I SHOULD HAVE READ THE FINE print before agreeing to participate. We were on vacation, staying at a hotel. When we checked in, we were handed an invitation to a presentation that was going to be held in one of the hotel’s conference rooms. The topic was about a new property the hotel was going to open. Refreshments would be served, and each guest would receive a gift bag worth $300.00. We agreed to participate, hoping the gift bag would at least contain food and drink coupons. On the day of the presentation, we walked into the conference room where a hotel employee greeted us with the gift bag. Finding seats, I went through the bag. There was an assortment of travel sized items like toothpaste, bagged peanuts and body lotion. Along with the stuff there was a gold cardboard envelope. I opened it and found a coupon towards a one night’s stay at their new property being built in the Bahamas; that was where the $300.00 value came in. Though I understood the whole marketing aspect of it, I was still annoyed that I agreed to sit through a 2 hour presentation; where at the end of it, the employee tried to sell us a time share unit at their new property. The way I saw this was I received a few travel sized things and a coupon, which I found out did not include air fare and was not enough for a one night stay, for using up 2 hours of my time. I REALIZE I HAVE A CHOICE; I do not have to agree to these types of sale pitches. For me it is about my time and effort, and what I am getting in return. Here is an example; remember those old TV dinners in the metal trays with the compartments for each food group? I used to get the turkey and gravy one, despite not really liking it. The reason was I loved the dessert that came with it, a baked apple crisp type of thing. The turkey was not horrible; but I was not a gravy person and did not care for the wetness with pieces of mushy stuffing floating in it. I powered through despite it, just so I could enjoy the dessert. As a little boy, I used to go through a box of cereal I disliked just to pull out the sweetened raisins and add them to a different box of cereal that I really enjoyed. Even today, my friends and family know I rarely order something straight off the restaurant menu without making small adjustments for the things I like and dislike. I wish I could have done that for this action, adventure film I saw at the movie theaters. NATASHA ROMANOFF, PLAYED BY SCARLETT JOHNSON (Jojo Rabbit, Marriage Story), must confront her past if she wants to overcome the sinister forces that are circling around her. With Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth, Fighting with my Family) as Yelena Belova, David Harbour (No Sudden Move, Suicide Squad) as Alexei, Rachel Weisz (The Favourite, My Cousin Rachel) as Melina and Ray Winstone (The Departed, Cold Mountain) as Dreykov; this science fiction origin story was a mixed bag for me. There were times where the scenes were brilliant, both in content and visually; but other times I was not as impressed. I think the basic issue had to do with the script. In a Marvel film, we get overloaded with excitement, peril, humor and incredible CGI effects. This film came close at times but did not quite make it. The women were incredible together, especially Scarlett and Florence, who I think has a future in the Marvel universe based on her performance here. For the story, the evil aspect just wasn’t as diabolical as it could have been. I enjoyed watching the movie, but I did not love it. Sort of like that TV dinner I used to eat. There was an extra scene after the credits.
EACH OF US HAS EMOTIONAL NEEDS such as love, growth and significance. If one begins to feel empty, there is usually a negative feeling ready to fill the void. During those times where I was feeling alone, as if I was the only one of my kind, I filled my emptiness with food. Coming into the house with grocery bags filled with some of my favorite foods would provide me with a short-lived euphoria of comfort. At one point I was eating frozen pizza 2 to 3 times a day; that is how intense I was reacting to the emptiness. My attempts at love kept failing because of my lack of love for myself. It took a lot of hard work and discipline to recognize what I was doing with food and deciding to make some changes. All considering, based on what I have seen regarding what people use to fill a void, I am grateful I only used food to fill the emptiness inside of me. During my period of change it always fascinated or maybe I should say troubled me that this void inside constantly needed to be filled. When I experimented with things I thought might fill it, I never found myself reaching a level of comfort. I certainly got an understanding of what it meant to be “comfortable in one’s own skin.” WHILE I WAS ON MY JOURNEY of self-discovery, a friend of mine was being forced into one. She had been married for 20-25 years when I first met her. She had a great sense of humor and a personality to match. Yet, there was something I saw in her eyes that troubled me. It was a look that was familiar to me. During the life of our friendship I watched as her personality, humor and self-worth faded away. She would never talk about it; but I could see when she said anything about her husband, the life in her would die down like a campfire at the end of an evening. It was painful to see the life being sucked out of her and no matter what I said to her, nothing worked. It was not until a couple of years later when the door opened a crack and she revealed the pain she was in from her loveless marriage. Her outlet was to delve into the world of crafts. It was shocking to know the pain she was going through was producing some incredible pieces of art. Using arts and craft as a springboard, she found her way back to herself and became strong enough to leave her husband. It turned out her husband was abusive to her. Not feeling loved by him opened a gateway where her self-worth spilled out. Gratefully she filled her void in a healthy way, unlike the main character in this film festival winning, romantic drama. STUCK IN A LOVELESS MARRIAGE KATHERINE, played by Florence Pugh (Little Women, Fighting with my Family), realized what she was missing when she felt an attraction to a hired hand. That discovery started Katherine on a path of filling the void inside of her with darkness. With Cosmo Jones (Hunter Killer, The Marker) as Sebastian, Paul Hilton (Doctor Faustus, Eternal Beauty) as Alexander, Naomi Ackie (The Corrupted, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) as Anna and Christopher Fairbank (The Fifth Element, Guardians of the Galaxy) as Boris; this film grabbed my interest from the beginning. The reason for it was Florence Pugh. She was such a presence in the story; I could not stop watching her in the role. Set in rural England during the 19th century, the story started out slow and deliberate. The scenes appeared authentic and only added to the shifting moods that took place through the script. I will say at times the script drifted off track, but for me this was not a glaring issue because of Florence’s acting. With the present situation regarding the ability to see films, this one filled a void in me for well-done movies.
3 ¼ stars
FROM THE VARIOUS JOBS I HAVE DONE, I have learned a couple of “truths” about people. The first one is: If an individual does not have passion about what they are doing, then they will never get far in life. The second one: If a person does not have even the smallest of a stubborn streak or maybe I should call it a sense of commitment, they could easily be swayed down a different life path. I have worked with several individuals who were schooled in what became their profession. For example, taking accounting classes towards being an accountant or studying art and interior design to be a decorator/designer. There was one accountant I knew who had the title but was not detail-oriented; I thought it was important to be particular and exact when working with numbers. This individual did not have passion for the work he was doing. Because he did not care, he would make mistakes from time to time. There was a meeting called to go over a group of accounts, I recall; where he came in late despite the fact, he was supposed to be the one who was going to update all the participants at this meeting. He was finally let go (new terminology for getting fired). A WOMAN I USED TO WORK WITH had an inspirational story. She was a single mother with 2 small children. During her entire upbringing she always had an attraction to helping people. At a young age she would tell everyone, when they asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she wanted to be a nurse. She told me there were some individuals who complimented her on her response by encouraging her to pursue her dreams; however, relatives and close friends of the family told her it was not a realistic goal because her parents did not have the means to put her through college. They would encourage her to finish high school then immediately get a job to do her part in supporting the family. She heeded their advice by getting a job, where I met her; however, she took night classes at the local college. Though it took her more than 4 years to get enough classes to graduate, she did and was able to enroll into nursing school. If I remember correctly, it took her something like 10 years to reach her goal; but when she did, she was so excited and thrilled to finally do what she always wanted to do. Her strength was an inspiration; it was like the strength of one of the main characters in this dramatic romance. WHILE THEIR FATHER WAS AWAY AT WAR, four sisters and their mother found ways to pursue their passions while maintaining the household. Their dreams may not have been the same, but their passion was similar in strength. With Saoirse Ronan (Mary Queen of Scots, Brooklyn) as Jo March, Emma Watson (Beauty and the Beast, The Circle) as Meg March, Florence Pugh (Fighting with my Family, Midsommar) as Amy March, Laura Dern (Cold Pursuit, Marriage Story) as Marmee March and Timothee Chalamet (Lady Bird, Beautiful Boy) as Theodore “Laurie” Laurence; this fresh version of the classic story was powered by the acting skills of the cast. The actors playing the sisters were outstanding together, playing as one cohesive unit. I did have trouble with the jumping back and forth in time periods to the point it was a distraction for me in the beginning. However, after some time everything fell into place and I enjoyed watching the story. I thought the directing and writing were wonderful as the scenes came across in a thoughtful, beautiful way upon the screen. This was a surprise for me because I came in feeling like I was going to see the same thing I have seen in other versions of the story. I could not have been more wrong as the writer/director Greta Gerwig (Mistress America, Lady Bird) showed me what can happen when one has passion towards a project; in this case, the classic story of Little Women.
3 ½ stars
WATCHING HOW PEOPLE LIVE THEIR DAILY lives has always been one of the main attractions for me when I travel out of state. Whether I am in a large metropolitan area or a remote small town, there is always something new I learn. Recently I was on a road trip through three northwestern states. While driving on a two-lane highway through mountainous terrain, I spotted something ahead on the road. As I got closer I realized it was a pack of dogs. I had to quickly slow down as I realized the dogs were not moving off the road; it was as if they were using themselves as a blockade across the pavement. There was no choice; I had to come to a complete stop. The dogs walked around my car while looking up at the car windows. For the life of me I could not figure out what was going on, especially since none of the dogs had a collar. I had no idea; were they just wild dogs? Slowly I started to apply the gas, letting the car creep forward. The dogs followed me. Finally, there was a break in the circle; so, I picked up speed to break away from the dogs. They chased me for a moment before stopping and turning their attention to the car behind me. WHEN I REACHED MY DESTINATION, I stopped for a bite to eat. While looking for a local restaurant I noticed there seemed to be an abundance of dogs milling about; some sleeping on park benches, others freely walking down the roads. It was the weirdest thing to me. After finding a place to eat and settling into my seat, I asked the waitress, when she came up to me, about all the loose dogs around. She explained in some cultures dogs were used for transportation, companionship, hunting and food; they were somewhat revered. Because of this the people in the area tend to let their dogs roam free, refusing to put a collar or leash on them. I told her about my experience with the pack of dogs on the highway; she was not surprised. She said because some drivers will toss food out their car windows to feed the dogs, they have learned to slow cars down with the intention of getting fed. I was taken aback with this story, thinking about all the possible hazards that could take place. Though I was happy to find out the reason for the loose dogs, I was glad I was just visiting the area. I cannot say the same for the place depicted in this dramatic, mystery film. A GROUP OF FRIENDS TRAVEL TO a remote area in Sweden to delve into the culture and traditions of a small community’s festivities. Everything seemed idyllic until the traditions started to take on a darker tone. With Florence Pugh (Fighting with my Family, The Commuter) as Dani, Jack Reynor (Free Fire, Glassland) as Christian, William Jackson Harper (True Story, Paterson) as Josh, Vilhelm Blomgren (The Days of Flowers Bloom-TV mini-series, Gosta-TV) as Pelle and Will Poulter (Detroit, We’re the Millers) as Mark; this horror movie piqued my interest at the beginning. I thought the cast was good and the scenes were interesting. However, as time went on I felt the story dragging. And with it clocking in at nearly 2 ½ hours, this picture was testing me. There were some scenes that were lovely to look at, but then something odd or horrific would take place. Despite having several interesting concepts/themes in the story, I did not find the picture as a whole very entertaining. If my travels took me near this area I would probably not stop for a visit.
I GRANT YOU, THEY DID LOOK somewhat odd to me. They had moved into the neighborhood during my 4th year of elementary school. The house the family had purchased was a 2-story wood frame with a large wrap around front porch. I remember when they painted that porch because some of the neighbors were put off by it; the family painted it a pine green color. I never really understood why some people were upset. The only thing I could think of was maybe it was because all the other porches on the street were either unpainted or painted in 1 of 2 colors, either white or brown. There were 7 family members: 2 parents and 5 children. All the kids looked alike and looked like their mother. They each had the same color hair; the girls had the same style of haircut just as the boys shared the same. Each child wore the same style of glasses, perched the same way on their noses. Their teeth were oversized to the point where it looked like they could not close their mouth all the way. Some of the kids in the neighborhood referred to them as Bugs Bunny. To finish up their identical look, they all wore the same style and color of clothing. PERSONALLY, THEM NOT BEING ENROLLED IN the neighborhood school added to their perceived strangeness. But despite that, the siblings never came out to play with any of the other kids in the neighborhood. I would see them in their backyard at times when I would cut through the alley to a friend’s house. They would be huddled around some object; I could not tell if it was a toy or some type of device. Other times I would see them spread apart, each doing their own thing like reading or exercising and when I say exercising I mean jumping jacks or sit-ups, some type of calisthenic activity. Keeping to themselves and all looking the same just made people feel uncomfortable. Without getting to know them, rumors started to pop-up in the neighborhood, such as they were a medical experiment, or they were doing something illegal. And of course, the kids in the neighborhood started whispering different remarks about them being inbred and mentally challenged. It was not until I was in college that I discovered via the local newspaper that the parents were scientists and each child was excelling in their schooling, from being PhD candidates to mathematical whizzes. I was shocked; on the surface they may have been odd, but they certainly had already achieved more than many of the families in the neighborhood. The family in this biographical, comedic drama might seem odd to you but wait until you see what they do. PASSIONATE ABOUT WRESTLING RICKY AND JULIA Knight, played by Nick Frost (The World’s End, Paul) and Lena Headey (Game of Thrones-TV, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), taught their children everything they knew. However, when a once in a lifetime chance became available would their hard work pay off? This movie’s story followed a typical theme; but, the script provided some fresh takes on it. With Florence Pugh (Lady Macbeth, The Commuter) as Saraya Knight, Jack Lowden (Mary Queen of Scots, Dunkirk) as Zak Knight and Vince Vaughn (Couples Retreat, The Break-Up) as Hutch; I thought the acting really sold the story, especially Florence’s and Jack’s. For me, Vince was the only one that I did not connect with since he was doing his same type of character that I have seen before. There were fun moments in this picture that kept the story from sputtering out. What added to my enjoyment was seeing clips of the actual Knights at the end of the film. One may think they are an odd bunch, but I salute them for finding something they can be passionate about and holding out for their dream.