a concert was truly an event. WHAT DRIVES ME TO ATTEND A music concert is the theatrics of it. I expect to experience more than just the artist singing their songs. I once went to a concert where the singer either sat on a stool or stood up to the microphone stand and sang a list of their music hits, with little talking between the songs. It was like listening to their album, which I could have done at home. Though they had an abundance of top ten hits, I never went to see them again because their concert was boring. After attending concerts where I witnessed a laser light drawn eagle take flight above my head and where King Kong appeared with the singer draped over the gorilla’s hand like Fay Wray, I want to be totally entertained. For that reason, I have seen a few of Madonna’s concerts. Putting her singing abilities to the side; she is nothing but one of the best at marketing her brand. Full dance numbers, costume changes and acrobats are just a few reasons her concerts tend to be spectacular. Going to one of her concerts one never knows what to expect, except for a full theatrical production. And for that reason, I was excited to see this musical documentary. MADAME X, PLAYED BY MADONNA (EVITA, A League of Their Own), is a secret agent who travels the world fighting for freedom. Directed by Ricardo Gomes (Union Bay, Urban Sea) and newcomer SKNX, this concert filmed in Portugal was filled with a variety of singers and dancers who joined Madonna on stage. Both the video clips and stage productions were tight and well performed; however, I found the filming of the concert annoying. It was choppy due to the quick shots jumping from front to back and side to side. The music predominately consisted of Madonna’s more current music which was not as appealing to me as her earlier stuff. In her earlier days her political statements were fresh and heartfelt; at this stage they came off a bit to theatrical and seemed as if they were on a long list that she was checking off as the show went on. I never considered her a great singer, more a great performer; but in this concert tour, I never felt the sense of excitement like I experienced in her other ones. Maybe if the editing had been less frenetic and she had included a few of her older songs, I would have enjoyed watching this film. Standing on its own, I know I would have been upset if I had paid for a ticket to go see this show in person.
2 ½ stars