ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS ABOUT teaching fitness/yoga classes is filling in for an absent instructor. Though I never refused unless logistically I could not make the class, there always was apprehension on what I would encounter from the participants. Like going to doctors or hair stylists, people find an instructor they like and stick with them. Walking into a class to find out a substitute is filling in for your favorite instructor usually leads to some level of disappointment. I remember filling in for a fellow yoga instructor and as I was introducing myself, three participants rolled up their mats and walked out. Ten minutes later as we were doing our warmup poses, a member asked me why I was not turning the lights off; evidently the assigned instructor teaches in subdued light. When I told the member I needed light to observe how each person was doing the poses; she made a sour face, uttered what sounded like a “harumph” before gathering her things and stormed out of the room. I totally get how individuals have expectations before they walk into the fitness room; but I must ask what options do they think are available? Either the substitute instructor teaches class, or the class would have to be cancelled; under these circumstances, wouldn’t it be better to deal with a different instructor’s style of yoga instead of no yoga at all? WHEN IT COMES TO INSTRUCTORS OR really anyone who is in a visible position, people are funny about those they like. Where I experienced more of the negative aspects when filling in for another instructor, I have heard from those instructors who have subbed for me. They have experienced the same negative reactions to their presence in my classes. I understand disappointment; when I go to a live theater event and the leading star’s character has a stand-in, I am disappointed, but I am not going to deny myself the experience of seeing the production. Just like those stories one hears about a rabid fan doing things to catch a glimpse of their favorite celebrity, people want what they want as they say. I have read about millionaires who pay exorbitant prices to get a singer to perform at one of their parties. Or what about the individuals who do an outrageous act in the hopes of getting their celebrity crush to notice. I had a member who turned into a stalker, who would pop up at the oddest times to talk and ask me out until I had to file a complaint. As I sat down to watch this action crime comedy, I wondered which way would one of the main characters act, upon meeting their celebrity crush. DOWN ON HIS LUCK AND NEEDING the money was enough incentive for Nick Cage, played by Nicolas Cage (Pig, Between Worlds), to accept the offer to show up at a wealthy man’s estate. If nothing else, it would be a new role for him. With Pedro Pascal (Wonder Woman 1984, The Mandalorian-TV) as Javi Gutierrez, Tiffany Haddish (Like a Boss, Bad Trip) as Vivian, Sharon Horgan (Game Night, Dating Amber) as Olivia and Neil Patrick Harris (The Matrix Resurrections, Gone Girl) as Richard Fink; this movie was a lighthearted, fun experience. What made it so was the pairing of Nicolas with Pedro; they were great together as they played off each other. The idea for the story was novel, where I could appreciate the tongue in cheek flavor of the script. The writers were creative in setting things up for Nic to spoof Nicolas’ old films. Honestly, there is not anything that is a surprise here per se; however, it was just fun to see Nicholas doing such an excellent job parodying himself. As the film ended, I wondered if the movie studio would do another film with the two main leads; I think it would be a hoot.
AS THE LIGHTS WENT DOWN MY irritation subsided only to be replaced with brimming excitement. The first note struck on the electric guitar echoed through the stadium and the crowd started to cheer wildly. The stage was flooded in dazzling lights of several colors as the members of the rock band rose up from underneath the stage. I was in my happy place as the band tore into their first song of the night. All the hassle it took to drive to the stadium while fighting traffic every step of the way, parking in the outrageously expensive parking lot, then pushing through the mass of people to get to our seats was all worth it to hear our favorite band. My buddy and I endured all this work to get to a concert, sometimes on a weekly basis; because there was no greater feeling than sitting with 20,000 fans who were all experiencing the same feelings. It was a rush for me. We had been doing it for several years; so, we had our routine down solid on how to navigate each venue. Rarely did we get disappointed by a group or musician. My proof would be all the T-shirts I acquired throughout the years. AS PRICES ESCALATED FOR THE PARKING, ticket fees and the price of admission; my passion for seeing concerts started to wane. Some popular musical artists were charging prices that were easily 50 to 100% higher than other acts; I found it offensive. Just because they had the #1 hit in the country and were wildly popular did not, I felt, give them the right to gouge their adoring fans. My buddy still wanted to see every musical artist and group, no matter the cost. I started becoming more selective. We had a good run of concerts I felt; but the hassle and cost were chipping into the enjoyment factor. The concerts that took place during the weekdays were the toughest for me. Getting home late and trying to get to sleep while in the euphoric afterglow of a concert was getting harder and harder for me to do. I felt bad for my friend; we were both tight into our concert routine for years and now it was changing because of me. I tried being as supportive as I could; however, I just could not keep it up. There were times my friend would go by himself to see a concert; it used to make me feel bad. With the passing of time, we started settling into our new roles. I saw the same thing playing out in this latest installment of the action, comedic crime franchise. AFTER NEARLY BEING KILLED BY A drive-by shooter; Mike Lowrey, played by Will Smith (Men in Black franchise, I Am Legend) and his partner Marcus Burnett, played by Martin Lawrence (Big Momma’s House, National Security), team up with a newly created team from the Miami police department to try and track down the source of the shooter. With Joe Pantoliana (The Matrix, Wedding Daze) as Captain Howard, Alexander Ludwig (Lone Survivor, The Hunger Games) as Dorn and Vanessa Hudgens (Beastly, Spring Breakers) as Kelly; there were no surprises in this movie. If you are a fan of the series, then you will enjoy this latest one; it is pretty much more of the same. Not that this is a criticism; for the script had the same type of quick bantering jokes and humor while Will and Martin delivered their brand of chemistry to the big screen. Granted, part of the humor was now being based on their advanced ages. The action scenes were exciting and some of them were even fun to watch. I believe this is a film one must be in the mood for to watch. If one delays it for a bargain price, there would be nothing wrong in doing that.
2 ½ stars
I DID NOT KNOW THE TWO brothers when they were growing up. All I can assume from what I have been told was they grew up in the same home, in the same environment. If I was not privy to this bit of information I would never guess they were brothers, except they did share some common physical features. Two men who were so opposite of each other, I have no idea what happened to make them so different in many ways. One brother was jovial, the other was mostly serious. One easygoing who didn’t hold a grudge, while the other one was stubborn and hostile. They were not the only example I had of family members being so different from the same household; but I have to say they were an extreme example for me. Over time I have given thought and studies to the general psychological characteristics, feelings and behavioral traits of humankind; in fact, I thought I would have had a career out of it. Looking at these two brothers besides genetics, there must have been something going on in their environment that made them drastically different. Maybe a parent favored one over the other or one was being abused or bullied outside of the home; in either case, their differences caused a major rift between them that still lasts to this day. I AM NOT IMPLYING THAT THERE is something wrong with being different; I find it to be healthy and celebrate it. Imagine if each family’s members acted the same. The first thing that comes to mind is there would be no surprises. With everyone being the same, everyone would know what to expect. I also believe the family would have a narrower view of the world around them. I know a couple who live in such a self-built confined world, that they have become fearful of anything new. Now you could argue if they are happy and content then what is the big deal; however, I do not know if they are happy because I have never seen them display it. What I do know is they have missed out on so many events that I believe would have brought them joy. The bottom line for all of this is unless one lives and observes what takes place every day, one cannot truly know the reasons why people turn out the way they do. You can see for yourself if you choose to watch the two brothers in this film festival winning drama. GETTING ASSIGNED TO THE BIGGEST CASE of his career L.A.P.D. detective Diego Hernandez, played by Raul Castillo (We the Animals), was thrown a loop when the case included information about his dead brother. With Jose Pablo Cantillo (Crank franchise, Elysium) as Detective Martinez, George Lopez (Valentine’s Day, Spare Parts) as Captain Gomez, David Castaneda (Sicario: Day of the Soldado; Standing Up, Falling Down) as Shotgun and Marlene Forte (A Haunted House, Real Women have Curves) as Susana; this movie screamed hope and desperation. I truly get it; the writers and studio wanted to create a franchise around a Latino avenger which would be fine. However, to create a poor script loaded with clichés and predictability was a major roadblock. The acting was nothing to talk about either. This type of story has been done many times before; I do not understand why the writers chose to go down such a conventional path. One guess I have would be the lack of funding for this picture. Every scene looked sparse like it was borrowed or already picked over from previous movies. The fight scenes were staged okay but here too they were kept to a brief, bloody moment. I felt bad for this film; besides poor sales, I cannot see any reason why someone would want to attempt a sequel.
1 ½ stars
TO ALL THAT KNEW HER SHE was a successful businesswoman. She had owned through her life a few businesses; there was never an exact number because she was modest. With a good heart and kindness, she believed these two attributes would always set her apart from other business owners. Her companies were never staffed with many people; honestly, maybe a handful at the most. There was one company that operated over state lines, but for the most part her businesses were kept locally. I agree kindness and a good heart are wonderful attributes to have; however, I feel one also must have a head for business. All businesses involve making tough decisions that might not appear to be kind. The question is if you can remain honest and true then you can accentuate your success. In her case, she was too kind. Some of her employees took advantage of it. Oh, who am I kidding; they stole from her. As time went on, though sales remained steady, there was less money coming in then going out for bills. There was a problem here, especially when most of the company’s transactions were done in cash. You see, her employees would write up fake invoices that were lower in prices; so, they could pocket the extra money they officially charged the customer. A BUSINESS CAN ONLY LAST SO long with losses before it must close its doors. In her case, this pattern of thievery would follow her from business to business. I am sad to say she never learned from her mistakes until it was too late. The method she would use time and time again to try and keep her various companies open would be to tap into her personal savings. This would also include funds that were set aside for retirement purposes. By the time she was close to reaching retirement age she had no funds left. All those years of trying to be successful at her different companies through the years left her penniless in the end. It was a horrible situation and what made matters worse was the fact she did not have the skill to keep accurate records. The result of this was the reason she never won a court case, for those times she even brought an employee to court. Do you want to know what she is doing now? In her advanced years she is cleaning an apartment building to get a discount on her rent, while living on a small government subsidy. The main character in this crime drama chose a different route when he had to close his business. WITH HIS HOUSE IN FORECLOSURE AND his once thriving horticultural business decimated; the opportunity to make some easy cash was the reason Earl Stone, played by Clint Eastwood (Trouble with the Curve, Million Dollar Baby), decided to be a driver for an unknown company. All he had to do was not ask questions. With Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born, Joy) as Colin Bates, Michael Pena (12 Strong, Ant-Man franchise) as DEA Agent, Taissa Farmiga (The Bling Ring, The Nun) as Ginny and Dianne Wiest (The Birdcage, Rabbit Hole) as Mary; I liked this film more than I had expected. The pacing was steady and Clint, who also directed, created a character that one could easily see him being in real life. The story inspired by a true event was interesting, but I found the script was heavy-handed with its messages. It seemed as if the writers wanted to make sure we knew what we were supposed to be feeling for the scenes. Also, a bit more mystery and tension would have livened up this picture. Though predictable at times, I did not mind watching this film; I just hope I am never put into such a predicament in my “golden” years.
2 ½ stars
IF YOU WOULD HAVE TOLD THE younger me that I would grow up and become a fitness instructor, I would have laughed in your face. I was far from being an athlete, let alone a physically active student. Reading, studying, watching TV/movies and eating were my dominant activities. Sure, I hung out with my friends all the time, but it wasn’t to toss or kick a ball. Pizza played an important part in my life back then. So, imagine the surprise some childhood friends and students had when we met at our recent class reunion. Hearing that I teach fitness not only shocked them but made a few laugh out loud, since they knew I had flunked PE twice. And I should mention back then I was much heavier. When I look at the course of my life I can pinpoint the exact moment when my mind opened up to physical fitness; it was a friend of mine who asked to join her at an aerobics class in the city. The class never felt like I was working out. Instead, it felt like I was dancing to the music being played. It was from that moment in time I shifted and became enthusiastic over fitness. THERE HAVE BEEN PEOPLE I HAVE encountered who stunned me when they mentioned what type of work they did for a living. At an art fair I met an artist who spent 20 years of her life being a corporate lawyer. She described the grueling hours she put in and the non-stop traveling she had to endure. After all those years she came to the realization that she was not happy with her job; so, she started pursuing something she had always loved doing, painting. After a time, she took a chance and entered an art show, where she wound up getting a first-place ribbon. From there she went full force by quitting her job and devoting all her time to painting. The story was inspirational to me. I find it fascinating how people wind up in their occupations. From that school reunion I mentioned earlier I discovered one student is a PhD, doing medical research on diseases; another person is a theater reviewer overseas. You certainly cannot judge an individual based on their occupation and vice versa, you can’t judge a person’s job based on their physical appearance. This holds true for the main character in this dramatic, action thriller. AFTER HER HUSBAND AND DAUGHTER WERE gunned down Riley North, played by Jennifer Garner (Miracles from Heaven; Love, Simon), wanted justice. Unfortunately, the justice system would not serve her well. With John Gallagher Jr (10 Cloverfield Lane, Short Term 12) as Detective Stan Carmichael, John Ortiz (Silver Linings Playbook, American Gangster) as Detective Moises Beltran, Juan Pablo (The 33, Shot Caller) as Diego and Annie Ilonzeh (He’s Just Not That into You, Person of Interest-TV) as FBI agent Lisa Inman; Jennifer appeared to be going back to her roots from her television show. I was looking forward to seeing her in this character, but I was surprised by the blood and violence; it was somewhat graphic. Though the fight scenes were okay, the script was weak. Just the idea of this one character taking on a large crime organization was a far stretch. Maybe if the writers had cut back some of the violence and devoted more time to building up her character I might have bought more into the story. But as it stands, this revenge film was not special; there was nothing shown that I had not seen before. I do not know but maybe the writers’ former classmates are wondering how these students became writers.
1 ¾ stars
HAVING SPENT MANY A TIME listening to the fortunate folk who are able to retire soon, I thought I would have gained a wealth of information on how to plan for my own retirement. Pretty much all I gained was confusion. There was one person who lived modestly most of their life; this means they only spent money on things they needed instead of wanted. Traveling was limited to special occasions such as out of state weddings, births or funerals. Vacation days meant puttering around the house. By saving as much money as they could, they were able to retire early. Another individual set up a financial plan where their salary was divided into several categories, one of them being investments. Every 3 months the portion of their money designated for investments was used for that, investing in things that would yield a financial return; such as stocks, bonds and real estate trusts. They amassed a sizable nest egg that will carry them many years through their retirement years. One thing I have started to notice about people who retire without planning some types of activities is they die sooner. I know that sounds harsh but I am aware of a few people who retired and suddenly became predominantly sedentary; this is the only explanation I could come up with, outside of medical issues, on why the quality of their life took a rapid decline. MY FAVORITE LINE I HAVE heard a retired person say is, “Every day is Saturday.” Doesn’t that sound like fun? One of the things I am curious about retirement is if time will no longer be an issue for me. Presently I keep up with a hectic schedule between 2 jobs, watching and reviewing films, house upkeep, socializing and traveling. Many of my chores like grocery shopping and washing clothes are done only on the weekends, where it seems everyone else is on my schedule. I wonder what it would be like to go to a grocery store during the weekday? Having less people there would mean I could get my shopping done quicker. I assume the waiting list at many businesses is shorter during the weekdays; I am curious to experience this option as well. Now there are some people I know who do not think about retirement. They continue past their retirement age; either staying with the same employer or sometimes retiring from one place to begin a new job or career with another company. As I said earlier I have heard of many retirement plan options, but it never occurred to me that drug dealers need to plan also for their retirement until I saw this action, crime thriller. LOOKING TO MAKE ONE LAST big score before retiring drug dealer Youngblood Priest’s, played by Trevor Jackson (Burning Sands, A Beautiful Soul), plan meant he would have to bypass his supplier and go directly to the source. The question was would this plan cause him to be permanently retired—from living? With Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton, Detroit) as Eddie, Michael Kenneth Williams (12 Years a Slave, Assassin’s Creed) as Scatter, Lex Scott Davis (The First Purge, Tales-TV) as Georgia and Esai Morales (King of the Avenue, La Bamba) as Adalberto Gonzalez; this movie portrayed the glamorous side of drug money. With fancy cars, flashy jewelry and mansions; I was waiting to see where the script would take us. As far as I could tell the story had little variance from other drug dealer stories I have seen before. There was nothing that stood out for me. You see one drug dealer’s party in a movie and you pretty much have seen them all; they always show drugs, scantily clothed females, exotic bottles of alcohol and people either laughing or fighting. In this story there were a couple of surprises but they were not enough to get me high on this picture.
The amount of years I have lived so far is not a true measure of how I feel or act. One’s age never meant anything to me except a reference point for when they were born. I have never been one to judge a person’s actions based on their age; it is a meaningless point to me. The only one I judge is myself, as I notice the transitions between my mind and body. On a surface level, I am not going to walk around with my pants hanging low to reveal my underwear clad backside; however, I do not care if someone else wants to do it. Sure I wish I could stay up late at night like I used to do (think how much more I could get done), but my body now requires a certain amount of daily sleep if it wants to function in a lucid, steady way. I will say I have always been a big proponent of periodically letting your inner child out to play. When it comes to actors I understand why they want to maintain their youthfulness as they try to keep alive the facade that made them popular. I hope this does not come across as judgmental but when I see a celebrity trying to portray the illusion they maintained 20-30 years ago I feel sadness for them; even more so when they have simple physical stunts that are being handled by their very obvious stunt doubles. It is somewhat ironic that this very complaint I have had about his recent movies was not the case in this action drama. Arnold Schwarzeneggar (Batman & Robin,The Last Stand) played John “Breacher” Wharton, the head of a top level DEA task force. After bringing down a drug cartel’s safe house, the members of John’s group were systematically being brought down one at a time, as if someone was watching their every move. Based on its opening weekend box office receipts it appears this will be another disappointment for Arnold. Funny, I did not mind Arnold in this role; his character was older and more mature. Yes there was plenty of bloody violence and fighting but Arnold was not the focus. He shared the screen with among others, Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike, True Blood-TV) as Joe “Grinder” Phillips and Sam Worthington (Avatar, Man on a Ledge) as James “Monster” Murray. This crime film fails due to the script. There was so little story about the characters that I was not invested in their well-being. The movie was a series of agents being hunted and violently killed. However, the element of mystery was what kept my interest going in the story. I just hope the poor ticket sales won’t have Arnold thinking he needs to resurrect himself and say to us, “I’ll be back.”
Have you ever noticed how similar one’s work environment can be to their home life? Considering the amount of time spent at work, it is not surprising that some people form a family with their fellow employees. In my work history I have had to work with a variety of characters. There was the one employee who acted like everyone’s uncle, always coming by to check on you and see how your day was going. I used to work with someone who acted like he was our older sibling; telling us what we should and should not do whether it had to do with our work or in our personal lives. Then there are those employees who are like the sisters I never had; where we are able to gain knowledge by our different perspectives on any issues that would come up. Like any family, the work family can be or not be dysfunctional. The main draw for this action comedy was the chemistry between Denzel Washington (Man on Fire, Unstoppable) and Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, Ted) as criminals Robert “Bobby” Trench and Michael “Stig” Stigman. Using each other to help pull off a bank robbery, the two were not so dissimilar to two brothers fighting. When the bank heist did not go as planned, they had to form an uneasy partnership to find out who set them up. For this role I actually felt Mark’s limited acting range worked to his advantage. HIs character was a wise cracking, show-off while Denzel played the older smooth talking, reserved type. The contrasts worked and I enjoyed the banter between the two. However, it became too much after a while and lost some of its edge. I was confused with the story by the twists of who were the good and bad guys. Among those included in the cast were Edward James Olmos (Miami Vice, Stand and Deliver) as drug cartel kingpin Papi Greco, James Marsden (Enchanted, Hairspray) as naval intelligence officer Quince and Bill Paxton (Twister, Apollo 13) as special agent Earl. It seemed as if James and Bill enjoyed playing their characters. There were a few exciting fights and chases, with an adequate amount of explosions in this crime thriller. For a summer movie this one was okay; but it was like spending time with a dysfunctional relative, you just wanted to keep it to a short visit. There were multiple scenes that had blood and violence.
2 1/2 stars
Throughout the animal kingdom there are numerous examples of the mother and father protecting their young. A docile animal turns into a ferocious killer when her or his child is being threatened. Among humans, how many of us have heard amazing stories of a parent’s sudden super human strength to save their child? Though I am not a parent, I can understand that protective instinct. When my niece and nephew were little, whenever we were out in public, I usually walked behind them and their parents. It was something that instinctively occurred in me; looking out for any potential danger that might bring harm to them. Starting out with the similar premise of a parent protecting their child, this action film had everything in place to create a tense story inspired by true events. With his son jailed for possession of drugs, it would take something creative for John Matthews, played by Dwayne Johnson (Tooth Fairy, The Rundown), to get his son out before the hardcore inmates would beat his son to death. Striking an unusual deal with district attorney Joanne Keeghan, played by Susan Sarandon (Arbitrage, Mr. Woodcock), John would go undercover to set up a sting operation for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Let us do a quick review here: we have a parent willing to do anything for their child, dangerous inmates and drug dealers. Sounds like an exciting movie to me; I was completely wrong. It seemed as if all the actors had the life sucked out of them, going through their motions in a deflated state. I gave credit to Dwayne Johnson for taking on a serious role, but his inexperience in a dramatic role led to a poor performance. Besides Susan Sarandon getting a badly written role, I was stunned with Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality, Love in the Time of Cholera) as drug kingpin Juan Carlos “El Topo” Pintera. There was zero depth to his character. The only thing that resembled excitement was the car/truck chase scene and Barry Pepper (Broken City, True Grit) as Agent Cooper. I can only imagine what the parents of the writers and director must feel about their children’s work after seeing this dull film. Brief scenes with blood.
1 3/4 stars
Breathe, breathe, keep breathing was what I had to keep reminding myself to do through this intense, gritty movie. There were times I was on the edge of my seat from the tense scenes and the mockumentary style of filming interspersed throughout, without the head shaking dizziness. Los Angeles policemen Brian Taylor and Mike Zavala, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Source Code, Love and Other Drugs) and Michael Pena (The Lincoln Lawyer, Crash) were more than partners, they were as close to being brothers as any two men could be. They were young, cocky hotshots working the toughest part of the city; who made some spectacular, newsworthy busts. Things were going great with Officer Taylor dating Janet, played by Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air, 50/50) and Officer Zavala expecting a baby with his wife Gabby, played by Natalie Martinez (Death Race, Magic City Memoirs), when they became targeted by a drug cartel. This movie was one of the best examples of the police film genre I have ever seen. The script was tight, with electrifying tension being cut with stress relief comedic lines. Jake and Michael had killer chemistry between each other, giving this film a true sense of the camaraderie between partners. The acting was incredible; both Michael and Jake went through extensive training for this film and it paid off. They were believable; handling all the police hardware in a fluid, realistic way. I never felt as if the story was copping out (sorry for the pun), there were no neat and tidy scenes included just to please the audience. The movie grabbed you by the throat and forced you to watch ever single frame without any apologies. End of story. Graphic violence and bloody scenes.
3 2/3 stars