THE man standing up on the stage was of a large stature, making the stage look less immense. Queried by the judges he politely answered their questions. There was a hint of nervousness in his voice. One of the judges asked him to begin his audition. A song began to play with a solid beat and the man began to dance to it. The television camera cut back to the judges who all were sitting in a row, each one with a look of disbelief on their faces. The big man shocked all of them with his dancing that was part cheerleader moves, part dance and part pole dancing; all were being done exactly to the beat. To finish off his performance he did a twirl with a leap into the air, coming down into a full leg split with one leg stretched all the way in front of him and the other in the opposite direction behind him. The audience erupted with applause as well as the judges who were still in a bit of shock. Because of the man’s size the judges as well as the audience assumed dancing would have been the last thing the contestant would have performed. I have come across similar scenarios in my fitness classes. A person would walk in and look like they would rather be at the dentist’s office getting a tooth drilled than being in an exercise class; however, once I started the class the person would get into it in an intense way. Years ago I taught an aerobics class that was made up of a mixture of strength and dance moves. First I have to tell you I took one look at this one man and thought he would hate the class, figuring his wife standing next to him had forced him to come with her. He was over 6 feet tall and stocky. Talk about shock for both of us; I was stunned he stayed for the whole class and he was amazed how tough of a workout it was to keep up. It goes to show you one can never assume something based on a person’s appearance. It is a lesson well learned since I was surprised with what I discovered in this biographical music drama. FROM a young age Afeni Shakur, played by Danai Gurira (The Visitor, Mother of George), taught her son that words were more important than a basketball. Based on true events this film went through the life and death of actor/rapper Tupac Shakur, played by relative newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. Normally I am not a big fan of a story jumping back and forth in time; however, the way the script was written made this a non-issue for me. Starring Hill Harper (Concussion, CSI: New York-TV) as the interviewer, Kat Graham (17 Again, The Vampire Diaries-TV) as Jada Pinkett and Dominic L. Santana (Love for Sale, Dead Heist) as Suge Knight; I thought the acting was excellent. There was not a time I did not think I was watching Tupac. Since I am not too familiar with his work I found this movie enlightening. If one already is familiar with Tupac this film may only be repeating known facts. I will say I wished the script had given more personal background about Afeni and Tupac. Now get this, as people were leaving at the end there was a tap on my shoulder. A man stopped to ask me what I thought about Tupac. I said I had no idea where he came from or who he was, but was now impressed with what he accomplished in his short life.
2 3/4 stars
AWKWARDNESS is the initial feeling but depending on the crowd it can hopefully be replaced with something more on the pleasant side. There have been occasions where I have accompanied a date/friend to one of their family or business functions. Personally the business ones are easier for me because there is nothing expected of me; if my date is involved with others no one usually comes over to fill “the void.” At family functions there is always a relative who can’t wait to get me alone to either pump me for information or try to turn me into their personal confidant. Of course more of this takes place when I am the date instead of the friend. There are some relatives who want to know my intentions; others have no problem grilling me like FBI interrogators asking how we met, what I do for a living, where is my family from and so on. I have to just sit there with a smile on my face, choosing how to deflect some of their questions. When the environment is like this it really becomes tedious for me. However I would never do anything to embarrass the person who brought me. NOT wanting to sound like Mr. Gloom & Doom, there have been other times where I had a wonderful time. Some of the business functions I have attended have been close to obscene due to the amount of money that must have been spent on the affair. One dinner was held in a ballroom where the doorways were manned by immense ice sculptures in the shape of swans. Inside the room dining tables were set up with gold and silver tablecloths. On each table tall vases sat, filled with those fake ice cubes that light up in colors. Sprouting out the top were sprays of floral plants. The food was outrageous and plentiful; I would need more of your time to describe it all. And the ultimate feature was having a popular band performing for us. So you see these types of events can be a hit or miss; this is why I gave the main character in this dramatic comedy credit for agreeing to the travel arrangements. WHEN her producer husband Michael, played by Alec Baldwin (Blue Jasmine, 30 Rock-TV), had to cut their trip short due to his work; Anne, played by Diane Lane (Unfaithful, Night in Rodanthe), agreed to travel by car to Paris with his business associate Jacques, played by Arnaud Viard (Higher Still, Carole Matthieu). It would be a road trip with unexpected turns. This romantic film written and directed by Eleanor Coppola (Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Coda: Thirty Years Later) had two big things going for it: beautiful scenery and great looking food. Initially I felt I was connecting with the character, having been “stuck” with someone I did not know. But as the story unrolled I felt like I was a 3rd wheel in their carpool. The script and directing did nothing to enhance the characters. I appreciate Diane’s acting ability but felt she was wasted here; there was no character development. The only one I found interesting was Alec’s character, but he was used sparingly. At one point I felt I was on one of those touring tourist buses where the driver is rambling off tidbits and statistics about every single place to the point of almost numbing their passengers. If I knew this was what was going to happen on this trip I would have booked a flight instead.
ARSENIC was what killed the husband. It did not happen overnight; according to the news reports his wife mixed a small amount of the chemical into his food every day. In my naivety I wondered why she just did not divorce him, but a friend quickly informed me it probably involved money. Since money has never played a major factor in deciding my relationship decisions, when I have been with someone where we have shared expenses, all I can think of if the relationship sours is to get out with the least amount of drama. Most possessions are just stuff we have accumulated; how much does a person really need? Recently I met someone who was actively seeking a relationship by using a dating service. On the occupation section of the application they told me they only would list the field they work in without giving the job title. When I asked why they told me there were several potential dates that made contact even though there were no similar interests in the profiles. I listened as they explained when they listed their occupation there were more responses; but they soon discovered after a couple of meetings, the dates were interested more in salary levels then learning about their personal history. WHEN you first meet a couple that has a large age gap between them, what is the first thing you think about them? If you are like the others I have asked, your first thoughts could be leaning towards the idea of a gold-digger, a cougar or a scam artist. We had a family friend who was a widower for many years. Later in life he met a woman who was a widow. After a sweet courtship they married and settled into a calm domestic life. A few years went by before our friend died. Now there was no proof, no autopsy (at that age most doctors just say it is due to old age) and little time before his new widow moved away. It turns out our family friend was her 6th husband; all her previous ones had died a similar way. CONVINCED his guardian’s death was suspicious Philip, played by Sam Claflin (Me Before You, The Hunger Games franchise), believed his guardian’s widow Rachael Ashley, played by Rachel Weisz (Denial, The Light Between Oceans), was behind it. Based on Daphne Du Maurier’s (Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek) novel, this dramatic romantic mystery simmered and sizzled with the chemistry created between Rachel and Sam. The two of them did a wonderful job of acting that outshone the supporting cast which included Holliday Grainger (Jane Eyre, The Finest Hours) as Louis Kendall and Iain Glen (Resident Evil franchise, Game of Thrones-TV) as Nick Kendall. Visually this picture had some interesting contrasts. Interior shots had darkness to them either with atmosphere or costumes. Where outdoor scenes had a vivid or striking look to them, I particularly was fascinated with Rachel’s clothing against her white horse. On the down side the script was the weak link in this film. I felt it had too many dull parts between the good sections. This added to the slowness I felt during parts of the story. If the acting had not been so good, this film would have died a slow death.
2 ½ stars
EVERY day starts with him coming outside to begin his squirrel watch. He stands still in the middle of the backyard with his head tilted upwards, scanning the tree branches for any movement. If something even twitches for a brief moment, a plethora of barking takes place as my neighbor’s dog begins racing around the tree trunk, daring the animal to take a step down towards him. Having recently celebrated his 2nd birthday this dog is actually a big hunk of crazy love. Anytime I come out of my garage and he is in the yard, he squats down on the ground like an ancient sphinx, waiting in anticipation for me to call out his name. You see he will not run up to my fence until I call him. Now here is his secret; he is being trained to be a search and rescue dog. His owner, my neighbor, told me about one of the exercises he performs with the dog. At the facility’s swimming pool, my neighbor pretends he is drowning. The dog is released and jumps into the pool, swims over to the man, grabs a hold of any piece of clothing or a limb in his mouth and begins pushing or pulling the man to the edge of the pool. SOME of the other stories my neighbor has told me have been extraordinary. There is such a bond between this man and his dog that is quite noticeable. When both are in the backyard, the man will do exercises with the dog; some are with verbal cues while others are done only with different hand gestures. It amazes me that within the span of 2 years, if even that, this dog has achieved so much with his owner. As I said before just looking at him running around and barking his head off in the backyard, you would think the dog is a hyper bundle of energy. I would love to see him on one of the search and rescue missions, just to see how he focuses on the task. Until then I will be satisfied watching the dog in this film based on a true story. WITH nowhere to go in her hometown Megan Leavey, played by Kate Mara (The Martian, 127 Hours), enlisted in the army. Assigned to cleanup duty at the dog pound that housed one of the most aggressive dogs, Megan would have to confront her fears. This biographical war drama also starred Tom Felton (Harry Potter franchise, A United Kingdom) as Andrew Dean, Common (Selma, Now You See Me) as Gunny Martin, Geraldine James (Sherlock Holmes franchise, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as Dr. Turbeville and Bradley Whitford (The Cabin in the Woods, Scent of a Woman) as Bob. The script was kept simple; there was not much surprising about the story. However, the script with the directing created an engaging story filled with bits of drama, tension, tears and joy. The actual story is incredible; though I felt things were kept more subdued overall in this movie. I think it would be hard for someone not to enjoy watching this picture. For me I honestly never gave much thought to the role dogs play in the military; my only encounter on this type of level would be in the security lines at the airport or city events. When a friend asked me if they might cry watching this film, I asked them if they planned on bringing any facial tissues.
THE wait was not too long before the waitress brought us our orders. Similar sized plates were placed in front of us; mine had the food beautifully laid out with a row of shiny green vegetables stacked at one end and the main entrée sectioned apart to form a pinwheel effect. I am a visual eater which means if something does not look good to me I am not going to touch it. Keeping that in mind this is what I saw when I looked at my friend’s dinner plate. There was a mound of food in the middle that looked like it had partially melted. Globs of a white protein substance dotted the surface like oozing pustules. There were thin stringy noodles hanging down around the mound that reminded me of greasy hair. My friend took his fork and stabbed one of the white globs; I expected it to burst open like a pimple. I could not look at him putting it into his mouth. Instead I focused on my dinner, but was immediately told by him that I had to taste his dish. Explaining I did not like the look of it, he insisted and placed a spoonful of his food on my plate. Because I did not want it to contaminate my food and could not push it off, with his continued insistence I just tried it to shut him up; I closed my eyes and put it in my mouth. The flavor and taste was nothing I imagined; it actually tasted good. SURELY I cannot be the only one who looks at something and makes a decision based solely on its looks. If someone thinks sauerkraut looks disgusting, who is it hurting? But when this type of thought process is used to judge an individual, it takes on a whole different set of circumstances. Need I point out how many news reports have been showing violence against someone based solely on their looks? I may have an issue with how my food appears but it doesn’t affect anyone else. Seeing the amount of violence and hatred people have for other people is sickening to me. Having survived the taunts and abuse from individuals who did not like the way I looked has made me extra sensitive to being a witness to such things. This is why I had a challenging time watching this sports drama based on a true story. SMUGGLED out of his home in Iran Ali, played by George Kosturos (Caged No More, Christmas with the Karountzoses), found himself in a small California town just as the Iranian hostage crisis took center stage in the 1980s. How much safer would he be here? This film festival winning movie also starred Jon Voight (Heat, Deliverance) as Principal Skinner and William Fichtner (Black Hawk Down, Contact) as Coach Plyler. I found the story pretty incredible and started to believe George was the real Ali. As for the script I was disappointed at its predictability. It was written in a paint by number fashion where one could easily figure out what would happen next. As I mentioned earlier I had a hard time watching some of the action taking place around Ali; however, it kept me connected to the story since I could relate to it. Despite the predictability the message one could take away from this story is an important one. So much is done these days based on looks without taking the time to look inside.
2 ½ stars
DECISIONS usually come with consequences, some good others not so good. Personally I am more comfortable with a person who can make decisions as opposed to those who never have an opinion or prefer deferring decisions to someone else. This concept of there being consequences for one’s decisions seems to be losing favor with the newer generations. I say this because I have seen multiple examples where a parent reprimands their child, explaining what the consequences will be if they act out in a certain way and the child still acts in an inappropriate way. The parent then does not make good on their ultimatum, so the child has just learned they can continue with their behavior. I am sure I have mentioned this example before; but I had a friend who early on always gave her young daughter the option to choose her own decision, explaining what the consequences would be for each action. When the daughter was fussing over being toilet trained, the mother told her she could learn how to use the potty or keep wearing the dirty diaper; but if she kept the dirty diaper on no one would want to play with her. The little girl immediately learned how to use the toilet. NOW there are some decisions that can have a profound effect on one’s life. I think the top stressful situations are death, dissolving relationships, moving and job changes. To me the list should also include those who are given the responsibility to decide the fate of a dying loved one. If you ever had to make a decision that involved a group of people it can be stressful. I am not necessarily talking about restaurant choices, more life changing decisions. Here is the thing though, I learn from mistakes. When someone complains to me they made a mistake I ask them to look at it as an opportunity, they may learn something new. If the story in this biographical drama is indeed true, it was a surprise to see how past actions had such a profound effect on the main character. DAYS away from the allied forces launching a massive assault against the German army Prime Minister Winston Churchill, played by Brian Cox (Troy, Rob Roy), has deep reservations about the laid out plan. With Miranda Richardson (The Hours, Empire of the Sun) as Clementine Churchill, John Slattery (Spotlight, Mad Men-TV) as Dwight Eisenhower, Ella Purnell (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Never Let Me Go) as Helen and Julian Wadham (The English Patient, War Horse) as Bernard Montgomery; this thriller based on true events made it due to the acting of Brian and Miranda. They were outstanding in their roles to where I wished the writers had given them more scenes together. The rest of the cast was okay, though I thought John’s portrayal of General Eisenhower was odd; it was nothing I imagined Eisenhower would be like in the situation. Part of the issue falls on the script; some of the dialog felt out of place, almost ringing false for me. Because I was fascinated with the story, after the movie I reached out to a history teacher to see how much truth was involved in what was depicted in the film. I will not tell you because I prefer as always the viewer experiencing a film with the least amount of information. Due to the decisions the director and writers chose, they created a movie that did not live up to the actual events.
2 ¼ stars
“BECAUSE I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me; The carriage held but just ourselves And immortality.” What I just wrote came from a poem by Emily Dickinson. I know of her but very little of her poetry. Like many artists Emily’s work was not fully known or appreciated until after her death. Some say she was one of the greatest American poets. One of the best pieces of advice I received was, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” In other words, focus on the things that stimulate, excite and connect with you; everything else will fall into place afterwards. I do not think artists craft their trade with the idea they will become wealthy from their works. They do it because they simply love it. Yet even with that much love there are artists who suffer with their personal demons. There was a famous pianist who could draw the emotions out of any musical piece he played. Sadly he started to believe his fingers were made of glass and became afraid they would break if he continued to play the piano. DESPITE any type of turmoil I cannot imagine what the stress level must be if one is trying to earn a living from their craft. Just from the little I do with these film reviews and my teaching fitness and yoga, if I did not have my full time job there would be no way I could survive. Presently this site generates no income and my pay for classes is at an hourly rate. When I started these two activities each fulfilled an emptiness I had inside of me. Seeing people feel good about themselves after class was a revelation for me since I spent most of my life unhappy with my physical self. Writing my reviews nourishes the creative side of my brain that had been lying dormant for many years. As I watched this biographical drama I was surprised to see Emily experienced similar issues. STARRING Cynthia Nixon (James White, Sex and the City franchise) as Emily Dickinson, Jennifer Ehle (Pride and Prejudice, Zero Dark Thirty) as Vinnie Dickinson, Duncan Duff (Wild Target, Burke and Hare) as Austin Dickinson and Keith Carradine (Nashville, Our Very Own) as Edward Dickenson; this film festival winning movie follows the life and death of Emily. The excellent acting, especially from Cynthia and Jennifer, was brilliantly on display in several scenes. As I said I am not that familiar with Emily’s life, so I was fascinated with her determination and fears. It was such an interesting contrast between the beauty of her poetry and the darkness inside of her. Interestingly there were many scenes that looked dark, staying authentic with the available light source only coming from lit candles. Due to some scenes shining while others were dim, the movie had an uneven feeling to it. I felt the cause of it was from the direction; the pacing was slow in many parts. There were times I became bored because after seeing a wonderfully acted scene a dull one would take place. I think those who are familiar with Emily and her work will enjoy this film more than I did. If for nothing else this picture worked because I left wanting to read Emily’s poetry.
2 ½ stars
THEY appeared to know each other but were not friends. Dressed similarly in tank tops and baggy sweatpants; they kept an eye on each other, thinking they were being discreet. I knew better because I would notice the things they did while working out on the fitness floor. Before or after my class I would hang out on the fitness floor to do some strength training exercises. Seeing these two young guys in the same area for several weeks, I started to notice they were not workout buddies; they were competing with each other, attempting to exert their dominance by being the best. What I mean is they would try to out lift each other using free weights. If one guy was doing chest presses, the other would start to do them but with slightly more weight on the barbell. Once the first guy caught sight of his “opponent” lifting more weight, he would stop and add more weight. This pattern would go on until they went from doing 15 reps down to 1; it was comical to watch. THERE is something about some men’s testosterone that pushes them over the edge. Those two guys on the fitness floor are still at it, trying to top each other. Since I am at that between age, between birth and death, I can sit back and just observe some of these antics and shake my head. And trust me it is not just the younger generation; I still get from time to time some older member coming up to me in the locker room and making some lewd comment about me teaching “a classroom full of ladies.” Without being rude, since I am an employee of the fitness center, I find a way to give them a quick response that masks my displeasure and get away from them as quick as possible. I felt the same way about watching this action dramatic comedy. FORCED to do community service former Olympic swimming champion Matt Brody, played by Zac Efron (Dirty Grandpa, Neighbors franchise), thought being a lifeguard would be a no-brainer of a job. That all changed when a dead body washed up on shore. This film loosely based on the television show starred Dwayne Johnson (The Fast & Furious franchise, Pain & Gain) as Mitch Buchannon, Priyanka Chopra (Don franchise, Quantico-TV) as Victoria Leeds, Alexandra Daddario (The Choice, San Andreas) as Summer Quinn and Jon Bass (Loving, All Nighter) as Ronnie Greenbaum. I vaguely remember the TV series but I am sure it was nothing like what I saw in this movie. For me the best part of this film was Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron and the outtakes at the beginning of the credits. One cannot help but enjoy Dwayne’s effort and Zac’s comedic timing. Outside of that the story was overloaded and bulky; sort of like Dwayne’s muscles and Zac’s attitude. The script was awful as it was filled with foul language and sexual references. I did not find it funny simply because more than one or two swear words or sexual innuendos is cheap humor in my opinion. Now there were a few fun sarcastic lines in the script, but there was not enough to entertain me for the duration of the picture. Based on the crowd in the theater, the main purpose for seeing this film as far as I could tell was for the eye candy. No matter how many lifeguards were in this movie, it could not be saved.
1 ½ stars
“YOU should write a book about it,” is a comment that has been directed to me numerous times. The reason has less to do with my writing ability and more with the incredible to outrageous stories I have been involved in or told. I will avoid using pronouns to protect the individuals. There was one person I was involved with whose family history played out like an evening soap opera, television show. One family member was going to be elected to a high political position until their views deviated from the people in power. The person I knew was sent out of the country to avoid any fallout, but to also get a better education. Spending many years traveling the world instead of coming back home, they told me about some of their experiences in foreign lands that I have not even seen done in a movie. One of these stories involved a stalker and a secret intelligence agency; that is all I can say about this individual. RECENTLY I was involved with someone who had a story to tell me every time we got together. One of the stories was accompanied with photographs; however, they could only show me a select few because they were brought in to oversee a secret government operation. The first photo they showed me was of them standing in front of a posted sign out in the jungle. I immediately knew why they had to be secretive about their whereabouts. Another photo showed how they were transported to this secret location; essentially it was a cargo bay with portable toilets and folding chairs nailed to the floor. It was so not part of my little corner of the world that I did not even know how to respond to any of it. I could go on with so many other encounters I have had that I could actually fill up a whole book. However if I do that then I cannot tell you whether it was worth seeing this biographical drama about a man who was the real boxer behind the famous film character Rocky Balboa. KNOWN as the “Bleeder of Bayonne” boxer Chuck Wepner, played by Liev Schreiber (Spotlight, Ray Donovan-TV), was a hometown hero even before there was a movie called Rocky. With Elizabeth Moss (The One I Love, Mad Men-TV) as Phyliss, Naomi Watts (St. Vincent, Diana) as Linda, Jim Gaffigan (17 Again, It’s Kind of a Funny Story) as John and Ron Perlman (Poker Night, Hellboy franchise) as Al Braverman; I had never heard about this boxer. Everyone in the cast did a wonderful job of acting. Liev however stood out for me because he was so good in his role, but be prepared there was a lot of blood shown. Not being a big fan of boxing, I was glad that the actual act was secondary to the story. As for the story it was engaging with surprise. The sets, costumes and dialog captured the era; it was interesting to watch the arc of Chuck’s story line. If I had to choose one particular thing that increased my interest in this film it would have to be the connection to Sylvester Stallone and the Rocky movie. I think it helped that this was included into the script because it produced deeper emotional intensity to the story. There are so many people in the world that need to have their story told; I was satisfied that this one came to the big screen.
EVERYDAY was a battle between me and dessert. I say dessert even though it was not only the course one waits to eat after their main meal. It would be multiple times throughout the day and I should tell you dessert encompassed a wide variety of items. Where other people have a sweet tooth, I have a set of sweet molars. My first choice to snack on used to be cookies or cakes, but if none were available I would seek out sweetened cereal or candy. If I could not get my hands on anything sweet I would switch and go to the salty side; looking for potato chips, pretzels or even sliced white bread. I had no shame; everything was free game. I tried a variety of diets when I was younger, even to the point where a doctor prescribed what he called an appetite suppressant; years later I found out it was a form of “speed.” As my issues with weight took a toll on me mentally I eventually got a handle on the reasons why I was seeking out food for comfort. TODAY the way I work with my weight is to be aware of what I am eating during the week. On weekends I let go of my control but never too far out to become a food festival. I realized I was no longer dieting; I had changed my way of life and no longer made food my focus. For those of you who do not have concerns with weight, you have no idea how much of a impact one’s issues with food can weigh on them. It can come to the point where you feel like you are not living your life anymore; every day you wake up knowing you are going to have a struggle throughout the day. It really is not a way to live. This dramatic film will give you an idea of what I am talking about by showing you something similar, where an individual has to deal with the same thing over and over. MADDY Whittier, played by Amanda Sternberg (The Hunger Games, Colombiana), had a rare disease that made her allergic to practically everything. Never leaving her house was the norm until the new neighbors moved in next door. This romance movie, based on the best selling young adult book, also starred Nick Robinson (Jurassic World, The 5th Wave) as Olly Bright, Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls, The Good Wife-TV) as Pauline and Ana de la Reguera (Nacho Libre, Cowboys & Aliens) as Carla. I thought Amandia and Nick were a good choice for the roles; they appeared vulnerably real. The script was just okay and as the story unfolded I realized there was a lack of energy. This may have been caused by the combination of the script and direction. I have sat through other movies based on YA novels and there was more intensity or “oomph” to the characters. The energy which was never high did a continual slow descent to a place I found bizarre by the end of the film. Not only did I not care for the ending, there were several scenes that did not seem believable to me. I am afraid the title to this movie is misleading; it did not have all the elements one needs to make an engrossing movie watching experience. Maybe young adults (the majority of the audience at my viewing) would have something different to say about this picture.