WE WERE WAITING FOR OVER AN hour past the designated time, before she walked out on stage. No announcement, no greetings; she barely even looked out at us. I was excited to see her perform live since I had been listening to her songs for some years. When she stepped out onto the stage all of us got up out of our seats and cheered for her, immediately forgetting the long delay. She was dressed in a long, peach colored dress that sparkled under the spotlights. Musicians flooded out from both sides of the stage, quickly making their way to their spots. A grand piano sat just off center of the stage that a man walked up to and sat down. He began to fiddle with a stack of sheet music he had carried with, pulling out several sheets that he placed on top of the piano. She stood next to the microphone stand, watching him with a look on her face like a mother irritated for reminding her child it was bedtime. With everyone settled into their spot, the man at the piano struck a key with his finger while the other hand moved up and down as he snapped his fingers. The band started and the singer turned her back to us as she began to sing one of her songs. Throughout the entire concert I only saw her face a couple of times. AFTER THAT SHOW, I VOWED I would never spend money to go see her in concert. She was the first musical artist I ever saw live in concert who did not say one word between singing her songs. I was not the only one who felt this way. During her song “Respect,” someone sitting near me yelled out, “Why don’t you give us some respect?” I remember sitting there at one point and wondering if she had forgotten how a song gets to be #1 on the music charts. It gets there based on sales and downloads. In other words, it is the fans who buy and listen to the song that determine its rank. I understand everyone has a “bad” day; I know I do. However, I do not let my issues interfere with my job. It makes no sense for me to unload my frustrations onto someone else, especially since they have not been part of the problem. Despite my feelings about the musical artist Aretha Franklin, I went to see this movie with an open mind and as usual avoided hearing and reading any reviews about it beforehand. AT AN EARLY AGE THERE WAS something special about the little girl’s singing. At times, it would be the only thing that saves her. With Jennifer Hudson (Cats, Black Nativity) as Aretha Franklin, Forest Whitaker (Black Panther, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey) as C.L. Franklin, Marlon Wayans (A Haunted House franchise, On the Rocks) as Ted White, Tituss Burgess (Then Came You, Are you Joking?) as James Cleveland and Audra McDonald (Hello Again, The Good Fight-TV) as Barbara; this biographical musical drama survived because of Jennifer and Forest. She was incredible in the role and I can see why Aretha hand picked her to play the role. The musical numbers were the highlight for me; as for the other scenes, they felt sanitized. It was as if every scene was done with the idea of scratching only the surface of the event to keep things clean and tidy. I felt the script, based on true events, was scrubbed of any scenes that would place Aretha in a “bad light.” It was as if scenes with strong emotions on display were being dialed down. Again, the performances were terrific as was the musical scenes; but by the end of the film, I was a bit numb about the whole thing—except the ending scene during the start of the credits.
2 ½ stars
SHE TOLD ME IT WAS A television show when I asked her what made her decide to become a dancer. I quizzed her further and she said it was a variety show she used to watch with her family on Sunday nights. Two ballet dancers were introduced by the host and she was immediately enamored by their costumes. The woman looked like a pristine fairy and the man looked like a stately prince. She had never seen ballet dancers before, but as the music started and the two dancers began to perform, she was mesmerized by their movements. The female dancer seemed weightless like a snowflake, spinning and fluttering across the stage. The male dancer had broad shoulders that made him look more regal as he lifted and guided the female dancer through their movements. I listened to her describe the performance and I could see the impact of this one of several acts on the show had a profound effect on her. Before the dancers were done performing, she had already decided that she was going to be a dancer when she grew up. She listed for me the highlights of her journey in becoming a ballet dancer and it was not a simple, straight street to ballet; she had some detours along the way. However, she told me throughout her struggles she kept believing she could do it. HER STRENGTH IN HER BELIEF REMINDED me of a woman who was a participant in my yoga class. I worked at a hospital-based fitness center, where I introduced yoga to the fitness members. The center did not have a quiet room for me to teach class, so they had me taking the members to a laboratory in the hospital to conduct class. One day this woman came into the room in a wheelchair; I thought she was a patient who was lost. When I asked her where she was going, she told me to yoga. Talk about being embarrassed; this was the first time I was going to teach a wheel bound person in a general class setting. During my instructions, I included options that the woman could do while seated. After attending class for a few weeks, I asked her one day how yoga made her feel. She told me how much see looked forward to class because she would get the best night’s sleep after taking class. I was pleased to hear this and asked her if she had any goals she wanted to achieve in class. She said yes, she wanted to stand up out of her wheelchair. I told her it was a wonderful goal and I hoped I would get to see it. She said she believes she will one day, and I told her I believe in her. WHEN HIS ASSISTANT TOOK HIS IDEAS and left him, the town’s toymaker Veronicas, played by Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Black Panther), stopped believing in himself. One day a strange little girl came to town with a belief. With Keegan-Michael Key (Playing with Fire, Let’s Be Cops) as Gustafson, Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, Notting Hill) as Mr. Delacroix, Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls; Everything, Everything) as Jessica and newcomer Madalen Mills as Journey; this musical family fantasy film was a magical viewing experience for me. At times coming across like a Broadway production, other times like a family classic; this was one of the most entertaining films I have seen this year. The fanciful special effects, the singing and dancing, the costumes and the sets took a somewhat predictable script and elevated it into pure entertainment. I will say if you are not a fan of musicals, you will not enjoy this picture as much. For me, I could easily see this film being translated to the big stage of Broadway. My skepticism about films made for the small screen has been altered; I am a believer now.
3 ½ stars
THEY seemed scared as they huddled over their map. Looking up at the arrival time for the next train, they stood near the edge of the train platform. I made the assumption they were tourists who were not familiar with the language. Luckily I knew how to say hello and how are you in their language; plus, I was ½ of the winning team among my friends in charades the past 2 years which I felt could help. Walking up to them I said hello and immediately their heads sprung up and turned to me. They excitedly began talking to me in their native tongue but I had no clue what they were saying. I made hand gestures which I hoped conveyed the little I knew about their language then pointed at their map and made a questioning facial expression. En masse they moved next to me and pointed to a sticky note attached to what I could see on the map was the downtown area. THEY were looking for a well known tourist attraction in the city. Using my charade skills I was able to show them which train they had to get on and how many stops they needed to travel to get to their destination. I think they were saying thank you to me as my train arrived and I bordered it. Being proud of my city I have this thing where I want all tourists to have the best time here. So if I can spend a few minutes learning how to communicate with those who do not speak English it is well worth it to me. The key word is communicating; I see and have experienced so many people who do not take the time to properly communicate. It seems as if language is turning into a series of emails, texts, abbreviations and emojis. How can someone figure out a person’s intent with such things? LINGUISTIC expert Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams (American Hustle, Man of Steel), was given a short time frame to find a way to communicate with the alien spacecraft that landed on earth before the military took over. This film festival nominated drama mystery took a different route from the usual alien versus human plot and it paid off. I enjoyed it so much and thought Amy was fantastic in the role. Along with Jeremy Renner (The Avengers franchise, The Hurt Locker) as Ian Donnelly and Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler, The Last King of Scotland) as Colonel Weber, the actors did well in conveying a sense of urgency and fear. The soundtrack added an eerie dimension to the scenes that I felt brought out more suspense. With director Denis Villeneuve’s (Prisoners, Sicario) skills the story had a gradual buildup of tension, even with the subplot that was interjected between present day scenes. This science fiction movie had a couple of surprises, though I have to say the ending was confusing to me. I am not sure I totally understood what was going on but I still felt like I was entertained for the most part. Especially with the poor (in my opinion) state of communications today, I really was impressed with this picture.
3 ¼ stars
For those of you fortunate enough never to have experienced a broken heart let me describe how it feels. The area around where the heart is located reacts just as if a physical punch was administered to the body; it hurts like a bad bruise, echoing dull pain over and over. Your center of gravity weighs more where it takes added effort to lift your feet off the ground to even walk across a room. With water making up a majority of the body’s composition, it gets redirected to spill out of your tear ducts at a moment’s notice. Hearing the beginning notes of a song could trigger this outpouring as easily as seeing a newly ownerless toothbrush sitting in your medicine cabinet. Some individuals experience the sense of losing control. I know for myself when I am feeling out of control I tend to focus on one single aspect of my life and hold onto it with a near death grip. My default option is usually my diet. Since no one has a say in what I can or cannot eat, my daily food intake is totally under my domain. In the past when I felt I was out of control my eating would take off as I tried filling the void that formed when control became unharnessed, free to do what it wanted to do. Now it is opposite, the more out of control I feel the more I control what I eat. The main character in this dramatic sports film had a different method. BOXING champion Billy Hope, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler, End of Watch), had the money, the fame and the big house; however, it did not matter when he lost the one thing money could not buy. I need to start with Jake for this review because he deserved extra credit for the grueling workout he put himself through to give extra meat to this role, so to speak. He did 2,000 sit-ups a day and was told by the director, Atoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer), they would continue filming even if his nose got broken in the fight scenes. Now the fight scenes, they were so intense at times I almost had to look away. The cast, which included Rachel McAdams (Aloha, About Time) as Maureen Hope and Oona Laurence (A Little Game, Lamb) as Leila Hope, was especially strong in their own right. Though Jake could snag a nomination for this role, the script was filled with cliches that kept the story from matching his acting abilities. I thought the scenes he had with Forest Whitaker (Taken 3, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) as Tick Wills could have been even more powerful if the script was better. In spite of this big flaw I was so drawn to the character that it carried me through the entire film. Several scenes had blood in them.
I am always available to hear a good story from someone. There is an art to telling a story. Essential components would be an attention grabbing opening, buildup on an emotional level, personal connection and a solid conclusion. If the story is a humorous one then there needs to be a good punchline. Unfortunately there are some people who should never tell a story. I know, I know; I feel bad for even saying that but if you listened to this person I know tell a story, you would see how they can suck the life out of any tale. The thing that is frustrating to me is their topics are actually interesting or funny. However, they not only have to explain every detail, they get hung up on trying to think of a perfect word to convey an action. You would be standing there shifting your weight from one foot to the other as they tried to think of the word they wanted to use, letting the momentum of their story fade to a crawl. By the end of the story, after they repeated several parts and explained the obvious parts to death, all you wanted to do was run away from them. This is how I felt as I sat through this 3rd film of the movie franchise. ACCUSED of a murder he did not commit Bryan Mills, played by Liam Neeson (A Walk Among the Tombstones, Non-Stop), became a wanted man. He would need his special skills to stay one step ahead of the authorities while he tried to figure out who was the murderer. Let me first say I totally appreciated the fact that Liam was keeping the aging action hero genre alive; I had no qualms with him or his performance. However, this story did not offer anything new for me. With the uneven directing I found the film editing absolutely annoying. I could not figure out who was throwing what punches because the scenes were horribly choppy. Besides returning characters Lenore St. John, played by Franke Janssen (X-Men franchise, The Chameleon) and Kim Mills, played by Maggie Grace (Lockout, Lost-TV); the addition of Franck Dotzier, played by Forest Whitaker (Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Phone Booth) was a good choice. I only wished there had been more screen time between him and Liam. As for the plot I found it quite weak which only added to the messiness of this film. If one is in the mood for a good crime film, this one was not as exciting as the first one. The only thing I felt was taken during this movie was my time and money; I cannot recommend listening to this lame story. There were violent scenes with blood.
1 2/3 stars
Once upon a time a person was able to bite into a piece of food and savor the taste blooming in their mouth. Planted in an orchard or field where the rays of the sun encouraged it to grow, the fruit or vegetable was picked at the peak of its ripeness. It was nurtured by the loving hands of a farmer who learned their craft from their father who had learned it from their father; a simple process that provided the most natural and best taste. Times have changed as the world now moves at a faster pace. Some food items are grown indoors where its roots are stuck in a test tube device to keep them moist as the only light source shines out of heat lamps hanging low from the ceiling. If plants are grown outside they are bombarded with chemicals to ward off things that could damage them. Not only are grains being genetically manipulated to create a super race of wheat or corn, but even livestock get injected with hormones and antibiotics because a dead or sick animal cuts into profits. I try to think about what is going into my mouth, though there are times where I wished I wasn’t thinking. My thoughts for the most part focus on either squeezing, smelling, reading or looking at the item before I take it from the store shelf or bin. AFTER watching this documentary I felt guilty for not knowing more about where and how the food I was leisurely putting into my shopping cart had reached the store. Executive produced by Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives-TV, The Sentinel) and narrated by Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Phone Booth), this movie focused on a group of migrant workers who picked tomatoes. I am sure this will not come as a surprise; but the story showed the chain of command that dictated the course of the tomato, from the bottom where the migrant workers toiled in the fields to the final destination at the grocery store. I was surprised to find out I was not completely correct on which component in the chain yielded the most power. For a documentary this topic was presented in a straight forward manner with little consideration given to tweaking elements to make this more of a dramatic story. There were times where I felt a scene’s actions was being repeated more than necessary to drive a point home. However, this particular story was both moving and incredulous to watch. Though I would like to consider myself an intelligent consumer, this movie proved me wrong. I was shocked by what I saw. I have to tell you I would have a hard time shopping at the grocery store that was the focus of this film, if there was one near me.
3 1/2 stars
Each of us has had experience with it, yet we handle it in a variety of ways. Not all solutions are the healthiest for us, but we try as best as we can. What I am referring to are relationships that are toxic. It could be family, business or personal ones; it does not make a difference to how lethal the toxicity can be. I have experienced the effects of being in a toxic relationship and suffer both physically and mentally. A heaviness comes over me, where each step I take feels as if I am pulling the soles of my feet off from sticky wads of chewed up gum that cover the ground. My shoulders slouch down unable to maintain the excess weight that has been placed on them. Mentally my brain strains to process the images my eyes have taken in, coating them in thick dark syrup; I am only able to understand a portion of what I see. Now I can spend this entire review on ways we can protect ourselves in these types of relationships, but then I could not talk about this dramatic musical film. See for yourself how toxicity brewed inside the Cobbs family in this movie. Based on American Langston Hughes’ play, this updated version had a strong cast of actors who tried to carry the story. Jennifer Hudson (The Secret Life of Bees, Dreamgirls) played a single parent named Naima who had a son named Langston, played by Jacob Latimore (Vanishing on 7th Street). Having fallen on hard times, about to be evicted from their place, Naima had to send her son to her parents Aretha and Reverend Cornell Cobbs, played by Angela Basset (Strange Days, Gospel Hill) and Forest Whitaker (Platoon, Phone Booth). But there was a problem, they had not spoken to each other for many years. Though unhappy with the situation, Langston was desperate to find out what happened between his mother and these two strangers he was forced to stay with in New York City. My favorite part of this film were the musical numbers. I am partial to strong female vocals which Jennifer and the choir aptly provided. Sadly that is all I liked about the film. I am sure the original story on stage was a powerful piece; however, in this movie version it was so heavy handed, determined to show the viewer the struggles, that I was bored. Part of the reason had to do with the poor screenplay; it introduced scenes without providing character backgrounds. This movie was disappointing, though it did remind me of one of the biggest lessons I learned: I do not have to accept anything, just respect it.
1 3/4 stars
If you really want to learn something about the area you are in then talk to a local person. I discovered many hidden treasures this way when I traveled to new places. This is one of the reasons why I use public transportation when visiting a new city. With advice from local residents, I was able to experience the best pecan pie in Charleston, South Carolina and a wonderful BBQ meal in Dallas, Texas. In case you were wondering if I am only concerned about food when I travel, I do ask local residents about places that a guide book may not cover. One of my best trips took place in Minneapolis, Minnesota simply because of a woman who was standing next to me at a bus stop. She gave me some wonderful tidbits about local spots. When a story is being told by the person who lived through it, it allows us to relate to it on a personal level. This was a wonderful device that was used impressively in this dramatic film, inspired by a true story. Forest Whitaker (Phone Booth, Repo Men) played Cecil Gaines, a White House butler who served through eight different presidents’ terms of office. The viewer was a witness to numerous historical events, told through Cecil’s eyes. Aware the script took creative license with facts; this review is based on the movie’s entertainment value. Forest was outstanding as the stoic, quiet butler who took to heart the advice given to him on his first day of employment: The White House was not a place for politics. Oprah Winfrey (The Color Purple, Beloved) as Cecil’s wife Gloria, showed us she can be known as an actress who has a talk show. I was impressed with David Oyelowo (The King of Scotland, Lincoln) as Cecil’s increasingly militant son, Louis. The actors used to play the various presidents came across more like a stunt to me; the only convincing one was John Cusack (Martian Child, High Fidelity) as Richard Nixon. For their brief scenes I felt Vanessa Redgrave (Howard’s End, Blow-Up) as Annabeth Westfall and Jane Fonda (Nine to Five, Coming Home) as Nancy Reagan were the only ones who stood out. I thought the story’s flow was well done, despite several scenes being too syrupy for me. Strictly speaking on the entertainment factor, this movie provided a glimpse into historical events, using both drama and humor to tell the story. And what a story it told; my interest never waned. There were a couple of scenes where blood was shown.
3 1/4 stars
He wasn’t lying when he said he would be back. When Arnold Schwarzenegger (True Lies, Predator) first came on the movie scene he was an imposing figure. The roles Arnold had were not meant to stretch him as an actor; he was not known for his great acting skills. He was more the cartoon super hero type, who had some iconic lines that have stayed through a generation of moviegoers. With a freshened face, older and slower, this Arnold realized he could not do the same stunts of yesteryear. And that was exactly the reason I enjoyed this action film. It took him longer to recover from a fall as he complained of being tired. In fact, he had to take out a pair of glasses to read a report. Arnold was Sheriff Ray Owens of Sommerton Junction. His town was the last stop before the Mexican border and Sheriff Owens was the FBI’s last hope to stop Mexican drug cartel leader Gabriel Cortez, played by Eduardo Noriega (The Devil’s Backbone, The Method). With Johnny Knoxville (Jackass franchise, The Ringer) and Luis Guzman (Anger Management, Boogie Nights) as the sheriff’s deputies Lewis Dinkum and Mike Figuerola, there was a comic streak thrown into the scenes. It was because of the comedy I felt Forest Whitaker (Phone Booth, The Last King of Scotland) was hired as Agent John Bannister. The movie studio needed someone with heavier acting credentials. All aspects of this movie were geared with Arnold in mind. Yes, there was a body double for him on the tougher physical stunts while the writers tried to give Arnold new clever, memorable lines to say. I enjoyed this fast paced movie more than I thought I would and part of the reason was due to feeling nostalgic with seeing Arnold on the big screen. Not that I was a big fan of his, but I always knew what I would get out of his movies–over the top fight scenes, fun lines and Arnold as the good guy. He was just a little slower and did not want to stay out late. Violent scenes with blood.
2 2/3 stars