THE bus pulled up just as I said goodbye to my friends. They were hanging out together after school, but I had to go to work. The bus ride took around 25 minutes which gave me some time to study for an exam I was having the next day. Is this what I wanted to do after school? No, I would have preferred hanging out with my friends; studying for the exam could take place after dinner. My part-time job was at a camera store. Luckily I worked in the warehouse so I would not have to be out in front selling or ringing up sales. It was already bad enough that I was one of the few who had a job; but to have to wait on my friends or their parents would make things worse. Truthfully the job was not bad at all; since I was already into photography, I enjoyed being around the different film and camera products. I also would hear about new items before the general public, which I thought was cool. MANAGING my time between school and work was a challenge. By the time my friends and I were seniors a majority of us had after school jobs. One of the perks for me was being able to drive the owner’s car to make special pickup orders or deliveries when the company van was out on the road. I was not comfortable driving the large van as I would have to maneuver several side streets on the route. As for the owner’s car, it was a luxury automobile with all the extra appointments; in other words, all the bells and whistles one could buy for it. Even though driving the car was a highlight, I still had the challenge of keeping my grades up while working. Going to school, work and be with my friends was always a give and take situation. There were times I would miss out doing fun stuff; but on the other hand, I always had money in my wallet. My challenges paled by comparison to the ones the main character in this action, adventure film had to endure. AFTER helping out the Avengers the only thing Peter Parker/Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland (The Impossible, The Lost City of Z), wanted to do was to become a full time crime fighter. However he first had to finish high school. This reboot of the science fiction franchise had a well rounded cast that gave the story a good kick of fun excitement. Starring Robert Downey Jr (Sherlock Holmes franchise, The Judge) as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Michael Keaton (The Founder, Spotlight) as Adrian Toomes/Vulture and Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler, The Lincoln Lawyer) as May Parker; each of them did a great job in their roles. I did wish Michael Keaton had more screen time. With his acting skills the writers could have made his character darker and more intense; I think this would have added more to the story. The thing I enjoyed about this film was having Peter struggle with his desire to be a superhero while trying to be a typical teenager. There were elements of wit and charm to many scenes due to Tony Stark’s presence and Peter’s puppy like eagerness. I felt the middle of the film slowed down with the story line about going out on a date; the intensity and action were weak. Though I found Tom’s whiny voice annoying at times, I felt he was the right choice to lead this reboot. There were extra scenes in the middle and at the end of the credits.
3 ¼ stars
FOR general purposes let me define “karma” this way: The things you do in this life determine how you will be treated in your next one. I would have to spend more time to contemplate how I came to believe in karma since it was not part of my childhood religious upbringing. As a child I know the concept of karma would have been foreign to me. It was in college where I first was introduced to it. Though it was looked at from an educational perspective, as time went on I began to see where certain people would receive comfort from the philosophy behind it. Removing the religious aspect; when I think about karma, it makes me stop to question some of my actions. I cannot change what I have done in the past but in the present I do find value in being aware of karma. A perfect example would be a friend of mine. Recently coming to a place where they now believe in karma, I have noticed a change in their behavior. From a greedy position I can now see how they are more relaxed in their daily life and the need they had before has abated, replaced with almost a serene attitude. AN area of my life where my awareness of karma has affected me is my interactions with difficult people. I know this may sound trivial to some; but in the past I would match a difficult person’s nastiness, loudness and orneriness inch for inch. If they were yelling I would yell back; if they called me names I would throw it right back at them. Having altered my attitude I get angry much less because in my mind I am thinking this difficult person is going to have a hard time in their next life. I wonder if that is how the saying, “What goes around, comes around,” came into existence. It is a lesson some of the teenagers in this dramatic mystery could have learned. STUCK reliving the last day of her life Samantha Kingston, played by Zoey Deutch (Vampire Academy, Why Him?), begins to see herself in a different light. With fellow cast members Halston Sage (Paper Towns, Neighbors) as Lindsay Edgecomb, Logan Miller (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, I’m in the Band-TV) as Kent McFuller and Elena Kampouris (Labor Day, My Big Fat Greek Wedding franchise) as Juliet Sykes; this young adult story started out with an interesting concept. The acting was decent since some of the characters’ actions were making me uncomfortable. To address the elephant in the room, the idea for this story was similar to the one in the film Groundhog Day, where a character relives their life over and over. For some reason I never totally connected to the characters. I would have appreciated more insight into each person; instead, I felt myself reacting to the nastiness. It reminded me of what I saw during my high school days, which I prefer leaving in the past. However, I did like the story arc of one main character and that is what kept me somewhat interested in this picture. My guess is this movie would draw similar aged viewers since that was the makeup of the audience at my viewing. After the film was over I had a feeling that me sitting through this mystery movie meant I would not have to do this again in my next life.
2 ¼ stars
SCANDALOUS is what it was when students discovered the English teacher was dating the PE teacher. The news spread through the student body faster than a 4th of July firecracker going off. There were 2 big reasons why this relationship was perceived as scandalous. The first one was the idea of teachers dating. Keep in mind for a young elementary student a teacher, at least back during my time, was an authority figure. When they told us something, we followed their instructions without any back talk. Teachers had a high place in the parental hierarchy; none of the students ever looked at their teachers as regular human beings. As I write this I know it must sound weird but I remember my teachers being kind, crazy, tough, cold and gentle; they ruled the room not with an iron fist but with a purpose. The idea that a teacher would have a social life was odd. None of us ever saw our teachers out and about in the neighborhood; in fact, the only time we would not see them in school was on a field trip. So the shocked students not only had to process a teacher was dating but two teachers and they were dating each other—unimaginable. THE other big reason this news about our 2 teachers was eye popping was the fact they were not of the same race. It was a different time back then simply because there were not many examples of mixed race relationships. If a child has not been exposed to different possibilities, then seeing one of the options in the flesh can be startling to say the least. I can still remember hearing some students questioning what color the children would be if the two teachers ever got married. You can imagine how this dating news changed many students’ perceptions about teachers. I do not know if it would be correct to say this but all of a sudden teachers were no longer considered infallible; not that they were doing anything wrong, just living their lives. If you think anything I have said was shocking then you might not be prepared for what happens between teachers in this comedy. AFTER being fired from his teaching position because fellow teacher Andy Campbell, played by Charlie Day (Pacific Rim, Horrible Bosses franchise), snitched on him to the school’s principle; Strickland, played by Ice Cube (Ride Along franchise, 21 Jump Street franchise) challenged Andy to a knockout fist fight in the playground after school. The students were already taking bets. This film was painful to watch because I have a hard time watching bullies picking on people. I did not mind Charlie’s performance though after a while the delivery of his lines became annoying. His character had some truth in him that I wished the writers would have explored; but the goal of this script was to get some cheap, easy laughs. On one level one could say the script was creating a commentary on our public school system, however the thought was not expanded. I know the current school experience is totally different to when I was in school, but a good portion of this movie’s actions were farfetched. The best part for me was the blooper reel at the beginning of the credits.
1 ¾ stars
FOUR years attending the same school taught me more about social dynamics than any of my classes. I am not sure this applies to every school; but going into high school I was not prepared for the pecking order that was established for the student body. It could easily have been called a caste system because there were the “haves and have nots.” Within a short time one group that quickly formed were the popular kids. This class was made up of jocks, cheerleaders and anyone who the majority of students deemed beautiful or handsome. From my experience this was the alpha group. STUDENTS with the best grades, who did not qualify for the alpha group, formed their own clan known as the “brainiacs” aka smart students. Now this group used their collective intellect to thwart the jock group as a counterbalance to their top status. This group tended to be more receptive in allowing classmates to join them. If one was not fit for either of these two groups then there was a lower status group known as the “good students.” Though not as high in status, the students in this group never got in trouble, did nothing to standout in an inappropriate way or clash with any of the other groups. Continuing down the food chain so to speak there is the group referred to as the stoners. For anyone displaying behavior associated with drunkenness or high on drugs, this was their group. They did not care about the status of the other groups, barely acknowledged them or did not care at all. There are sub groups and such but down at the bottom were the leftovers in the student body and they were considered the losers. The kids in this group had to be on guard because they could be easy targets for any of the other groups. The toughest part of this caste system was trying not to carry it with you as your time served was ending. ALREADY not feeing connected to her fellow classmates Nadine, played by Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, Begin Again), at least had one good friend. However that was not going to be enough considering her brother Darian, played by Blake Jenner (Everybody Wants Some, Glee-TV), was a star football player. This coming of age comedic drama was not like the other films that have been done in this category. With Woody Harrelson (Out of the Furnace, Now You See Me franchise) as Mr. Bruner, Kyra Sedgwick (Gamer, The Closer-TV) as Mona and Hayden Szeto (The Unbidden, Chop Shop-TV) as Erwin; this cast not only performed well together, they appeared authentic in a modern way. My experiences both helped and hindered my involvement into the story. On one hand I understood the dynamics perfectly, but then some of the scenes did not seem real to me only because I had never encountered them when I was in school. There were a couple of times that my disbelief took over which lost the scene for me. However the acting was sharp as was the script; so I was able to get back on track with the story. Having seen this movie only confirmed my belief that high school is not meant for the weak.
They said they did not like playing with me because I was no fun whenever we would play this game. The reason I was no fun to them is because I never took the dare, always picking truth. I never thought about it but I can now look back and see one of the reasons why I would never have chosen dare; I never liked giving up control. It seems as if my control issues started way back. The first time I recall playing this game called Truth or Dare was in high school. It wasn’t something you could buy off a store shelf; there was not an instruction book or a restriction on the number of players. A group of us were sitting around in the basement’s den at one of our houses. As soon as the game was explained I immediately knew I would be choosing truth all the time. You see I did not have a problem telling the truth. Not in a goody-goody type of way; I always just had this blunt way of speaking my mind, even if it would cause embarrassment. As far as I could tell, based on some of the dares that were taken, my words were no embarrassing than the actions of some of my friends. If memory serves me correctly by the time we neared senior year the game did not provide the same entertainment and fell to the wayside. I guess you could say we were growing up. It appears the game has evolved into something more based on what I saw in this adventure mystery. HIGH school student Vee, played by Emma Roberts (We’re the Millers, American Horror Story-TV), thought she could stop playing a popular online game anytime she wanted to, but the game did not work that way. This dramatic crime film had a believable cast of actors. Besides Emma there was Dave Franco (Now You See Me franchise, Warm Bodies) as Ian, Emily Meade (That Awkward Moment, Trespass) as Syndey, Miles Heizer (Rudderless, Parenthood-TV) as Tommy and Kimiko Glenn (HairBrained, Orange is the New Black-TV) as Liv. The acting from Emma and Dave however stood out the most for me. Sitting in the theater, I have to tell you I not only felt old while watching this updated version of the game Truth or Dare, I believe I was the oldest person in the audience. The variety of dares piqued my interest at first; but as time went on, I was getting a little bored. What prevented me from totally not caring was the fast pace the director kept up. The scenes in the beginning were fine as they moved the story along and were actually entertaining. By the time the film was reaching its conclusion it seemed as if the writers were trying to give a morality lesson; it shifted the focus away from everything that happened earlier in the movie. There is a good chance younger viewers would enjoy this movie more than I did. All I can say is at my age I really did not care to play this game again.
2 ¼ stars
In our adult life the romantic relationships we form are based on trust, empathy and honesty among other attributes. I hesitate to quickly say love since I have seen examples where some people are in love with the relationship but not necessarily the person. However how many of us even thought of these things when we were younger? Can you remember what attracted you to your first crush or first love? I know I wasn’t wondering if we had similar attributes; I just remember how much fun we would have together. Where some kids were attracted to the star athletes or the smartest ones, I remember my attraction would accelerate if they could make me laugh. Writing this now sounds silly at firs to me; but the more I think about it I see humor has always held a strong position within my relationships. There were friends I had back then who even after their relationship ended with their first love continued to hold onto the memory of it, using it as a measure of judgement for all their future relationships. Not only can I still remember mine, but I can even tell you what events we attended together and what we wore; how crazy is that? There really is some type of exotic, strong power those first loves or crushes have on the majority of us, isn’t there? Just take a look at the main character in this dramatic mystery to find out how much. SINCE he was a young kid Quentin, played by Nat Wolff (The Fault in our Stars, Palo Alto), always had a special place in his heart for his next door neighbor Margo, played by Cara Delevingne (Anna Karenina, The Face of an Angel). The problem was she never knew it; so the day she mysteriously disappeared, Quentin could do only one thing and that was to find her. Based on John Green’s (The Fault in our Stars, Looking for Alaska) novel of the same name, this romantic movie had a capable cast. With relative newcomer Justice Smith as Radar and Austin Abrams (The Kings of Summer, Gangster Squad) as Ben, I thought they all captured the essence of high school life. However as I was watching this film I kept getting the feeling that the writers and director were trying real hard to make this picture as powerful as John’s previous work on The Fault in our Stars movie. This caused the film to come across in uneven patches. There were parts I enjoyed and others that were dull. This may have all started from the premise of the story, for it was a little far-fetched to me. Not that I want to make comparisons but I still remember The Fault in our Stars film; I just do not think I will remember this one as much.
2 1/4 stars
Legend had it that one of the students who had worked on the auditorium’s fire curtain still haunted the theater. The story I heard was when the fire curtain was installed the students from the school’s art department were allowed to decorate the drab black colored curtain. As they were working on it something went wrong and the curtain came crashing down and crushed a boy to death. Ever since that time there had been unexplained things that took place around the theater, like lights turning on by themselves or hanging counterweights swinging back and forth in the still air. Every freshman in the school knew about this story by the time they first walked into the school building if not before. I have no idea how some of these stories started. During my time at the school, I never heard about odd events taking place. In fact, the only story that went around one year was about a teacher who had a prosthetic arm. She would always wear long sleeved blouses or jackets along with a white glove covering up the hand portion. Mean spirited students or one who may have failed her class, I am guessing, started telling a story about how her arm was attacked by a couple of birds who had flown through the open window of her classroom. The story evolved into the birds being a flock of woodpeckers who zeroed in on her wooden arm, trying to make a nesting place in it as she wildly swung her fake arm around her head. I am sure every school has a story; just look at this one. TWENTY years after a tragic accident took place during a staged performance; the theater department thought it was time to re-stage that fateful production. Not all ideas are good; maybe some things should be left alone. This horror suspense thriller used the found footage format as the story followed actors and friends Reese, Pfeifer, Ryan and Cassidy; played by relative newcomers Reese Mishler and Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos (As Night Comes) and Cassidy Gifford (Adventures of Serial Buddies, God’s Not Dead). Not only was this a low budget production but it was somewhat of a lame idea for a story. I say this because I cannot imagine any school agreeing to relaunch a play that had such a tragic event take place during it. The script was filled with every horror film cliche, besides not being at all sophisticated since it was so predictable. On the plus side there were no gory or bloody scenes, the writers tried using suspense as the main vehicle to drive this picture. Too bad it failed for I could tell you stories about my high school experiences that were a lot scarier than this movie.
1 2/3 stars
She did not even give me a chance to show her what I could do. I noticed her looking me up and down as I walked into her office for the interview. After we went over my work history she asked me about my teaching style. I gave her a brief description and offered to give a demonstration. She declined the offer which confirmed by suspicions. The way she looked at me in the beginning told me she was judging me based on my looks. I did not look like the typical fitness instructor because I did not have a smooth chiseled body; I was pudgy (I preferred saying soft and malleable) and hairy with a full beard. She had no idea how committed I would be to the job, nor see how hard I would work alongside the members of the health club. Due to the challenges I had in PE classes during my school years, I pushed myself harder than other fitness instructors. Maybe I was trying to prove a point of just fight my way to acceptance; it probably was a mixture of both. I was upset that this fitness manager was basing her decisions on the way I looked; I wanted to tell her that true good health began on the inside. She had no idea that I was able to teach 3 classes in a row, giving each one of them 100% of myself. Sadly she was not the first person to judge me based on my looks. I understood it; however, it still stung because I was never one to make a judgement based solely on the surface of a person. The main character in this movie could relate I am sure. LIVING in a tough neighborhood was a challenge for high school senior Malcolm, played by Shameik Moore (Joyful Noise, Incredible Crew-TV). Added pressure coming from the upcoming college entrance exams, that he needed to help get him into Harvard, Malcolm took a break by going to a party with his friends. It was a party that would have a major impact on all of them. This film festival winning comedic drama offered a different take on the typical coming of age tale. There was grittiness to the story with the use of some strong language. With Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Perfect Game) as Jib and Zoe Kravitz (Mad Max: Fury Road, Good Kill) as Nakia, the cast was good though I did not always find them believable. The script had a hint of being a screwball comedy in places as certain events unfolded. There were a couple of people who walked out in the middle of this movie. Maybe they had preconceived notions of what this film was supposed to be.
2 3/4 stars
Maybe it takes a passage of time for one’s perceptions to evolve out of a wider base of experiences. Now when I look back at my school years, though some of them were brutal, I see there were parts of it where I was fortunate. Having gone to school at a time when students were not considered bull’s-eyes I can only recall one incident where a student had died. He was the brother of a classmate who was 1 year behind us in school. There were rumors about what happened to him but it appeared as if he had killed himself. Outside of that the only thing that came close was one student who was an epileptic who had a seizure in the middle of a class and another who was a hemophiliac. I remember when the teacher spent half of the morning explaining to us what it meant to be a hemophiliac; we were told to be very careful around her, especially during PE class and recess. As you are probably guessing this was before the HIPAA law came into effect. In regards to these 3 individuals, it was the only time where the different factions (it is the only word that does justice to what my school was like) in the school came together. Whether one actively sought out a faction or was judged and placed in one; after seeing this stellar film, I think all schools have the same factions. FORCED by his mother to go visit a classmate recently diagnosed with cancer Greg, played by Thomas Mann (Project X, Beautiful Creatures), had no idea what to say to Rachel, played by Olivia Cooke (The Signal, Ouija). Not interested in his pity Rachel and Greg had nothing in common except not being part of a particular group in school. Her journey through her illness would blur the lines. This film festival winning comedic drama was this generation’s coming of age story. With cast members like Nick Offerman (We’re the Millers, Parks and Recreation-TV) as Greg’s dad, Molly Shannon (Analyze This, Life After Beth) as Denise and newcomer R J Cyler as Earl; everyone was believable and gelled so well together. The bond between everyone was cemented by the intelligent script that had street smarts. As I sat in the theater watching this movie, I had various school memories popping up that were similar in theme to what I was seeing on screen. With the outstanding directing that beautifully blended in the absurd, sad, happy and uncomfortable scenes; I was swept into the story of this film and enjoyed nearly every minute being involved with these students. Wow, I wish I could have said the same thing about my time spent during my school years.
3 2/3 stars