I MAY NOT REMEMBER A PERSON’S name, but I am good with remembering faces; yet, I had a hard time recognizing this man who was talking to me in the music store. He called out my name as he walked up to me. I am not attaching any judgment here, simply describing what I saw coming down the aisle. This man had, if I understand the phrase correctly, long dishwater blonde hair that looked oily. It cascaded in waves down the sides of his head. Perched halfway down his nose was a pair of wire rimmed glasses that had lenses that looked smudged and dirty to me. He was wearing an oversized, beige canvas jacket that had frayed edges and a couple of discolored spots on it. The jeans he was wearing were extremely faded and were so worn at the knees that you could see the white threading crisscrossing in the fabric. His shoes were so dirty it looked to me as if he had been trudging through a long road of mud. As I watched his face get nearer to me, I tried placing where I had seen it before. There was something familiar about it; I had a feeling that I must have known him from a long time ago. WE WERE FACE TO FACE WHEN he asked me how I was doing. I said fine but he must have seen the bewildered look on my face because he told me his name. As soon as I heard it, memories of him flooded into my mind. I did know him because we went to school together. So, you will better understand, let me tell you about him. He wasn’t a jock, did not play sports, but he was always trim. His hair back then was a lighter shade of blonde and was thick and cut short. I don’t remember him ever wearing glasses back then; maybe he only used them when he was studying at home. Many of the students in his class considered him a Brainiac; though, he never flaunted his high intelligence, at least he did not around me. A lot of us thought he would become a scientist or philosopher. I remember him always having a paperback book in his hand. So, you can sort of get the idea how shocked I was to see such a different version of him. As we were conversing, I kept wondering what had happened to him that caused such a drastic change in appearance and mannerisms. I think I found the answer while watching this Academy Awards and film festival winner. WITH HIS NEW GOVERNMENT POSITION ROBERT Wakefield, played by Michael Douglas (Behind the Candelabra, Ant-Man franchise), did not realize the impact his new mission would have on his family. With Benicio Del Toro (The Usual Suspects, 21 Grams) as Javier Rodriguez, Don Cheadle (The Guard, Traitor) as Montel Gordon, Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago, The Mask of Zorro franchise) as Helena Ayala and Miguel Ferrer (RoboCop, Crossing Jordan-TV) as Eduardo Ruiz; this dramatic crime thriller took me a short time to separate and connect all the characters among its three story lines. The large cast was full of top notch acting that ran the gambit of emotions. Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven franchise, Magic Mike), I felt he did a masterful job of keeping the stories moving forward and blending in easily with each other. There were several intense scenes with blood, yet I did not find the violence was in excess. Once I found the rhythm of this picture, I was totally in and lost the concept of time; things kept happening and changing without me losing track once. I especially enjoyed the way the subject was broken down so each story line could focus on a particular aspect of it. Watching this film, I could not help wondering if my assumptions about my old classmate were closer to truth than I first thought.
3 ½ stars
TELLING STRANGERS TO TRY HARDER WAS not something that came easy to me, at first. My biggest fear was someone becoming ill or injured in my fitness classes. Honestly, I had simple goals when I started out teaching at health clubs and fitness centers; I wanted people to be safe, have fun and feel good about themselves. If they lost weight or inches or gained muscle mass, I considered it “icing on the cake” so to speak. The goals I set out were easy to achieve despite the wide diversity of people who came to my classes. There were some members who considered class their social hour, where they preferred to catch up with their friends and neighbors. I had members who were so serious about working out they made it known they did not want any distractions from anyone, including me. I remember trying to find a tactful way to encourage some members from using perfume and cologne as part of their workout attire because other members were gagging over the smell of it combined with sweat. No matter who walked into the class, all I wanted was for them to try their best and from my experiences I knew barking orders was not the way I wanted to conduct my classes. WHAT WAS ONE OF MY BIGGEST assets when motivating class participants was my humor; I truly believe this. When I would get the class in position to tackle a challenging movement, I would change my voice to make comments as if I were someone who disliked working out. Along with humor, I would always show a variety of options members could do to achieve the same results. In a yoga class I had a member who could not do a plank pose. I had her start the pose with both of her knees on the mat, explaining she would still gain the benefit of the pose without the struggle. As the weeks passed, I encouraged her to try the same pose with only one knee on the mat. The look on her face when she did it was priceless. Over the course of several months she went from doing the pose on both knees to achieving the traditional pose with only her forearms and toes on the mat. No matter what fitness level a member was at, I tried to get each member to push themselves to go an extra 10 seconds or do the movement two more times; it is all about providing a space where everyone feels safe, accepted and part of a group/team. Under these circumstances, I can push myself to take on harder tasks; however, from watching this dramatic action thriller, I do not know how the men were motivated to do what they had to do. IN 1969 VIET NAM US FORCES WERE ordered to capture a hill from enemy forces. The hill was called Hamburger Hill which the servicemen knew was not meant to be a good name. With Anthony Barrile (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning; Kiss Me, Guido) as Pvt. Vincent “Alphabet” Languilli, Michael Boatman (The Peacemaker, The Good Wife-TV) as Pvt. Ray Motown, Don Cheadle (The Guard, Traitor) as Pvt. Johnny Washburn, Dylan McDermott (Survivor, Reign Over Me) as Sgt. Adam Frantz and Courtney B. Vance (Ben is Back, Dangerous Minds) as Spc. Abraham “Doc” Johnson; this story that was based on true events was intense, with graphic scenes. As far as war films go, I found this one to be close to authentic. It was hard for me to imagine that type of action taking place; however, what I was watching made sense. The acting from the cast was good but this film was all about the action, despite some of it looking a bit dated. Based on the script, I cannot believe how much the men had to endure. Even after the film was over, I still had a hard time imagining what the motivation was that pushed these men on.
Whenever I see the city of my birth up on the big screen I immediately get a sense of pride. Even if the story shows an ugly side to the city, I enjoy seeing familiar surroundings. Let us face it, every city has positives and negatives; I choose to stay upbeat about my city and its possibilities. I have lived my whole life in the same city and have seen historic events throughout the years. When friends or family come into town you can always count on getting at least a mini tour of some area of the city or a visit to a local restaurant. I think having pride about the place you live in sends out a positive message. Not to come across as being too judgmental but I think if people took more pride in their surroundings and city it would become infectious to others. Having a good feeling can only create a better life, don’t you think? You have nowhere further to look than to your city’s local sports team to see the exuberant pride gushing out of the fans. If you have never been to an event where everyone around you was acting out in unison to a common pride, let me tell you it can be a heady experience. Please keep in mind I am not even talking about the people who over indulge in their celebrations. There was an exhibit that came to one of my city’s museums that was only going to be shown here, nowhere else in the country. You should have seen how all the people attending this exhibit were so excited and full of pride that the city snagged such an exclusive event. I even got so wrapped up in the enthusiasm I wound up buying a couple of T-shirts from the gift shop that was set up at the exit of the exhibit. It really is a good feeling to share your pride in something which is why I could relate to the fans sitting in the audience of this record breaking event. HOMETOWN native Kevin Hart (Central Intelligence, The Wedding Ringer) wanted to have a concert in the city he grew up in, Philadelphia. His love of the city helped break a record. This comedy movie for the most part was filmed at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. The opening and closing scenes were created as a big joke on how Kevin would pay for this comedy concert. It also gave him the opportunity to interact with Halle Berry (X-Men franchise, The Call), Don Cheadle (Iron Man franchise, Hotel Rwanda) and Ed Helms (The Hangover franchise, Vacation). Let me first tell you I am not a fan of Kevin’s films because I feel he does the same character over and over. As for his style of humor, there are a few amusing bits he performs; but generally I am not a fan of using foul or vulgar language to get a laugh. If you enjoy Kevin’s work then you will have a fun time watching this concert. For me this picture was just okay; however, I enjoyed seeing a stadium full of people all sharing in a good time.
Anticipation builds as the roller coaster climbs to the top where the tracks suddenly vanish. As the coaster car creeps over the top, I take a deep breath just before the wind pushes me against my seat. The next 60 seconds are filled with laughter and yelling from everyone as the roller coaster swoops and soars along the tracks. I enjoyed those older roller coasters, before they started doing corkscrews and flips. When I started taking ibuprofen after riding a roller coaster, I realized it was time to stop going on them. Happily I was able to revisit those same type of thrills while watching this rip-roaring film. After a couple of months sitting through some dismal movies, this 3rd installment of the action series was absolute fun. If it is important to you that the story follows the comic books, you will be disappointed. Since I am not a purist, I thought the story was terrific. Sure there were parts that made no sense to me; but the entertainment value was at such a high level, I just went along for the ride. When the mysterious, ruthless villain known as the Mandarin, played brilliantly by Ben Kingsley (Hugo, The Dictator), struck out at Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr. (The Avengers, Due Date), the ensuing battle no longer was about good versus evil; it was about revenge. Robert was at his best this time around. Pay close attention to his quick one-liners that were flying out from the wonderful script. With the actors being pushed physically, I thought Gwyneth Paltrow (Country Strong, Proof) as Pepper Potts and Guy Pearce (Lawless, Prometheus) as Aldrich Killian were outstanding. The same was true about Don Cheadle (Traitor, Reign Over Me) as Colonel James Rhodes, but I wished he had been given more screen time. The action scenes were perfectly balanced throughout the movie. I never felt the fight scenes were rushed; I was able to distinctly make out each character. Just like those old roller coasters; this film was exciting entertainment. So take the ride of your life; it will be worth the price of admission. Stay through the ending credits.
3 1/3 stars
If the occasional bump or rumble disturbs you while flying in an airplane, then the beginning of this film will make you start traveling by train. I love to fly but found myself holding my breath during the intense flight crash scene. Gratefully I never experienced a problem when flying, since the time of my first airplane ride at 12 years old. An airline was offering 30 minute flight tours around the city, so a friend and I traveled to the airport to take a ride. At that time it was one of the most exhilarating things I had ever done. Keep in mind this was at a time when traveling by plane was easy and respectful. These days flying is more like riding an elevator without cables: passengers being herded towards their seats, the doors close, people squeezed together and when the doors open they are in a different location. In one of his best performances Denzel Washington (Safe House, Training Day) was pilot Whip Whitaker who valiantly steered a disabled plane into a crash landing. When he finally awakened and found himself in a hospital bed, Whip soon discovered the federal investigation was zeroing toward his dark secret. Due to the trailer, some people may be expecting an action film and that was not the case. This film was a study guide into a man’s character. Besides Denzel, Don Cheadle’s (Hotel Rwanda, Traitor) acting was impeccable as he portrayed lawyer Hugh Lang. All the humor in the movie was expertly handled by John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, Roseanne-TV) as drug dealer Harling Mays. One issue I had was with the subplot involving the female drug addict; the character seemed out of place in the way she was introduced and used to accentuate Denzel’s character. The director Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away, The Polar Express) kept the viewer interested in the main players by digging deeper into their characters and allowing the tension to build. Thanks to this movie I now have something else to worry about the next time I fly. Brief scenes with blood.
3 1/4 stars
I have not been a fan of Adam Sandler’s (Grown Ups, Bedtime Stories) movies for a few years now; to me, they all seem to be the same formula. In fact, I could not bring myself to see that last one where he played both the brother and sister. So imagine my surprise when I watched this DVD. It was the best performance I have seen out of Adam. His character was Charlie Fineman, a man who never recovered from the loss of his family in the 9/11 attack on New York City. Though there were some of Mr. Sandler’s typical acting elements, he was surprisingly good for this role. It was not until a chance meeting of his old college roommate Alan Johnson, played by Don Cheadle (The Guard, Hotel For Dogs), that both men began to find parts of themselves they had lost over the years. Both actors were excellent in their roles, having just the right amount of emotional vulnerability. I, also, appreciated the touches of humor that were sprinkled throughout this dramatic film. Not only was I pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful story, I was moved by these real life characters. This movie validated my belief that there are no accidents in life; there is a reason for everything and with every person we meet we exchange a gift.
3 1/4 stars — DVD
If there was a crack in a building’s foundation, the more weight added would only widen the crack, I would think. In regards to human character, if there was a fracture in one’s moral character; what would happen to them if they were put under extra pressure? This was a question I pondered as I watched this action film about three New York policemen. Each one was broken in some way; I just did not know if they were already broken by the time they joined the police force or if the force pushed them into their current state of mind. The grittiness and rawness of these officers was perfectly played by Richard Gere (Nights in Rodanthe, Pretty Woman), Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Iron Man 2) and Ethan Hawke (Training Day, Gattaca). In fact, the acting was what made this movie worth watching. The story followed each officer as they did whatever they could to get out from under their personal demons. Richard as Eddie had to get through one final week before retirement; Don as Tango was being consumed by his undercover job and Ethan as Sal was frantic to get his hands on any cash, by any means. Each one’s struggle was leading them to a deeper desperateness. I had a hard time believing some of the scenarios in this crime film. I mean, not all police officers wind up disillusioned, do they? Without a strong script, I also found this film choppy in places and sadly, the excellent acting got wasted in this movie.
2 1/2 stars — DVD