DESPITE BEING ROCK HARD AND OVER done, I pretended the chocolate chip cookies were delicious. They are my favorite type of cookie and my relative knew it; so, how could I say the cookies she baked did not taste good? I had known for some time she was not a very good cook or baker and I was not alone in that sentiment. In the grand scheme of things, her poor cooking skills were no big deal to me because I knew she meant well. While growing up those words “meant well” were said often enough that I always associated them with her. She was such a kind and warm individual; when she asked you, “How are you?” she meant it because she really wanted to hear what you had to say. And it was funny to me how she did not make eye contact after she asked that question; instead, she would cock her slightly to the side and gaze down towards the floor. It looked like she was thinking deeply about every word you were saying. One of the things I remember about her was how quiet she was when she moved about. There were times people would become startled by her appearance next to them because they had not heard her walk up. ONE OF THE THINGS I FOUND amusing about her was her demeanor. Most people never took the time to talk to her except for surface type conversations. I am not sure if most of you will understand this analogy, but on the outside, she closely resembled the character Aunt Clara from the old television show, Bewitched. Like the character, she came across as this bumbling confused individual, who had a slightly off perception of things compared to the people in her life. However, if one spent a little more time with her, they would discover she was intelligent and highly knowledgeable about many things. For example, what I took to be small, decorative ceramic pieces in her china cabinet turned out to be steeped in history. She spent the time to explain each piece, when she saw me standing in front of the cabinet’s glass doors. I found out some of the pieces were more than 100 years old which explained why she never allowed me to play with them. Those little pieces, by the way, were only one of many items she had in her home. Sometimes one would have to clear off a space to be able to sit down; but again, it did not bother anyone because everyone knew she always meant well. I have similar feelings about this biographical adventure drama; everyone meant well in bringing this story to the big screen. DESPERATE TO FIND FUNDS TO SATISFY the bank loan on his orphanage, the owner enters some of his kids into a fishing contest who had never fished before. One caught fish could change the lives of everyone. With Dennis Quaid (A Dog’s Journey, The Intruder) as Wade, Jimmy Gonzales (Happy Death Day franchise, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) as Omar, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson (Tombstone, Nashville-TV) as Tricia Bisbee, Fernanda Urrejola (Imprisoned, Narcos: Mexico-TV) as Becca and Raymond Cruz (Training Day, Clear and Present Danger) as Hector; this movie based on a true story was simply a feel good movie. As I said earlier, I believe everyone associated with this film meant well. The script was predictable and there were almost no levels of depth to any of the characters. Also, there was a bit of manipulation to tug at the heartstrings of viewers. In spite of these negatives, I enjoyed watching this film. The scenery was pretty; there was nothing offensive or assaulting to the senses within the framework of this picture. I felt everyone tried their best; but It just did not make it over the finish line and yet I am glad I saw this movie.
2 ½ stars
CONSIDERING I FIRST SAW HER WHILE sitting inside a shopping cart, it is rather amazing the memory of her is as strong today as it was decades ago. It was the only grocery store I knew as a little boy; she worked behind one of the cash registers and her name was Henrietta. With wire-rimmed eyeglasses and her shiny, light brown hair pulled tightly back into a large bun that was stuffed into a black hairnet; I always perked up when she was the checker for our checkout line. She knew my name which even for my young age, made me feel important and special. Not all the time, but often enough she would give me a lollipop or a small candy bar. Always with a smile on her face, to me she was the kindest and sweetest person I knew. When I got old enough to go to the grocery store myself, I always chose the check out aisle she was working. Though I had outgrown the desire to eat every bit of candy given or bought for me, Henrietta would give me some kind of small trinket or object. One time I received a pencil sharpener that was shaped like a rocket ship; another time I received a bottle of bubbles. She was such a strong fixture at the neighborhood grocery store; I could not think of the store without thinking about her. NEXT TO THE GROCERY STORE WAS a laundromat and next to it was a hot dog place. Once my friends and I were old enough, we would go to the hot dog restaurant for lunch instead of the school cafeteria. The restaurant was a fast-food joint that served hot dogs and hamburgers in these red plastic baskets that were lined with a red and white checkerboard sheet of waxy paper. The cook knew we students had to be back to school on time, so he made sure to get our orders out to us quickly. Sometimes after school, I would stop at the restaurant to get a soft drink before walking a couple of blocks to the local drugstore. The store had the look of an old-fashioned apothecary with its wooded shelves going high up the sides of the walls. Light fixtures hung down by black piping and the ceiling was made of stamped tin. The pharmacists knew me and would let me take family members’ prescriptions home without a signature. Each store in my neighborhood was a familiar and welcome place; many of the store owners knew me. Nearly all the residents in the neighborhood knew each other. The apartment I grew up in never seemed small to me because my home was my entire neighborhood, just as it was for the residents in this musical drama. ONE WAS NEVER ALONE WHEN THEY lived in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood, both in good times and bad. With Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born, Honest Thief) as Usnavi, Melissa Barrera (Vida-TV, Dos Veces Tu) as Vanessa, newcomer Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island) as Benny and Jimmy Smits (Star War franchise, NYPD Blue-TV) as Kevin Rosario; this film based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (Hamilton, Mary Poppins Returns) Broadway musical brimmed over with singing and dancing. The music was infectious, accompanied by electrifying choreographed dancing. I thought the directing was crisp, providing a few opportunities to create powerful scenes. There were a few scenes that did not resonate with me; either they were offshoots to what I thought was the main story line or the scenario presented was predictable to me. If one is not a fan of musicals, I do not feel they will enjoy watching this movie as much as those familiar with Lin-Manuel’s style of song writing. The sense of belonging within a community, done in a vibrant and bold style, was a nice change of pace from the typical pictures that have come out this year. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
3 ¼ stars
I WAS MEETING THEIR BEST FRIEND for the first time after hearing so much about her. They had known each other since high school and by the time they finished college, they decided to move in together. With that much history between them, I knew I was going to be judged since I was the new person entering their inner circle. For my first impressions, I found her sweet with a good sense of humor. Friends for a long time tend to have a shorthand to their conversations and these two were no exception. It was not like inside jokes; instead, I think it was the fact they had so many shared memories. As for myself, I think I gave her a good impression. We both had a love for animals; she had 2 cats, showing me several photos of them. Music was another common denominator; however, her knowledge of music trivia was off the charts. I paled in comparison. In fact, I discovered the two of them frequently went to several local food/drinking establishments to participate in their music trivia nights. The two of them evidently had a reputation in the area for being music geniuses. From our first meeting, I knew I would be seeing her quite often. It was not until we soon went out to dinner where I saw something that made me uncomfortable. WE DECIDED TO GO OUT FOR Chinese food; they wanted to take me to one of their favorite restaurants. Throughout the course of the meal, I realized she had passive aggressive tendencies. She told us a story or to be more precise, she directed her comments to her friend, about one of her cat’s health issues. The doctor had given her a couple of options for treatment; one would cost less but take more time, the other would be more money with a quicker recovery time. She expressed concerns about how her current financial situation would barely cover the cheaper treatment. With her upcoming trip, she was afraid to leave her cat if he was not fully recovered. I sat there and listened to the things she said, I did not have any solutions. However, my friend offered to lend her the money needed for the quicker treatment. It dawned on me she was being manipulative. The more I was around her, the more I saw passive aggressive ways. She could not just come out and ask for a favor; she resorted to manipulating everyone. My opinion of her dropped significantly. As time went on, I tried to enlighten my friend, but they were not quite believing me. It is frustrating to know something is true, but a person is not convinced of it. That frustration is like the one the detective was experiencing in this dramatic, crime thriller. WHAT LOOKED LIKE A STRING OF prominent killings turned out to be a set of clues to a horrific crime taking place. With Erica Wessels (Primeval, The Harvesters) as Jodie Snyman, Hlubi Mboya (Dora’s Peace, Hector and the Search for Happiness) as Ntombizonke Bapai, newcomer Leshego Molokwane as young Ntombi, Deon Lotz (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Beauty) as FJ Nolte and Mothusi Magano (Hotel Rwanda, The Lab-TV) as Captain George Mululeki; the story in this mystery was inspired by true events. The reality that such a thing still is taking place in the world, gave this movie added importance. I thought the acting was good, but the script was average. Though there were intense moments, I felt the story could have gone deeper into the characters. The jumping between time periods took away from the film’s flow; but at least they provided important, relevant information. Despite the flaws in this movie, the story was gripping enough to fully keep my attention.
2 ½ stars
WHEN I SAW THE FIRE BREAK out in the skyscraper, it changed me. Anytime afterwards when I entered a high-rise building, the first thing I looked for were the exits and fire extinguishers. I know this might sound extreme; but the idea of being stuck on one of the upper floors of a tall building with a fire raging below was something I hoped I would never have to experience in my lifetime. I saw how people were racing up the stairs to get away from the fire, aware that the smoke was getting thicker which caused them to cough more. Maybe my avoidance of touching doorknobs and handrails started when I saw one of the citizens burn their hand on a heated metal doorknob. With fire raging through the floors, going up air shafts, smoke billowing out of shattered windows, wires short circuiting and electricity sparking; there was so much going on that I did not know where to look first on the big screen. With the addition of a multitude of film celebrities, this was the best disaster movie I had ever seen to date. Because of Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones along with many others in the film, The Towering Inferno was a film that remained with me for years. AROUND THE SAME TIME WHEN THE Towering Inferno debuted, a slew of disaster films came out for several years. There was The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and Airport among others. I try not to be that person who compares one tragedy to another; but, during this period of time where movie special effects were improving and studios were churning out these films, I can see where this type of film can transport the viewer away from their worries. There is something about seeing a big production story come to life on the big screen, especially when it is filled with thrills and harrowing predicaments. I remember seeing some of these movies at a theater, where I would be pulled into the story to the point where I found myself worrying about the character’s plight. It was around two hours of pure entertainment that had a similar effect on me like a roller coaster ride. There would be periods of time where I was holding my breath out of tense nervousness, like when I saw Shelley Winters swimming underwater in The Poseidon Adventure. Or, seeing one of the celebrities don a fireproof suit to walk through fire. What keeps me and I assume many other viewers watching these types of pictures is the sense of hope we have that things will turn out alright in the end. In a way it gives one strength to deal with their own challenges. These feelings I got from those old disaster films returned when I watched this dramatic action film. DESPITE THE MARITAL DIFFICULTIES THEY WERE experiencing, John and Allison Garrity, played by Gerard Butler (Den of Thieves, The Vanishing) and Morena Ballerina (Deadpool franchise, Ode to Joy), needed to work together to protect themselves and their son when a catastrophic meteor shower was due to hit Earth. With Roger Dale Floyd (Doctor Sleep, Kronos) as Nathan Garrity, Scott Glenn (Backdraft, Sucker Punch) as Dale and Scott Poythress (Synchronicity, I Trained the Devil) as Kenny; this thrilling movie was a throwback to those old disaster films I described earlier. The difference however was the personal storyline the writers followed in the middle of all the action. I enjoyed watching this picture and thought Gerard was right back into his pseudo action hero role. There was some predictability with the script; but, with the well-orchestrated action sequences, I did not mind it. And with the way the director beautifully kept things moving along in the story, I was getting an almost visceral reaction from watching the scenes. Whether one is familiar with the old action films or not, this one is well suited to give one a thrill ride.
2 ¾ stars
THE MEMORY IS JUST AS VIVID now as when it was created decades ago. An amusement park that was in the heart of the city. I was there with a large group of relatives. Everyone was in line to go on a water ride; where a long boat would take you through a tunnel, where at the end there was something like a big freight elevator, that lifted the boat several stories high to the top of a water slide. I was not even in school yet; but I remember I was afraid to get into the boat. At some point a relative lifted me up and placed me in a seat on the edge side of the boat; I cried because I was afraid, I thought I was going to tip the boat over. The boat rocked from side to side which only made me more terrified. By the time we got to the freight elevator contraption, I was nearly uncontrollable. There was a loud clicking sound being made while the boat was rising in the air. Through the metal bars of the scaffolding, I could see the park guests walking around, looking like worker ants to me. When the boat reached the top, it paused. The only sound was of me wailing. Slowly the front of the boat started to tip down and before I realized what was taking place, the boat rushed down the water slide, where it made a huge splash hitting the water. My cries immediately turned to gleeful laughter; I absolutely loved it and wanted to ride the boat again. THE MEMORY OF THAT INITIAL RIDE has stayed with me all these years. I was with family, we spent the whole day at the park, I had an ice cream that had a hard chocolate coating on the outside; it was a beautiful and fun filled day. Imagine if one day I no longer could recall this memory? Would it be floating somewhere in my brain where it would randomly flash itself one day into my consciousness for a moment? I think about this from time to time and have been for many years. Maybe that is one of the reasons why I always want to document with a photograph a noteworthy activity I am participating in so that I will never forget it. When I was little, I thought our brains could only hold a finite amount of memories. I wanted to somehow purge myself of the sad ones. After many years and seeing those I know deal with forgetfulness, I am even more determined to continue to create new, happy memories. I have seen what happens when the brain becomes engulfed with the diseases of dementia or Alzheimer’s. In seeing this romantic drama, I only have admiration for what the main couple had to deal with in their lives. AFTER RECEIVING A TROUBLING DIAGNOSIS, A long term couple embark on a road trip to visit those from their past. With Colin Firth (A Single Man, The King’s Speech) as Sam, Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones, Spotlight) as Tusker, Pippa Haywood (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Scott & Bailey-TV) as Lilly, newcomer Nina Marlin and Ian Drysdale (Tulip Fever, Genius) as Paul, this film festival winner won me over with the acting skills of Colin and Stanley. They were able to take a script filled with simple, daily life occurrences and create a quiet powerful piece. The story was touching and for those viewers who know individuals suffering from memory loss, this picture will affect you deeper; though, those unaware will still feel the emotion rising off the script. If it was not for the powerful acting, several scenes in this movie would have gone slowly. Gratefully, I appreciated all the work the actors and crew put into this beautiful film. I believe I will remember this movie for a long time.
IF I HAD BEEN IN HER situation, I would have been the picture of gloom and doom. Her attitude was something that needed to be bottled and sold at a store for all of us who could not move on from “bad news.” An acquaintance of mine was a successful businesswoman. She had her own business with 8-10 employees. Her company turned a profit every year; nothing exorbitant, just small and steady. After several years, she met a man and started dating him. He was a “big” talker who had all these ideas to get rich quick. One of his ideas on making her company bigger was to buy a competitor and merge the companies. At first, she simply acknowledged his plans, telling him she would have to think about it. But as time went on and he kept providing her all these statistics on how to increase her business, she started to believe him. He promised he would look out for her as he submerged himself into the negotiations. She was falling in love with him and in turn, trusted him. During the process he updated her on the offers, telling her she would need a bigger staff to handle all the business they would be getting after the merger. You know where this story is going, don’t you? I won’t bore you with all the details; instead, I will get to the outcome. The companies merged and remained successful, except her boyfriend embezzled thousands of dollars to the point where the business failed, and she had to file bankruptcy. IF THAT HAD BEEN ME, I would have become a wild man. She did everything she could to get the money back; but with limited resources and he had spent the money, she had to walk away from him and the business she had started years ago. She was sad about the loss of both her company and her boyfriend who turned out to be a swindler. I think it was a few weeks before her sadness began to turn to ambition and she started thinking about what she would like to do next. This is the reason I admired or maybe I should say, appreciated her gumption. If that had been me, I would have wallowed in the depths of sadness and depression for months and months. I know at some point I would have been in the throes of a massive rage that would nearly consume everything around me. Regarding the loss of her company, I do not know what things she had control over. I think I am paranoid enough to have scrutinized every document, invoice, bill and payment before approving anything. My lesson that I still need help learning is, I cannot control the things that are not in my control. The main character in this comedic drama is someone I could admire for not letting life’s challenges permanently weigh him down. NO MATTER WHAT FATE FELL UPON him, each turn of events gave David Copperfield, played Dev Patel (Hotel Mumbai, The Wedding Guest), the ability to find a way to get his life in order and do what he was meant to do. With Hugh Laurie (Tomorrowland, House-TV) as Mr. Dick, Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Snowpiercer) as Betsey Trotwood, Gwendoline Christie (Star Wars franchise, Game of Thrones-TV) as Jane Murdstone, Peter Capaldi (World War Z, Doctor Who-TV) as Mr. Micawber and Aimee Kelly (The Duke, Wolfblood-TV) as Emily; this film festival winning modern take of the Charles Dickens’ classic was warm and charming. I thought Dev and Tilda were outstanding in their roles. The way the story was filmed provided more levity than I had expected; it was such an easy and enjoyable film to watch. If you are a Dickens fan, I feel you will want to see this picture even with its updated flavor on the story. Those not familiar with the story would still enjoy the fancifulness of the production and the positive message.
OUTSIDE OF MY BEDROOM WINDOW, I was able to see buildings from four blocks away. We lived on a high third floor of an apartment building. The reason I say “high” was due to the first-floor entrance and lobby was not considered a separate floor. You would have to walk up a full flight of stairs from the lobby to reach what was considered the first floor of apartments. We were the only apartment building on our side of the block; there were however 2 others that were on the opposite side of our square city block. I had an unobstructed view, starting with a row of residential houses and their backyards. During the warmer months, I considered myself the silent guest who watched birthday parties and barbeques that took place in the neighbors’ backyards. As a little boy, I made a mental note on the different games party guests played at birthday parties. Part of the reason was me trying to figure out what were the popular games and how to play them, then figure out what were the best ways to try and win at them. During the winter months, only when the backyards were empty; I would see how far I could throw snowballs from out back porch. AFTER SEVERAL YEARS OR SO A developer bought up the row of houses from their owners and built a large four storied apartment building. I was crushed as I watched the building being built, even though I was fascinated by the workmen mixing cement and laying brick. My view was going to be obstructed by a big white rectangular building. After construction was done and landscaping put in, the apartments were quickly rented out. With rows of new windows facing our apartment, I quickly got over my sadness for my lost view. Suddenly, I had multiple people living next door to me, living their daily lives. I felt I was getting a glimpse into a person’s life when I saw one apartment dweller exercising in their living room. Another neighbor cooked volumes of food everyday for her family. I could not get over the amount of pots and pans she used in her meal preparations. Before you get to thinking that I was getting obsessed with watching my neighbors, I have to explain there was little chance to avoid them because the apartments were in clear view whenever I was sitting at the dining room table or when I was watching television. Our TV set had a bank of windows behind it; so, while watching TV, I would see movement taking place in my field of vision. Yes, it was a distraction. I am just grateful I never saw the things the main character saw in this dramatic, crime mystery. HAVING NUMBED HERSELF THE PAST SEVERAL months with pills and alcohol; the reclusive homeowner Anna Fox, played by Amy Adams (Hillbilly Elegy, Nocturnal Animals), saw something outside of her window that forced her to take some kind of action. With Fred Hechinger (Eighth Grade, News of the World) as Ethan Russell, Gary Oldman (Mank, Darkest Hour) as Alistar Russell, Julianne Moore (After the Wedding, Still Alice) as Jane Russell and Wyatt Russell (Overlord, 22 Jump Street) as David; this movie was a poor tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Rear Window; if indeed that is what it was trying to do. I thought the acting was admirable, but the script and direction turned this picture into a messy pile of scenes. There were times I thought the film was going to be a psychological drama, only for it to change direction and become a scary thriller. The injection of the same repetitive snowy scene over and over was a complete distraction for me. I am sure the novel this movie was based on is much better. The only thing I can say about this misfire it that I am glad I am not a neighbor of these people. There were scenes with blood and violence.
1 ¾ stars
I LIVE IN A CITY WHERE there has been an increase in the number of shootings. It is hard to listen to the newscasters’ reports on these incidents, especially when it involves innocent bystanders. I hope this does not come out badly; but my thinking lies more along the lines of, if it is two criminals shooting at each other, I am not as concerned as when it is with innocent people. Recently, we have had a rash of drive by shootings that involved children. Several of the altercations had children either sitting in the back seat of a car or playing on the front steps of their home. Maybe I am wrong; but when I hear the stories about a child sitting in the back of the car, I do not believe they are the intended target. A car pulls up to another vehicle and starts firing weapons all over the other, then speeds away; tells me the real target is someone related to the child a/k/a the driver. I find it horrific and sad that young life gets extinguished so easily. Whether it is revenge, or some initiation thing doesn’t matter; the point being, too many people are being killed. It is like they are collateral damage. What I find viler is if the shooters know there are children around and simply do not care. What does that say about our humanity? THE OTHER PART OF THIS DRAMA that I find disgusting, is when these shootings take place in broad daylight. I have seen the news reports where they show a house lined street or a busy intersection that was the scene of the crime. The police are canvassing the area, asking everyone if they happened to see anything regarding the killing. Every report that I unfortunately have come across states there were no witnesses. All I want to say is, “really?” It is as if there is a code of silence through the neighborhood; none of the citizens can offer up any tips or advice. I do not get it; but I can assume there has to be some type of fear that was pressed into anyone who might have witnessed something. For all I know it may be gang related or retaliation for some past transgression. If that is the case and to my earlier point; let the two find an empty spot that is void of life and they can blow each other’s brains out. I have always said children are born innocent; it is adults who teach them to hate and be prejudiced. The four brothers in this action, crime drama had a mother who taught them well. WHEN A CRIME WAS COMMITED AT the neighborhood store, four brothers decide to take matters into their own hands to solve the mystery. With Mark Wahlberg (Patriots Day, Instant Family) as Bobby Mercer, Tyrese Gibson (The Fast and Furious franchise, Black and Blue) as Angel Mercer, Andre 3000 (Semi-Pro, The Shield-TV) as Jeremiah Mercer, Garrett Hedlund (Mudbound, On the Road) as Jack Mercer and Terrence Howard (The Best Man Holiday, Empire-TV) as Lt. Green; this film festival winner was an old fashioned thriller. I enjoyed the whole cast, especially seeing younger versions of actors I have gotten to know on the big screen. The idea of the story was good; however, I felt the script could have used another rewrite. Though it had some good quips in it, the focus was in this case too narrow. There were some scenes that were steamrolled quickly to get to another scene. I also must tell you there was a lot of violence in this picture and I in no way am promoting or condoning this type of action. With that being said, I thought this film was an easy watch and distraction, filled with some excitement.
2 2/3 stars
I TOLD HIM I THOUGHT IT was a wonderful wish, but it would never fly in his crazy family. My friend was telling me about his recently deceased grandfather’s final wish; he wanted his children to stop fighting and remain friends with each other. I knew my friend’s family well for many years and they were certainly an argumentative bunch. They also were a fun group of people to be around. The best way to describe them would be to say they were unfiltered; whatever came to their minds was immediately spoken out loud. I asked my friend how the family reacted to their patriarch’s last wish and he said they were all on their best behavior, for the moment. He really did not think the current peacefulness would last long, since all he remembers from growing up is how the family could be laughing together at one moment and then arguing with each other in the next. I remembered my friend’s grandparents; they were short and quiet. They loved being around their children and grandchildren; however, if an argument started to take place between a couple of their kids, they would ask for silence and want to hear what the two siblings were fighting about. Usually this was enough to get the children to calm down or at least to stop arguing and walk away from one another. LATER ON, WHEN I WAS ALONE, I sat and wondered about the grandfather’s wish. As far as I knew, there was no one in my family who had a final wish request. Though, I guess if someone states how they want their death to be handled, that could be considered a final wish. I know amongst my close friends and family members I joke about not wanting to suffer with sadness over their deaths; so, I would need to go first. However, I then tell them I hope to live a long life, so they need to take care of themselves and be around until my time is close to being done here. The other thing I thought about is what would happen if the person who is listening to someone’s final wish just flat out says they cannot fulfill it. I am so used to seeing people in movies agreeing to someone’s final wish that I just assumed everyone would be agreeable. But what if they have no plans to agree to someone’s final wish, but simply nod in agreement knowing full well once the person is dead, they will not do whatever was asked of them. I honestly do not know what I would do in such a situation. I cannot say the same thing for the main character in this action drama fantasy. TAKING HIS MASTER’S LAST WISH TO heart Qing Ming, played by Mark Chao (Caught in the Web, Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe), makes his way to the city where he will find himself in a game of cat and mouse that will determine the fate of the world. With Allen Deng (Great Escape-TV, Ashes of Love-TV) as Bo Ya, Ziwen Wang (Enter the Forbidden City, Ode to Joy-TV) as the Princess, Jessie Li (Port of Call, Our Time Will Come) as Long Ye and Duo Wang (Bloody Romance-TV, Inference Notes) as Zhong Xing/He Shouyue; this film festival nominee was a weird mix of genres for me. It was part folklore, part X-Men, part video game and part martial arts film. I enjoyed the special effects even if they were a bit cheesy at times. The fight scenes were well choreographed and to tell you the truth, I enjoyed the imagination that went into them. The way the story played out, I do not know if this film was based on a book, comic book or video game. Of course, there was a moral message placed in the story; however, I found this movie to be one of those that will be easily forgotten. Chinese was spoken with English subtitles.
2 ¼ stars
I FELT AS IF I WERE driving through the site where a horrific battle had taken place. The landscape was painted in shades of white, gray and black; it was supposed to have been predominantly filled with greens, blues, yellows and a multitude of combined primary colors. The road I was driving on appeared to be dusty, as if it had not been dusted in months. I barely could make out the road markings; so, I was driving slower because of all the curves in the road. The black figurines thrusting out of the ground reminded me of a scene I saw in a movie, where the charred remains of the dead residents of Pompeii looked like ashen statues. These black structures looked like they were part of an abstract painting, frozen into freakish poses. Some looked like they had multiple arms while others appeared to have been the results of a mad scientist’s freakish experiments. I was convinced I was seeing whisps of smoke slowly twisting away from different parts of the terrain. The air even smelled smokey with traces of sulfur. When I planned my vacation, none of this was part of my itinerary; I was envisioning wild animals roaming the grounds. Instead, everywhere I looked I saw dull, barren land. It turned out I was one of the first to drive through this portion of the state after it had succumbed to a major forest fire. TOWARDS THE END OF MY VACATION, I read the forest fire had burned through thousands and thousands of acres. The reporter mentioned the charred remains would help repopulate the landscape, but that it would take time. Those black figurines I saw on my road trip were the burnt remains of decades old trees. I wondered how the animals who survived the fires would be able to live on the land; there could not be any food for them, nearby. It was sad to see the devastation. I know life is a series of events connected in a circle, from birth to death; however, after seeing what I saw I had a difficult time trying to justify the reason for such destruction. From the news I heard and read, there was no word yet about the loss of human life. What did come out sometime later, was that the fire appeared to have been started by a visitor who was camping. I could not believe it. I wondered if the camper(s) even knew what they had done. The idea that these individuals could have been that careless angered me. If you wish to see some of the destruction that can take place in a forest fire, then feel free to watch this dramatic, action thriller. IT WOULD TAKE EVERY OUNCE OF strength and wits for smoke jumper Hannah, played by Angelina Jolie (By the Sea, Maleficent franchise), to keep the lost boy she found alive in the middle of a forest fire and gunfire. With Finn Little (Angel of Mine, Storm Boy) as Connor, Jon Bernthal (Baby Driver, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Ethan, Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones-TV, The Maze Runner franchise) as Jack and Nicholas Hoult (Tolkien, Warm Bodies) as Patrick; it was fun to see Angelina back in an action figure role. And action is predominately what took place in this movie. With little or no depth to the characters, this was the type of story one only needs to feel; no need for a lot of thought about the story. There were some tense and exciting parts that drove the rest of the scenes that paled in comparison. For the most part there was nothing new in the script; it was simply because of the acting and the thrills that made this an easy picture to watch. However, I do hope those who have been careless when it comes to protecting the land from fires appreciate what smoke jumpers have to do to try and keep a place safe; let alone, see what kind of destruction can take place from a single careless moment.
2 ½ stars