WHEN ONE IS BORN into a majority that person’s awareness of the issues facing someone who was born into a minority may be skewed. The news this week reported on a former sports coach who made comments to the effect that he has not been aware of any racial oppression for the past several decades. Rather startling wouldn’t you say considering the multitude of events that are being shown by the news agencies. I tried to find some rationale to this person’s comments and the only thing I can come up with is maybe they do not read or watch the news; or another possibility may be the coach lives in a gated community where all the residents are the same. I honestly cannot come up with any valid reason for a person to make those types of comments. TWIN GIRLS WERE BORN to a mixed race married couple. One girl was fair skinned where one would think she was Caucasian. The other twin was extremely dark skinned to the point a person would assume she was black. I remember the 2 girls had a hard time in college of all places. The light skinned twin was treated completely different than her sister; it upset them and their parents tremendously. My awareness regarding this issue really came to the forefront when I was with friends or dates whose skin did not match mine. It was subtle at times; for example at restaurants there were times I noticed people, who were seated after us, getting waited on before us. There were some workers in the service industry who acted differently when interacting with my friend or date. I was appalled by such actions. How and why in the world would someone treat another person differently solely based on their looks? Whether it was skin color, appearance or religious attire; I had a hard time processing this type of prejudice. Since I am just an average person my experiences would not be considered newsworthy; imagine though what it must have been like for someone of royalty. You will find out when you see this film festival winning, dramatic movie based on a true event. NO ONE IN THE ROYAL court could understand why Queen Victoria, played by Judi Dench (Skyfall, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel franchise), took a liking to the lowly Indian servant Abdul Karim, played by Ali Fazal (3 Idiots, Furious 7). In fact they would not tolerate it. The reason this historical biography worked was due to Judi Dench. There is something about her that immediately grabs the viewer and brings them into her character. With Tim Pigott-Smith (Gangs of New York, Alice in Wonderland) as Sir Henry Ponsonby, Eddie Izzard (Absolutely Anything, Hannibal-TV) as Bertie the Prince of Wales and Michael Gambon (Harry Potter franchise, Sleepy Hollow) as Lord Salisbury; the cast was well rounded, but still Judi and Abdul were the main focus. My enjoyment of this film was based on the history of the story; the message about tolerance and acceptance easily could be applied today. There were however some scenes that did not ring as true as the others. I would have preferred more depth into the Queen’s relationship with Abdul, along with more dramatic intensity for the rest of the cast. Maybe my slight disappointment was due to the writers falling into comedic flair at times instead of giving me a meatier, more compelling story. I will say I wish there were more people today who had Queen Victoria’s beliefs.
2 ¾ stars
THE GUESTS I was hosting were curious to see the city’s diverse neighborhoods. I put the afternoon aside to take them on a driving tour. After explaining how the city streets were based on a grid system, making it difficult to get lost as long as one could see a street address, we drove off to our 1st neighborhood. It so happens this was the area where I grew up. Driving around I explained the significance of several buildings, pointed out artifacts of interest and shared some of my personal history along the way. When I explained how I could walk to the main shopping district from my house without using any of the streets, they urged me to show them. I pointed out the several buildings’ gangways and alleys I traversed to make my way to the grocery store. There was no need to explain to them that this was one of my safe routes when I was a kid. AFTER SPENDING THE day showing them several neighborhoods I had some down time, letting my mind drift back to the spots that meant something to me. It is funny how as one grows older things that were important become less so. Memories that were crystal clear and vibrant now look dull as if every recall of them had buffed the layers away. There was the neighborhood’s casual restaurant where my friends and I would sit for a couple of hours to solve what we thought were such urgent matters. All of them seemed so insignificant now through aged eyes. One of the neighborhoods I drove my guests through had a two storied nightclub where I had dreams of being hired as a dancer. If I straighten up now too fast from tying my shoelaces I get lightheaded; how did time go by so fast? Having seen my old public library brought back a flood of emotions for it was one of my safe havens. It was there that I could nestle into one of the alcoves with a stack of books in front of me as cover. How I used to dream about what my life would become only to see it now from much further down the road, as I strolled along my path of scattered memories. SPENDING YEARS PARTYING with the upper echelon of society journalist Jeb Gambardella, played by Toni Servillo (The Girl by the Lake, The Consequences of Love), pretty much knew or knew about everyone. But at this stage of his life did he really want to know them? This Oscar and film festival winning drama also starred Carlo Verdone (Me, Them and Lara; Fun is Beautiful) as Romano, Sabrina Ferilli (Forever Young, 3 Women) as Ramona and Carlo Bucci Rosso (The New Monsters Today, Il Divo) as Lello Cava. Set in Italy, it was beautiful watching this movie. Not just the outdoor scenes but even the indoor ones each offered something for the viewer. As I began this DVD I did not connect immediately to the story; however, there was something about the way the film was shot that drew me in. I found it especially interesting that I perceived all the actors to be friends, which was due to how well they all blended together in the story. There was some confusion on my part whether the story was being told in chronological order or not, but it did not distract me too much. I will say I thought the film ran too long; the script could have used some editing. In a way this was an interesting study of the aging process. Italian was spoken with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD
THE LACK OF hope in one’s life can create situations fueled by desperation. It is one thing to ignore the perceived bleakness; but when one comes face to face with it, life looks like it has turned into a series of extremes. There was a person who used to work in the same department as me whose life was a series of extreme events. She would tell us about some of her hardships, but only after the fact. In other words, for example she would sign up for these different so called easy money earning jobs that promised big earnings. The only thing she would have to do is pay a couple of hundred dollars for the sales kit that would have everything she needed to start making money quickly. If she would have said something to anyone in the department beforehand they could have warned her it was just a scam, but she never did and then wondered why she could not get ahead on her bills. BELIEVING YOU WERE dealt a bad hand in the game of life can feel like a constant burden of negative emotions. Depression, anger and hate would be a few that come to mind. I remember there was a new fashion trend in clothing that everyone in school was running to the stores in search of, not wanting to be left out of it. I was one of those who also went on the hunt for the clothing; however, every store I went to did not have my size. At first I wistfully hoped they were just out of stock but I knew better. None of the stores I visited carried my large size. This may sound trivial but back then school was all about fitting in or becoming an outcast. I am embarrassed to admit this but I even saved up money to see if I could have a tailor or seamstress make the clothes for me in my size. Looking back the adult me would never have cared one way or the other whether I wore a new fashion trend, but as I said desperation has a way of altering one’s priorities. WITHOUT A SENSE of hope or purpose Frankie, played by Harris Dickinson (Home-TV movie, Clique-TV), was looking for something that would satisfy the feelings he had bottled inside. Friends and family would not be able to provide any help. This film festival winning drama also starred relative newcomer Madeline Weinstein playing Simone, Kate Hodge (Rapid Fire, She-Wolf of London-TV) as Donna and Neal Huff (Split, Moonrise Kingdom) as Joe. Set in Brooklyn I found the style of filming created a stark realness to the scenes; in some ways it almost seemed like I was watching a documentary. There were multiple close-up scenes that lingered on characters’ faces so the viewer could get a feeling for the emotions being felt. This style helped the acting but overall I found the pacing exceptionally slow and drawn out. With the lack of any major dramatic scenes I felt everything was contained in a narrow band of emotions which did not help in the entertainment value of this story. I did not feel any connections to the characters, along with not knowing exactly what motivated them. There was a physical darkness to the film that I took was done on purpose to make scenes look more bleak. Unfortunately that despair was being felt by me as I did not see my feelings about this movie improving.
EXCEPT FOR A couple of friends the rest of the people in the train car were strangers. I knew they were going to the same place we were going based on the various paraphernalia and clothing they had on, besides hearing bits and pieces of multiple conversations taking place around me. By the time we arrived at the stadium there were all kinds of festivities taking place. The atmosphere was giddy and light as everyone was in an excited mood, all having come together for this one big event. Everything went smoothly and the sporting event was a huge success. My ears were still ringing from the sold out crowd’s cheering, along with the fireworks display. I remember it took forever for us to leave the stadium; so many people slowly merging closer together to get through what seemed like the narrowest of passageways. The image of threading a needle came to mind as I looked one last time across the field to see how the fans on the other side were making their way out. I READ IN the newspaper the next day that the event was historic. I looked at the accompanying photo to the article and recalled how much fun I had the night before. It never occurred to me that we were participating in an historical event; we were just there to have a good time. It felt pretty cool to have been part of that event; from now on whenever someone talked about it in the future I could say I was there. This made me think about the circumstances so many of us have that put us in a situation where we can become part of history. Think about our ancestors who left their homes due to war. Some people may only know a relative traveled overseas to start a new life, not aware that family member was affected by an historical event. I am sure some of us were more fortunate in learning the details about their loved one’s experiences than others; I will say it takes on a whole new feeling when the stories become personal, like the one told in this historical, animated drama. THOUGH MORE AND more necessities were becoming scarcer Suzu, voiced by Rena Nounen aka Non (Hot Road, Princess Jellyfish), did her best to keep living a normal life. She had no idea she and her family were going to experience an event that was going to become historic. This film festival winning movie also included Megumi Han (The Garden of Words, Hunter x Hunter-TV) voicing Sumi, Yoshimasa Hosoya (The Anthem of the Heart, Attack on Titan-TV) voicing Shusaku, Natsuki Inaba (Frozen) voicing Harumi and Daisuke Ono (Working!!-TV, Attack on Titan-TV) voicing Akira. It took me a short time to get into the story but once in I was enthralled with the beautiful animation and enjoyed the simplicity of the story. The story unfolded like a roll of fabric, revealing daily life in the midst of wartime Hiroshima. If this picture had been done live I do not think it would have worked as well or at all. Presenting that time frame as an animated movie I believe made it easier to tell the story. Let us face it most of us have seen or experienced deadly conflicts; through this movie the viewer was aware of the situation in a subtler way. This well thought out film was a memorable movie watching experience for me. Two versions of this film are being shown; one spoken in Japanese with English subtitles, the other dubbed in English.
3 1/2 stars
BLOOD IS THICKER than water they say but that is not always the case. For those of you not familiar with this saying, it means relationships within a family are the strongest and most important ones. I have seen examples that both prove and disprove this sentiment. Currently the news in my area has been following a story about a father and son. The dad needs a kidney transplant, having suffered with kidney disease for some years. It turns out the son was a perfect match and immediately agreed to donate one of his kidneys to his dad. They both went on an exercise and diet regiment to get themselves into better shape before the surgery. While this is a positive example, I recently read an article in the newspaper about a grandson shooting his grandmother to death and making it look like a burglary. He did it so he could collect the insurance money. THERE ARE FAMILIES who are close-knit, spending most of their free time with each other. They take vacations together, go to special events, pickup groceries for each other and watch each other’s children when the need arises. I know one family where none of the siblings has a non-related friend, as far as I can tell. I am talking no school or neighborhood friends; they are only friends with each other. To me it is somewhat odd; maybe because when I would meet potential dates, one of my red flags would pop up if they never mentioned anything about their friends. If they did not say something I would work the conversation to the topic of friendship to find out if they actually had any people in their life they could call a friend. Now do not get me wrong I have nothing against siblings being best friends. There are 2 sisters I know who are inseparable; they so enjoy each other’s company and do everything together, but nothing like what was in this movie. I was surprised watching what the main character was willing to do for his sibling in this dramatic, crime thriller. CONNIE NIKAS, played by Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Saga franchise, Remember Me), had to stay a step ahead of his pursuers if he wanted any chance of reuniting with his mentally challenged brother. This film festival winner will finally put to rest any lingering memories of Robert playing Edward in the Twilight series. He was outstanding in this movie. Along with Jennifer Jason Leigh (Road to Perdition, The Hateful Eight) as Corey Ellman, Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips, Eye in the Sky) as Dash the park security guard, newcomer Taliah Webster as Crystal and director Benny Safdie (Person to Person, Yeast) as Nick Nikas; the whole cast was excellent in this fast paced film. Robert was the main focus and the script literally put him through his paces. Some of the scenes were less plausible than others, but watching Robert’s desperation was riveting. There were at least several scenes that could have easily been plucked out of the news, but seeing them on a more personal level made them more intense in my opinion. In fact the whole feel of this picture did not come across as a Hollywood production. I have to say the story in this exciting film shines a whole different light on brotherly love. There were several scenes that had blood and violence in them.
3 ½ stars
ANGER IS SOMETHING that you are told you should not get or show. As far as I can tell most people give anger a negative connotation. From years ago I can still remember people telling me either not to get angry or saying it is not nice to be angry. I vaguely remember someone telling me “instead of getting angry, get even.” Back then I did not have enough self awareness to deal with anger or express it properly. What I did learn about anger, it was a valid emotion like any of the others. I would never encourage anyone to hold in their anger because when it is held inside it can build up and come out with more force than the occasion calls for. Also bottled up anger can physically and mentally do nasty things to one’s body. IF HANDLED PROPERLY anger can be used like a high octane fuel to motivate an individual to overcome a challenge. Personally if I had not funneled my anger and put it to constructive use I believe I would have self destructed. Anger helped me lose weight and it also got me to remove toxic people from my life. Trust me it was not an easy process and I do not want to make it sound like it was no big deal; but after being picked on for such a long time, I started to redirect the self-destructive side of anger towards more positive uses. I started taking steps to build myself up, internally and externally. When I think about it I do not know if I would have returned to putting pen to paper if I did not get in touch with my deep seated anger. An interesting thing to note, in situations where I thought someone intentionally wanted to hurt me I would lash out at them. Dealing with anger allowed me to get clarity about a situation and instead of getting angry I could express how my feelings were hurt. I have to say the main character in this dramatic, film festival winning movie does an amazing job of expressing her feelings. TIRED OF BEING made fun of and living with her alcoholic mother Patricia Dombrowski aka Killa P aka Patti Cake$, played by Danielle Macdonald (The East, Every Secret Thing), wanted to get out of New Jersey. With all the feelings she had been putting down to paper, she wanted to use them and become the next rap superstar. With Bridget Everett (Trainwreck, Inside Amy Schumer-TV) as Barb, Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull, Analyze That) as Nana and McCaul Lombardi (American Honey, Age of the Moon) as Danny; the cast was excellent in their roles. It was especially terrific seeing Cathy in her role. The first thing I have to tell you is I am not a fan of rap music; however, the music for this film was so intoxicating I would consider buying the soundtrack. Danielle was unbelievable both with her acting and rapping. The theme to this story was a familiar one that has been done before; however, there was a pure rawness to this one. I will say there were a few scenes that came across as odd but I discovered afterwards the director had done the videos for a couple of music artists, which then explained the fantasy feel in some scenes. There were no major surprises in the script; I had a feeling on how things would play out. As you might imagine I could relate to Patricia and admired her strength.
“THAT IS THE way it has always been done,” is a response that I have had a love/hate relationship with for a majority of my life. On one hand I am of the mindset “if it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.” In other words if things are working fine then do not make any changes. Having lived this way for a long period of time, I am challenged when it comes to making changes. Since I am not a spontaneous type of person, you can imagine how stressful it is for me when my routine is altered. But on the other hand, there have been times in my adult life where I survived a change and found out it made an improvement. One example would be changing from using multiple charge cards for making various purchases to only using one card; I saved time by only having to pay one bill a month instead of several. So I am aware some change is good. AN AREA WHERE change comes slowly is religion. Not that I am an expert by any means but I have seen where some traditions have been updated. I am referring to both the religion I was born into along with other ones I have been exposed to via friends and family. There are some traditions that I admit seem odd to me. Maybe in a different time they made sense but to my sensibilities they appear to have little relevance to the current world. I remember a time where only males led a service; the first time I saw a female do it, I recall how some in the congregation were, shall we say, uncomfortable. Personally I did not think it was a big deal since I always felt everyone had the right to communicate to a higher power the way they saw fit. I do not believe one person has an inside track to their God’s ear. It can be a struggle for some people; it was obvious in this dramatic film festival winning movie. LIVING IN AN ultra-orthodox community in Brooklyn widower Menashe, played by newcomer Menashe Lustig, was being told he could not raise his son Fischel, played by Yoel Falkowitz (The Hudson Tribes), without a mother. Menashe wanted to prove them wrong. With newcomers Ruben Niborski, Meyer Schwartz and Yael Weisshaus, this picture at times seemed more like a documentary than a fictional story. The emotions portrayed by the cast came across as real, with several touching scenes throughout the movie. Some viewers may be totally unfamiliar with what is being portrayed on screen; I do not think it will have an impact on following the story. Speaking of the story, I found this one interesting as it touched on religious beliefs, parenting, family and childrearing. I could see it easily becoming a topic of conversation for viewers afterward. My issue with the script was the lack of dramatic variance. It felt like the scenes remained in a certain pocket of intensity. At one point I was losing interest because it seemed as if the same scenario was repeating itself. Because I enjoy getting exposed to different religious traditions, I still had a curiosity about the unfolding story. Yiddish was spoken with English subtitles.
2 ¾ stars
HOW MANY REGRETS were the result of placing incorrect bets? If one is gambling at a casino, the person knows there is a chance they will lose their money. Based on the route a person chooses to travel to work that day may be the wrong route because they were delayed due to construction work. So let me say there are bets we all make where we know exactly how much we can lose on them. What about placing a bet where one does not know what they could sacrifice if they made the wrong bet? I watched a TV show about a family that decided to travel out of state in the middle of winter to celebrate a relative’s birthday. The areas they would be driving through typically get a lot of snow during winter. They wound up traveling during a snowstorm and became stuck in a desolate area for several days, with little food and water and freezing temperatures. They almost died in their car after it ran out of gasoline. WHEN I WAS younger I used to take more chances. As I have gotten older I have become more cautious. I prefer knowing, like most of us I am sure, what the risks are before taking a chance. Now I am not here to start a debate on whether you believe or not climate change is taking place. What I will say is I do not recall experiencing the type of weather we have now compared to when I was younger. Recently the area I live in was subjected to a series of heavy rainstorms. A relative posted a picture of the cul-de-sac they live on and I was shocked. Picture 4 houses placed in a semi-circle perched above the cul-de-sac with driveways that sloped down into it. The cul-de-sac was filled with water all the way up each driveway to the bottom of their mailboxes. No one could get out unless they had a boat or raft; it was a surreal scene, especially since they never experienced anything like it before. Something is not right as this sequel to the Oscar winning documentary will show you. THIS FILM FESTIVAL winner is an update to the 2006 winner, An Inconvenient Truth. Directed by Bonni Cohen (The Rape of Europa, Audrie & Daisy) and Jon Shenk (Lost Boys of Sudan, The Island President), this documentary follows former Vice President Al Gore as he travels the world discussing the changes he has noticed from a decade ago. It appears as if the directors had easy access to Mr. Gore as they filmed him in a variety of settings, from backstage to town hall meetings to private moments. The movie was not focused entirely on doom and gloom scenarios; it included several positive actions taking place in the world today. My issue with this film was having Al Gore do the majority of speaking. He is not a dynamic speaker in my opinion; as the movie progressed his speech was turning into white noise for me. There is a one dimensional aspect to his talking that I do not find motivating. With that being said, some of the scenes on screen were fascinating to observe; while others seemed a rehash from the time before. The scene in Congress was particularly noteworthy to me because it showed how some people are not willing to listen to a different point of view. And this is what I meant earlier about taking a bet on something where the outcome would not be known until it is too late.
2 ¾ stars