IN MY EXTENDED CIRCLE OF FRIENDS and family, there are two people who when together make everyone laugh. When a group of us get together for a meal or a social evening, it doesn’t take these two individuals long to start feeding off each other’s energy. Their humor spans from satire to bawdy to intellectual to silly; I have only seen one person who is faster at a comeback than these two people, Robin Williams. A word of caution is in order; you never want to have food in your mouth when these two go at it, because there is a good chance you might start choking while you are laughing and guffawing. When I am around them, I enjoy listening to the bantering and dialog because in the middle of the comedy aspect there are kernels of truth in their sly remarks. You may have experience in this regard, where you have a friend or relative who says the one thing that others are afraid to say. And that is what I appreciate about these two individuals; using a cliché here, they are not afraid to address the “elephant in the room.” I will say they are masterful in how they can bring up uncomfortable topics in a way that is palatable for those who would not appreciate facing the topic head on. DURING THE LAUGHTER AND COMMENTS, I may in my mind think of a comment to add to the dialog whizzing around the room. It is all about timing, however; more times than not, I keep the comment to myself because it is too hard to overpower the high-volume level that these two people maintain. What I tend to do is turn off my brain and go along for the ride. It is like a train ride; all I need to do is sit back and enjoy the scenery, in this case the conversations, as it passes by. The thing that impresses me the most is the way the conversations may be repeating items that the group has heard before, but these two individuals are able to present a repeated topic in a new and fresh light with their choice of words. For example, I have heard about this one relative’s long deceased dog for years; yet each time one of these skilled talkers brings up this dog, there is always something added to the story to make it sound like it is the first time I am hearing about this dog. I felt the exact same way about the banter taking place in this action, comedy thriller. THE WORLD’S GREATEST ART THIEF IS forced to work with a top profiler of the FBI to catch the person who wants to take his title away from him. With Dwayne Johnson (Jungle Cruise, Skyscraper) as John Hartley, Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool franchise, Woman in Gold) as Nolan Booth, Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman franchise, Keeping Up with the Joneses) as The Bishop, Ritu Arya (Last Christmas, Doctor-TV) as Inspector Urvashi Das and Chris Diamantopoulos (The Three Stooges, About a Boy-TV) as Sotto Voce; the story for this movie does not provide anything new from what we have seen in other films. However, the chemistry between the three main stars and the dialog the writers gave them, made this an enjoyable film experience for me. I did not have to think much, just sit back and watch some mindless entertainment. Ryan and Dwayne were doing typical roles suited for themselves; so, it was not a stretch for their acting capabilities. The key to watching this picture is to not have any expectations. Also, if you are fond of witty quips and satire for humor, then this would be a movie for you.
2 ½ stars
IT IS ALL IN THE DELIVERY I discovered. There is something about a dynamic speaker delivering a message to a group. I saw proof of it when I was a reader at a wedding ceremony. Not that I want to brag, but there was a person before me who did a reading that had no feeling to it. More importantly, I did not feel any connection to what the person was saying regarding the couple being married. I looked around the church and saw some of the guests were looking down or whispering to each other. This made me more nervous than I already was since I was to be the next reader to go up to the altar to read a passage. Despite having practiced reading my passage for a couple of weeks, when it was my turn and I stood up, my stomach still trembled with nerves as I made my way to the alter. Once in position at the podium, I looked out at all the guests before taking a deep breath and began to read. I made a point to read slowly and look up at the audience from time to time. My biggest fear was put to rest when I did not fumble mispronouncing any of the words. After the ceremony, people stopped to tell me what a wonderful job I had done. In fact, one guest asked if I would be interested in becoming a reader at her church. The spoken word was alive and well and I felt good about my “performance.” SINCE THAT WEDDING, I HAVE PAID closer attention to speakers I encounter. Whether they are in person or televised, I notice the things they do or not do to engage with their audience. At a convention there was a seller in front of his booth who was talking about the products his company had developed. I happened to be familiar with the products; however, if I hadn’t been, I would not have stopped to listen to this presenter. He was monotone in his delivery, just standing still in one spot. It was a shame because the products were quite good. To make matters worse, this booth was next to another one that had a spokesperson who was dynamic and funny. Too bad their product was limited in its abilities; but you would not know based on all the attendees who were congregated around this booth to listen to the presenter. I could only imagine how the dry speaker next door was feeling with no one paying attention to him. Let us face it, having a spirited person as a spokesperson/leader is what can motivate people to want to be part of the experience they are talking about. There is a clear example of this in this Golden Globe winning, intense biographical drama. AS MORE INDIVIDUALS BECAME ATTRACTED TO what Fred Hampton, played by Daniel Kaluuya (Black Panther, Queen & Slim) was telling them; the more concerned was the FBI. They needed to find someone to get close to Fred and his organization; but who would want to do such a thing? With LaKeith Stanfield (Knives Out, Sorry to Bother You) as Bill O’Neal, Jesse Plemons (The Master, Game Night) as Roy Mitchell, Dominique Fishback (The Hate U Give, The Deuce-TV) as Deborah Johnson and Ashton Sanders (Moonlight, The Equalizer 2) as Jimmy Palmer; this film festival winner grabbed my attention from the beginning and never let go. The entire cast of actors were remarkable in acting out their characters; however, Daniel and LaKeith were the big standouts for me. The script was both powerful and scary at the same time, to the point there were parts of this film that came across as a thriller. Taking the story as it was presented in this film, I could not believe what was being done to Fred Hampton. Not only was this an historical period of time being depicted in this picture; it was being told in a powerful and engaging way that I would soon not forget.
3 2/3 stars
HE HAD BEEN PLACED IN REMEDIAL classes through most of his education years. Both teachers and students assumed he was “slow,” though many of the students used a derogatory description to describe him. His grades were poor and yet, he was never given extra help by his teachers or counselors. It did not matter to me because he was my friend. Our initial connection was our mutual love of music. Both of us constantly kept up with current music and took turns buying new songs and albums to share with each other. As for him lacking “book smarts,” he made up for it in practical knowledge. To say he was handy would be an understatement; if something was not working, such as an electronic device or piece of equipment, he usually could figure out and solve the problem. I was envious of his abilities. Besides music his other love was building things. Whether he was helping his family rehab a kitchen or bedroom; for his age, his handiness skills were impressive. Now, if you were to have a conversation with him you would realize there was a communication issue going on with him. He knew what words he wanted to use but could not pronounce them properly. Sometimes he would substitute a wrong word into his conversation because it sounded like the word he was trying to say. Thinking of him now, I must wonder if he might have been dyslexic. DUE TO THAT FRIENDSHIP I REALIZED how many people are quick to judge someone just based of their looks and/or actions. Whenever we went to a restaurant or store, the employees would always look to me to handle the bill or to have a conversation. He would ask a question and the employee would answer it while looking at me as if he was a child or simply did not exist. He was not the only friend I had that people were quick to judge. I had a friend who was over 6 feet tall and had a strong presence about himself. Upon meeting him, people tended to be intimidated his looks; he looked like a “tough guy” with his leather jacket and army boots. What people never took the time with was to get to know him; they would interact with him only for the briefest of moments. He was a super sweet guy who was kind and thoughtful. We would spend hours deep in metaphysical conversations. I realize due to the friendships I have, whenever I get together and go out with friends, I usually look at the people around us to see what kind of reaction they are having to us. Some of these reactions are like the ones I saw in this biographical, dramatic thriller. MOVING TO AMERICA FROM FRANCE TO further her acting career, young actress Jean Seberg, played by Kristen Stewart (Underwater, Personal Shopper), assumed she would expand her fan base. She did not expect that would also include the FBI. With Yvan Attal (Munich, Rush Hour 3) as Romain Gary, Jack O’Connell (Unbroken, Tulip Fever) as Jack Solomon, newcomer Gabriel Sky as Diego Gary and Margaret Qualley (Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, The Leftovers-TV) as Linette Solomon; this picture’s story was inspired by true events. I was not familiar with Jean and her career, so I do not know how much I saw in this movie rang true. I guess it did not matter because I thought the script was basic and static. Kristen was good in the role; but I really could not tell you much about her character or for that fact, anyone else’s. Based on the issues that were going on here in the late 1960s, I felt the writers had a wealth of opportunities to create a powerful, dramatic piece. Sadly, like the actress’ career, this story went nowhere.
1 ¾ stars
IT WAS THE PHOTOGRAPH along with its headline in the newspaper that caught my eye. The old black and white photo was of a man sitting next to a stuffed animal. I recognized the animal as a cartoon character and began reading what turned out to be the man’s obituary. He had provided the voice for this character in all the cartoons, which was one of my favorite cartoon shows when I was younger. After having read that obituary I started making a point of glancing at the obituary columns whenever I read the newspaper. Discovering someone who was unfamiliar to me yet through their occupation or creation had an effect on my life was something I always found fascinating. I enjoyed reading about that person’s life, looking for any clues on what was the catalyst for the individual to steer to a particular profession or come up with their invention/creation. AFTER A SHORT length of time reading different obituaries, I started to notice how those individuals with some type of prestige or prominence got “top billing” in the layout of the death notices. This started me thinking about the finality of death and no matter how much money or notoriety a person acquired, when the time came for their death, they would die the same way as those less fortunate. From my discovery about the obituaries I started to notice a similar bias in news reporting. If a person of some stature was the victim of any type of crime the reports would spend more time to follow the person who killed them and keep the public updated on any and every detail. However if the individual was “average” or disenfranchised, then they barely received a mention in the news. There was something about this that did not sit well with me. In my opinion everyone has the right to die with dignity. Sometimes the newscasts would show the spot where a poor or homeless person was found dead and it was utterly sad to see. But was there an outcry by anyone or plans in place to avoid something like that ever happening again? This is why I loved the determination shown in this action, crime mystery. AFTER A NATIVE AMERICAN, barefooted woman was found dead in the snow Cory Lambert, played by Jeremy Renner (Arrival, The Avengers franchise), made a promise he would do his best to find out what happened to the young woman. With Elizabeth Olsen (Godzilla, Captain America franchise) as Jane Banner, Graham Greene (The Green Mile, Dances with Wolves) as Ben, Kelsey Asbille (Run, The Amazing Spider-Man) as Natalie and Julia Jones (The Twilight Saga franchise, Jonah Hex) as Wilma; the acting in this chilling setting was outstanding. Jeremy and Elizabeth were especially wonderful, each brought life to the well done script. This film festival winner may not have had a fast pace, but the simple settings and landscapes added a layer of despair throughout the picture that added to the mystery. In its own way I felt the story brought to light a subject that may not be familiar to most people. I did appreciate how the writers avoided the typical “Hollywood” ending, yet did not turn the story into a major downer. I could not leave my seat right away because I was thinking about what the world would be like if everyone had respect for each other.
3 ½ stars
There has been a culinary phenomenon taking place in my city for the past couple of years. What I find curious about it is the focus has been on a basic American staple, the hamburger. Back when I used to eat hamburgers they were not something I gave much thought to; they were a reliable backup dish, easily found. But something happened where all these new restaurants started popping up around the city that focused on “gourmet” burgers. The majority of these places kept a limited menu: burgers, fries and milkshakes. Each place touted something unique about their hamburger/menu. One food establishment promoted the way they grilled their burgers; another pushed their hand cut fries. The competition was fierce and when everyone was on the same footing, one of the restaurants would do something to make themselves unique. I guess the latest rage, based on the advertisements I have seen, is combining different food items into a hamburger. Out of the blue there now is something called the mac and cheese burger which is a hamburger stuffed with macaroni and cheese. As I drove by one place I saw they are promoting a breakfast burger. My curiosity got the better of me so I had to look up and see what it was and I have to say, even if I was a hamburger lover, I would never order one. The breakfast burger had strips of bacon on top with a layer of hash browns. Inside the burger was cooked eggs with onions and if that was not enough, there was a sausage patty on the very top of the stack. Honestly it just floors me; I would love to sit in on one of the restaurant chains’ marketing meetings to see who thinks up these concoctions. It sounds to me as if every place is picking bits and pieces of other food chains and combining them in the hopes of creating something new. That theory applies to this crime movie. WHEN one specific bank became the target of several brutal heists FBI agent Montgomery, played by Christopher Meloni (42, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit-TV), felt the criminals wanted something more than just the bank’s money. This action film also starred Bruce Willis (Looper, The Fifth Element) as Hubert, Adrian Grenier (The Devil Wears Prada, Entourage-TV) as Wells and Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, Riddick) as Stockwell. I thought the actors were the right choice for the roles, though I felt the characters were not much of a stretch for any of them. The issue was the script; to me it was a hodgepodge of different ideas that never blended well. At one point I found myself confused with the characters; which was a shame because the action scenes were not that bad, though still quite violent. This movie’s story did not offer anything new or creative. Instead I felt I was watching bits and pieces from other pictures that were twisted into this story in the hopes of presenting the viewer something new. It did not work; this still was simply a bank robbery picture.
1 ¾ stars
These machines were built for one’s enjoyment but if used in a certain way they would become torturous. I am not sure how many of you even know what a slide projector is but I have one in my possession. There was a time where people took pictures with cameras that used film; some of that film was meant to be developed into slides. A slide projector was used to display these types of photographs up onto a projection screen or a really, really white painted wall. I am a huge fan of photography having minored it in college. For me photos provide a visual history about a person. They have a way of letting us revisit a moment in time to re-experience the emotions we had back then. Whenever someone tells me they took pictures while on vacation I am the first to ask if I could see them. One of the reasons, besides seeing people enjoying themselves, is my being able to see places I have never seen or at least to see it through someone else’s eyes. A different perspective can enhance one’s own memories about a place. Now that I talked about the positive aspects, let me tell you about the unpleasantness one can encounter if the photo taker goes astray. You have been sitting for almost an hour while your host is showing you their photos from a recent trip. When you said you wanted to see them you had no idea there would be that many photos, photos of artificially flavored snow cones to their rental cars to clouds to benign forests to their motel room; you get the picture? If not, then try sitting through this action crime film. UNDERCOVER FBI agent Utah, played by Luke Bracey (The November Man, The Best of Me), needed to infiltrate a group of extreme sports athletes to solve an international crime case. The challenge would be to survive the death defying feats. The story for this crime film spanned the entire globe, offering spectacular outdoor scenes. I felt I was going through a collection of saved postcards from a world traveler. The action was intense, with stunts that were dumbfounding. With Edgar Ramirez (Joy, Deliver Us From Evil) as Bodhi and Ray Winstone (Hugo, The Departed) as Pappas being part of the cast, this movie was all about the visual experience; there was nothing else positive about the film. This remake barely resembled the original film; there was weak and cheesy dialog, bare minimum acting and a story that made little sense. Except for enjoying scenes from the different continents I was bored throughout the majority of this picture. It literally felt like I was being held hostage to sit through someone’s vacation pictures for however long was this movie’s running time. If I had a choice I would have preferred to stay home and wait for the characters to send me a postcard.
1 1/2 stars
As part of my daily vitamin regiment I used to take a supplement that caused an unusual reaction in me. I would get these intense, what I would call, hot flashes that would change my skin color to red; I mean a deep bright red. This would happen spontaneously throughout the day. One time my boss walked by and started to panic when they saw me sitting at my desk with my face and ears crimson red. I had to explain I was fine and it would pass as soon as I gulped down copious amounts of water. That supplement was the reason I started to always keep a bottle of water with me whenever I was out and about. One of the few places this caused a problem believe it or not was at this one movie theater near my house. They would confiscate any food or liquids carried inside by the patrons. I understood what they were doing; they wanted people to use the concession stands because let us face it that is where the movie theaters make their money. Because I never knew when I would get a rush of heat across my body, I did not want to have to leave my seat during the movie to go get some water. So I would bring in my own bottle of water and carry it beneath my jacket, underneath my arm. I know I was breaking their rules but the idea of missing out on parts of a film was something I could not handle. In my mind bending the rules led me to a better review. VOLUNTEERING for a special task force led by government agent Matt Graver, played by Josh Brolin (Everest, Men in Black 3); FBI agent Kate Macor, played by Emily Blunt (Looper, The Young Victoria), found herself involved in a drug war where the rules were not always followed. This film festival nominated crime drama had a superior cast that also included Benicio Del Toro (Traffic, The Usual Suspects) as Alejandro and Victor Garber (Titanic, Milk) as Dave Jennings. First I must warn you there were several scenes of intense bloody violence. The taut story kept the viewers in a constant state of suspense; the director did an excellent job keeping the scenes tight while bringing the life out of the actors. I caught myself several times holding my breath in anticipation of what was to come. Though there have been other films about the drug war between the United States and Mexico, I found this one to be a raw realistic story that lingered with me even after the movie was over. If the film studio had to bend a few rules to get this action film made then I firmly believe it was worth it because this picture kept you on the edge of your seat. Intense violent scenes with blood in this film.
3 1/2 stars