EVERYWHERE I LOOKED I WAS SEEING someone I had seen on videos or television. Though the general population may not have recognized them, I certainly did because I wanted to be one of them. My assignment was manning the entrance to the hospitality suite, where guest presenters could come to relax or grab something to eat. I had to check the ID badges of everyone coming in; though honestly, I wasn’t expecting anyone crashing the suite since it was not near the convention hall. When I could, I would help the volunteer staff keep the food tables filled and clean. For the most part everyone who walked in was pleasant; they at least acknowledged me when I greeted them. Of course, there were always a few negative people or “stuck up” ones that moved right past without a glance or nod towards me. And that was ok; I understood that after being up on stage or in the middle of a crowd, one needs to decompress with some down time. Just from the little that I did in the field, I knew the amount of energy it took to get people motivated and interested in what I was trying to achieve. I was perfectly fine to be in the background and simply observe them while they were in the suite. ONE OF THE INTERESTING THINGS I discovered early on was how some of the presenters preferred being alone in the suite. There were some who moved a chair away from others to sit and look at their electronic devices. Others would spend their time going from one presenter to another as they came in and out of the rooms. As a fan, I enjoyed seeing how they all interacted amongst themselves. To me it looked like a few were collaborating on a project together. One presenter, who I was familiar with, was a lawyer who was instrumental in changing the safety protocols in the industry. She was sought out by many and I only wished I could hear what they were talking about. There was another presenter who was a researcher who I saw multiple times on different videos. He was well respected and known for debunking many false claims that others were trying to promote. Looking at the amount of talent and knowledge in the room, I had to wonder what each could create from a chance meeting, that would have a lasting affect on the profession. It was exciting to see, just as it was for me watching this film festival winning and Golden Globe nominated drama. AFTER A STUNNING WIN IN THE boxing ring, the night’s celebration for Cassius Clay, played by Eli Goree (Race, Godzilla), was waiting for him at a motel room with a small group of friends. With Kingsley Ben-Adir (Peaky Blinders-TV, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) as Malcom X, Aldis Hodge (Straight Outta Compton, Hidden Figures) as Jim Brown, Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton, Red Tails) as Sam Cooke and Lance Reddick (John Wick franchise, White House Down) as Kareem X; the story in this film was brilliant. Having 4 people, accomplished in their fields, dealing with the prejudices of the times in the 60s was near genius. I thought the acting was tremendous as the actors formed a bond that was real and believable. And as a bonus for me was having Leslie Odom Jr.’s character sing. The direction of this movie kept things on an even playing field; I never lost interest as the night progressed. After I was done watching this picture, I had to confirm that this was not an actual event because it seemed so natural, as if the writers were simply retelling a historic event. This was a well-done film that felt as current now as it was back then.
3 ½ stars
It is important to hear encouragement but how much of it is heard depends on the person. I have seen people on those reality shows where their family and friends have told them they can sing or dance and it is obvious they do not have talent. They believe every compliment they are receiving, even if it is only being given out of kindness. I personally do not think it is fair to mislead a person unless the whole family or friends do not realize they are all tone deaf or lack rhythm. Being a defensive pessimist on top of being my own worst critic, I am in a different category. Any compliment I receive I tend to discount. Though appreciative of encouraging words, they actually are the fuel that drives me harder to do better. All these years I thought it was a stubborn streak that kept me pounding away to succeed at the task at hand. I have come to realize there is a voice inside of me that has high standards, pushing me to prove wrong the other voice in my brain that tells me I am a failure. The same can be said for those people who told me I could not do something; it only made me fight harder to prove them wrong. The first thing I heard inside of me when my first short story was published was that 7th grade teacher who told me I would never be a writer. It all comes down to believing in yourself and that inner drive was something I admired in general manager Sonny Weaver, played by Kevin Costner (3 Days to Kill, Mr. Brooks) in this sports drama. Hoping to rebuild the Cleveland Browns football team, Sonny would butt heads against strong opposition for his NFL Draft pick from Coach Penn and team owner Anthony Molina, played by Denis Leary (Sand, Rescue Me-TV) and Frank Langella (Robot & Frank, The Ninth Gate). Even with his mother Barb, played by Ellen Burstyn (Another Happy Day, The Fountain), questioning his moves Sonny was determined to do what he thought was right. I found the NFL Draft story exciting and thought Kevin was believable in his role. The part that did not ring true was the story involving Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club, Elektra) as Ali. There was little chemistry between her and Kevin’s character and I just found it phony and unnecessary. If the writers would have stayed with the football story, including the back stories for the hopeful picks, this movie would have been better in my opinion. Keep in mind I am not a fan of team sports but I enjoyed all of the drama and tension revolving around the team franchise. Whether Sonny made the right choice or not did not matter to me; his drive and conviction was what I admired in him the most.
2 1/2 stars
I do not need to know how the beautiful baked dessert placed before me was made. All that matters to me is that it tastes as good as it looks with its dark chocolate syrup dripping down the sides of the spongy chocolate chip cake. The same can be said about the art exhibit I attended, where the artist created these incredible colorful sculptures out of blown glass. It was beyond me how he could take such a delicate medium and produce these exquisite pieces that were placed among the foliage of the local conservatory. Most of the time I prefer not knowing how something was created because I feel it takes away from the visceral experience. It would be similar to having prior knowledge of all the tricks and magical sequences a haunted house amusement park attraction has before you go through it. What fun would that be? This biographical comedic drama is a good example of me not being familiar with the subject, yet I still found this movie to be a highly entertaining experience. I had no idea what was English football. As I viewed this film I wondered if this sport was what here in the United States we call soccer. Michael Sheen (MIdnight in Paris, Twilight franchise) played abrasive, arrogant coach Brian Clough. The story was about the challenges that faced him when he took over the coaching duties from his bitter rival Don Revie, played by Colm Meaney (Law Abiding Citizen, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine-TV), who had taken the Leeds United football team and made them one of the most successful in the league. With Tom Hooper’s (Les Miserables, The King’s Speech) direction, I thought he did a fantastic job in keeping the story steady, letting the actors shine. I have been impressed with Michael Sheen’s body of work so far; this picture only continued it. Adding their specialness to the rest of the cast were Timothy Spall (Ginger & Rosa, Enchanted) as Peter Taylor and Jim Broadbent (Cloud Atlas, The Iron Lady) as Chairman Sam Longson. My only complaint about the film was the use of flashbacks; I had to remind myself of the time frame periodically. To tell you the truth the story was more about egos and personalities than about actual football games. For someone who had no knowledge about this sport, I still had a good time watching this DVD. An added bonus was researching the events of this film afterwards and learning more about the history of the sport. So not only was this an entertaining film, it taught me something new.
3 stars — DVD
I am the least likely person to review a football movie. Having been an overweight, unconfident boy; there was never a time I felt safe to play the game. In high school an aunt of mine insisted I try out for football because of my size. She must have been confusing my body mass with muscle mass. If I had not already felt like I did not belong on any of the high school sports teams, my gym class confirmed it for me. When a student was exceptionally brutal to another student in any competitive way, our gym teacher would only smile with a soft chuckle. This P.E. teacher took my fearfulness, absenteeism and various doctor notes to be excused from class as a sign of weakness. I always felt he chose to ignore the truth, that I was being abused and bullied in the class and locker room. That experience back then was what spurred me on to become a group fitness instructor. It took heart and determination for me to overcome all of my insecurities. Watching the same drive in 30 year old Philadelphian Vince Papale, played by Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, Boogie Nights), kept bringing me to tears. This movie inspired from a true story was less about football and more about the heart and soul of a man. After his wife left him and he was cut from his substitute teaching job, Vince had no reason not to try out for his beloved Philadelphia Eagles football team when new coach Dick Vermeil, played by Greg Kinnear (Flash of Genius, Little Miss Sunshine), decided to have open tryouts. Despite being harassed, Vince would not give up, pushing himself beyond anything he had ever done before. One need not know anything about football to be inspired by this satisfying story. This was the type of role that Mark Wahlberg is best suited for, a working class easterner. Both he and Greg Kinnear were well matched in this drama. Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games, People Like Us) also fit well in her role as Janet Cantrell, a new bartender at the same bar Vince worked at a couple of nights a week. I love a story that allows the viewer to root for the underdog and after watching this great film I surprised myself by wishing I could have been a fan in the football stadium.
3 stars — DVD
The fact that I do not follow team sports activities, preferring individual sports, and becoming so involved with this movie, should be a testament to the powerful story it told. After seeing the trailer and it winning the Oscar for best documentary, I decided to see it. The story was about volunteer football coach Bill Courtney and his Manassas Tiger high school football team from North Memphis. Having fallen on hard times when the major employer closed their factory, the crime and poverty rates had soared in the city. The football team, which should have been a source of pride, was on a long losing streak as the team had to deal with students dropping out or getting in trouble with the law. This film gave the audience an intimate glimpse into Mr Courtney’s life, as he devoted his time and energy to making something good happen for the players. Talk about reality, why don’t television networks make a reality show like this story? It was absolutely inspirational to see the transformation in the students, the coach, his family and the student’s parents as the football players started to work together as a team. For those of you, who saw the movie The Blind Side, think of this film as a grittier, real version of it. I do not know if I would even call this a documentary. It was so well done in telling the story about this incredible individual Bill Courtney, I would have walked out of the theater thinking Hollywood finally got it right.
3 1/2 stars