HERE IT WAS NIGHTTIME AND I was sitting in a bus in the middle of a traffic jam. Normally, I would be aggravated but since I was on vacation, I was enjoying looking out the bus window at the sights. In the short distance we had traveled, I had already seen an erupting volcano and a sinking pirate ship. It was my first-time visiting Las Vegas and everything I had heard about it was true. There were throngs of people from all walks of life, neon lights and light bulbs everywhere and the constant noise of bells and tumbling change in every hotel. I could not get over the amount of people out and about along the strip. There were hawkers lined up on every block; each trying to shove their pamphlets into tourists’ hands. I got a kick out of each hotel taking on a theme of some kind. Besides the volcano and pirate ship, there was one hotel that had an Arabian theme and another a Roman one. I had never seen anything like it before and wanted to take in as much as I could for the short time I was visiting. That is why I decided to take a bus ride; I figured it was the best way to see everything on the strip while traveling to the downtown area. WHERE THE BUS ENDED ITS ROUTE was in an old type of garage; I could not call it a bus terminal. It was inside what looked like an office building. The garage had a circular drive so the buses could easily enter and exit the place. As I left through the exit doors, I noticed there were no lights or neon anywhere. I was on a dark street with a couple of lone streetlamps that looked tired. No sign of any hotels or attractions, just non-descript store fronts. There was a pawn shop that had a faded wooden sign above its door. Next to it was a gun shop that had metal bars across its windows. This was not exactly the experience I envisioned when I decided to visit Las Vegas. There was something gritty and dirty about the area I was walking in. As far as I could tell this area looked a lot older than the hotels that were on the strip. It looked like a lost version of Las Vegas without the flash and pizzazz. I had heard and read a few things about how Las Vegas came to be, and it looked like I had stumbled into that rough and tumble time as the city was dealing with an influx of celebrities and criminals. What I envisioned was similar to what I saw in this Golden Globe and film festival winning crime drama. SAM “ACE” ROTHSTEIN, PLAYED BY ROBERT De Niro (The Irishman, Cape Fear), was sent to make sure the hotel’s operations in Las Vegas were running quietly and smoothly. He should not have brought his close friend Nicky Santoro, played by Joe Pesci (Raging Bull, My Cousin Vinny) with him then. With Sharon Stone (Fading Gigolo, Basic Instinct) as Ginger McKenna, James Wood (The Virgin Suicides, Any Given Sunday) as Lester Diamond and Don Rickles (Kelly’s Heroes, CPO Sharkey-TV) as Billy Sherbert; this Academy Award nominated film was bursting with amazing performances. There was not one actor who was pushed into the shadows of another; everyone grabbed the viewer’s attention. I thought the sets and costumes were perfect as the story traveled across its timeline. There were violent bloody scenes that came close to overpowering the rest of the story, where I started to expect them in almost every scene. Though the film is long, I did not find my mind wandering; however, I did feel there was the lack of depth in multiple scenes. Overall, this was a good old fashioned “gangster” picture depicting a past era.
3 ½ stars
IT WAS THE 2ND WEEK OF high school when I first heard the guitar music filtering into the hallway. I was a freshman and still getting the lay of the land in the large school building, compared to my small elementary school. Making a mental note of my surroundings, I promised myself I would find where the music was coming from. The following week during my study period, I asked for a hall pass and made my way through the school hallways listening for the music. It was faint and unrecognizable, lingering just enough in the air like morning mist to lead me towards it. I soon found myself in an unfamiliar part of the school, in front of a slightly ajar door without a room number. As I slowly pushed the door open the guitar playing stopped. I froze for a moment but decided I could not run away now. Stepping into the room I saw a blonde-haired guy sitting on a desk with one leg crossed over the other and a guitar resting in his lap. He was the first to speak by saying hello to me. I said hi back and told him I had heard the music playing and wanted to find out where it was coming from. He asked if I played an instrument and I told him yes, the piano. From there we started talking all things music, from classical to pop music. HE WAS A SENIOR WHICH TOOK me by surprise because I had heard seniors would not be caught dead talking to lowly freshmen. Music was our connection and I found myself hanging out with him playing music every week, since they did not take attendance in study hall. Having a senior as a friend was fortuitous because it gave me inside access on how to maneuver through the school year. He gave me a rundown of which teachers were cool, what foods to avoid in the lunchroom, what bathrooms were safe to use, among a variety of other tips and warnings. I did not have to go through a typical trial and error period of discovery that was filled with risk, especially for freshman. Little did I know how valuable his info would be for me. My years in high school were traumatic, filled with bullying and abuse; I could only imagine how worse it would have been if I did not know what I already knew due to him. Though we only had one year together in school before he went out of state for college; for all intents and purposes he was a mentor to me, just like the main character in this dramatic crime film. HAVING LOST ALL HIS MONEY, NOT able to even buy a meal John, played by John C. Reilly (Stan & Ollie, The Sisters Brothers), was leery of the stranger who suddenly appeared and offered to buy him a cup of coffee. No one does something for free without wanting something; what did this finely dressed man want with John? With Philip Baker Hall (Boogie Nights, The Last Word) as Sydney, Gwyneth Paltrow (The Avengers franchise, Thanks for Sharing) as Clementine, Samuel L. Jackson (Shaft, The Hateful Eight) as Jimmy and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Hunger Games franchise, The Master) as a young craps player; this film festival winner was filled with a tour de force of acting. The cast was outstanding as they slowly made their way through the script. Seeped in mystery and emotions, I enjoyed the unintentional retro vibe coming off this over 20-year-old film. Due to the authenticity of the dialog, I stayed engaged with the story; a story that seemed familiar to me from other gambling films, yet still had some surprise to it. I can see where young writers would use this film as a teaching tool on how to write real characters.
3 ¼ stars
I WANT TO BELIEVE CORPORATIONS ARE NOT intentionally taking advantage of me along with other consumers; but I cannot help feeling they are whenever I make a change to my account with them. For several years, I had an account with a cable company. When I called to cancel my subscription, they asked me why I was cancelling my account. After I explained my reason, they told me they needed to switch me to an account representative to complete the process; I did not think anything of it. The rep came on the line and asked me a couple of questions. After explaining myself again, the rep asked if I would keep the service if the monthly price was lower. This is where I got annoyed because it was not like they were looking at ways to lower my bill; they were simply willing to reduce the monthly charges to keep me as a customer. Hearing this made me feel like they had been gouging me the whole time. Suddenly when they feared they were losing me as a customer, they miraculously can lower the price now? Why couldn’t they start me out at the lowest price when I signed up in the first place? And the thing is, I know they are not the only company that carries out this type of practice; my friends and family members have told me similar stories about their experiences when they went to cancel their accounts. MY EXPERIENCES WITH THAT COMPANY LEFT a bad taste in my mouth. I have never felt comfortable with companies and individuals who I would classify as schemers; someone or something that makes secret plans to benefit themselves, even if it means taking advantage of or deceiving someone else. I had an acquaintance who I classified as a schemer. Whenever a group of us would get together for a meal at a restaurant, he would always order an expensive item off the menu. He knew we would split the bill, so he always came out ahead in how much he owed. Even when he was the only one who ordered an alcoholic drink, he expected the price of it would be part of the split. I do not mind when one goes out with the same group for a meal and splits the bill each time; sometimes you pay more sometimes less than the cost of what you ordered, it evens out over time. However, this person was always coming out cheaper because the rest of the group was picking up more of his tab. It came to a point where we started asking the wait staff for separate checks and suddenly, he started ordering less expensive food. I did not care to be around him anymore; I had the same feeling about the schemer in this film festival winning dramatic, crime mystery. OVEREXTENDED WITH HIS CUSTOMERS’ MONEY jeweler Howard Ratner, played by Adam Sandler (Blended, The Wedding Singer), was trying to complete a major score before the consequences would have a major affect on his business and family. With newcomer Julia Fox as Julia, Idina Menzel (Rent, Glee-TV) as Dinah, LaKeith Stanfield (Sorry to Bother You, Short Term 12) as Demany and Eric Bogosian (Talk Radio, Cadillac Records) as Arno; this film festival winning feature provided Adam with the perfect role. He was excellent as Howard. For the first part of the movie I thought the script was repetitive; it pretty much was Howard yelling and swearing at everyone. It came to a point where I got tired and bored with it. I enjoyed the 2ndhalf more because there was at least a better sense of emotional depth on display among the characters. I have to say I prefer seeing Adam in these serious roles instead of comedic ones like he has done in the past. Despite not being comfortable around schemers, I did not find the watching of this film to be an entertaining experience.
2 ½ stars
THE FIRST TIME I traveled to Las Vegas my friends explained what I needed to do to play Blackjack. I already knew how to play but I was not familiar with the non-verbal communication between dealer and player. There were hand signals I needed to know; such as a quick drag of two fingers towards me on the felted playing board meant I wanted another card or moving my hand above my cards in a horizontal way meant no more cards. What they did not tell me was how fast the game would go once I was seated. When I flew out and got settled into my hotel room I went downstairs into the casino, confident I would remember all the different signs I was taught. I had $30.00 worth of chips (yeah, I am a big spender) and stacked them in front of me like everyone else did at the blackjack table; I did not want them to know I was a newbie, though I am sure it showed on me. In approximately 6 minutes I lost all of my chips. EVER SINCE THAT TIME I have never gambled again at any of the tables in Las Vegas. That feeling of giving my money to a business and not getting anything in return was one I never wanted to feel again. Sure there are some people who are lucky or even skilled that walk away with more money than what they started with, but I am not one of those individuals. It is funny because I knew several people who more times than not came home with extra money no matter the venue. Now I will tell you I enjoy watching the people in Las Vegas gamble because it is fascinating to see how much money goes into play at some of the tables. I stand there and try to figure out what these people do for a living, where they can make $1000.00+ bets. The other aspect that intrigues me is the camaraderie that forms between some of the players. I am not familiar with which game it is, but there is one where all the people sitting at the table are rooting for one particular player. Everyone cheers depending on what that player did and you would swear these people have no care in the world. It is a foreign concept to me and despite my lack of knowledge I was captivated by this biographical drama. FROM A RANDOM NON-DESCRIPT job former Olympic class skier Molly Bloom, played by Jessica Chastain (The Zookeeper’s Wife, Crimson Peak), took a chance in hopes it would pay off big. The game was poker and she was determined to come out on top. Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing-TV) I thought the script was smart and precise. It was certainly adult dialog though at times I thought it was getting too wordy. With Idris Elba (The Mountain Between Us, Thor franchise) as Charlie Jaffey, Kevin Costner (Hidden Figures, Black or White) as Larry Bloom and Michael Cera (Superbad, Juno) as Player X; I thought the acting was of a high caliber. Jessica was amazing in this role and I felt Kevin put in one of his better performances. The story was incredible and I found myself getting into the nitty gritty of the poker games. I did not feel there was any lag time between any of the scenes; each one offered something of interest to watch and hear. Due to the high level of acting in this picture, I do not think you will lose if you choose to gamble on seeing this film.
3 ½ stars
HAVING children less than 4 years apart in age, I asked how he was preparing for the overlapping college costs. When I was growing up I do not think parents thought as much about it as they do now. When I hear how much tuition costs currently, I cannot imagine how a family can navigate the burden of putting their kids through school. I used to work with a woman who had 6 children; each one was 2 years apart in age. If you do the math, she would have multiple financial costs of college weighing down on her for years. Maybe she expected all of her kids to get scholarships, but I so wanted to ask her how she was going to pay for all the schooling. Since it was none of my business I was not going to pry. There are adults I know who are still paying off their student loans even though they have been out of college for 20-30 years. UNLESS the child invents the latest computer app or web service becoming a millionaire and skipping college, many parents are left to come up with creative ways they and their children can meet their financial obligations. Now I realize not every child will go to college; in my circle of friends and family it was a given that we all had to continue our education after high school. I knew one parent who worked 2 jobs during the week and a part time job on the weekend to help defray the college costs. There are several families I know who steer their children to a 2 year college for an associate’s degree to complete the basic required courses; afterwards, they transfer to a 4 year university to complete their studies. By doing this their costs are less than going directly to a 4 year accredited school. I have heard of a variety of options parents have employed to save money for their children’s college costs, but I have never heard of the idea the parents in this comedy came up with to put their child through school. AFTER spending their daughter’s college funds parents Kate and Scott Johansen, played by Amy Poehler (Sisters, Mean Girls) and Will Ferrell (The Other Guys, Daddy’s Home), needed to come up with a way they could put their daughter through school. Thanks to their friend Frank, played by Jason Mantzoukas (Dirty Grandpa, The Dictator), there was a way the couple could swing it. This comedy also starred Ryan Simpkins (A Single Man, Revolutionary Road) as Alex Johansen and Nick Kroll (My Blind Brother, Parks and Recreation-TV) as Bob. I will say the idea to raise college money was creative; I was curious to see how it would play out in the story. There were a couple of laughs that came out of the script; however, for the rest of the script I was not getting into it. The acting was nearly non-existent from Amy and Will. They were no different from any of their other characters including their stints on Saturday Night Live. Making rude or vulgar comments usually do not lead to laughs and this script was no exception. Adding in the high level of predictability, I was bored most of the time. I hope this does not come across as rude but the people associated with this dud need to be schooled on how to create a smart, fun comedy. No passing grade for this one.
1 ½ stars
Though I may still struggle with it, I am at least aware the goal is to find balance within myself. This is one of the things yoga has taught me. When participants in my yoga classes hear I am a credit manager, they stare at me in disbelief. Funny, the same thing happens when businesspeople hear I teach yoga. One may see these two jobs at extreme ends of the spectrum but there actually is some overlap between them. Yoga has taught me patience, which is needed for me to work with some large corporations in processing my company’s invoices for payment. As a credit manager I must be able to multi-task and recall different conversations and events to keep the receivables as current as possible. That ability to multi-task has helped me teach a yoga class where the participants are from all different skill levels. One of my reminders I tell members in class is never go to the extreme of a pose, allow one inch of leeway because that is where real growth takes place. Once a person goes to their extreme there is nowhere to grow from there and they get out of balance. No truer words have been spoken regarding this movie. ENGLISH professor by day and gambler by night, the stakes became quite high when Jim Bennett, played by Mark Wahlberg (Lone Survivor, The Fighter), could not cover his bets. His life began to spiral further out of control as he sunk deeper into debt, seeking help from gangsters and loan sharks. This film festival nominated crime drama received its strength from three individuals: Jessica Lange (The Vow, Grey Gardens-TV) as Jim’s mother Roberta, John Goodman (Argo, The Monuments Men) as loan shark Frank and Michael Kenneth Williams (12 Years a Slave, The Road) as gangster Neville Baraka. These actors were the dominant force of this thriller. Honestly, I would have preferred if the story revolved around them instead of Mark’s character. I found this remake to be uneven where some parts were dull while others clicked in to keep my attention. After a while there were scenes that seemed as if they were just rehashed from something previous. The story line with the love interest did not seem necessary to me; I would rather had more screen time from the three actors I mentioned earlier. Another issue for me was Mark’s acting; I never became emotionally connected to his character. It was weird because there were events taking place around him that should have made him come out with more intensity. I felt the picture on a whole was out of balance, leaving me not caring much about what happened.