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
THE MUTUAL FEAR OR MAYBE it was dread in both of our eyes bonded us together. We were both in the same class to be certified in a new fitness format. Not being a spontaneous type of person, as soon as I heard we would have to pair up to create a workout sequence incorporating the new techniques we were learning, I panicked at the idea of standing up in front of the class and free styling a new workout routine. The woman next to me must have been going through the same thing; because up until that point, we only said a courtesy hello to each other before sitting down in our spots. When the actual time came to pair up I was not sure she wanted to team with me since my experiences in fitness were different compared to hers. Since the people on either side of us turned the other way to find a partner we formed our team, sadly based on dread. WE WERE GIVEN 10-15 minutes to come up with a complete warm-up set to lead the class. I was never good with public speaking in college, though I quickly adjusted to it through my fitness classes. But after all the planning and rehearsing I put in to my own fitness routines I was confident enough to the point I did not hesitate expressing myself to the members. Here I was sitting with this stranger, figuring out what muscle group to utilize first as the goal was to increase the participant’s core temperature. I listened to her suggestions. In my heart I knew some of her routines would not qualify as a warm-up. Trying to gently steer her away from her plan, I made a few suggestions. She nodded her head as I spoke but insisted for the time allotted to us her plan would work best. I was not going to argue about it and relinquished to her choice of muscle workouts. When it was our turn we both went to the head of the class and started the music. Not more than 60 seconds went by when I realized I should have fought for my suggestions. The look on the instructor’s face, along with the participants in the classroom, told me we would not score high in this portion of the practical. Thank heavens this was not a life or death situation like the horrific one I saw in this action, adventure drama. AFTER THEIR PLANE CRASHED in a remote mountain area, two strangers would have to trust and depend on each other if they wanted to survive. Starring Idris Elba (The Dark Tower, Pacific Rim) as Ben Bass, Kate Winslet (Finding Neverland, Collateral Beauty) as Alex Martin, Beau Bridges (The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Descendants) as Walter and Dermot Mulroney (The Grey, My Best Friend’s Wedding) as Mark; there were several incredible thrilling scenes that were accentuated with the great chemistry between Idris and Kate. Overall I did not mind sitting through this picture even though it was predictable and a bit farfetched. What really stood out was the short time the writers went from an adventure film to a romantic one; it seemed forced to me and needed more time to grow organically in my opinion. I think because this was one of the only movies I saw after my ordeal in the hospital, it was escapism for me. Other viewers may not feel they are as in synch with the story as much as I found myself to be.
2 ½ stars
THERE ARE individuals who tend to be the recipient of an “I told you so” more times than not. One could say they were blinded by love or naïve or lacked life experiences; but that is really not the case. They simply do not see or focus on negativity when it comes to other people. I guess you can say they take the individual on face value. They do not look at good or evil in a person; instead their attention goes toward the current moment, however it gets presented to them. Looking at the other side of this equation, there are other individuals who can look at a person and quickly get an accurate feel for them, getting a sense if they are good or evil. They can have a conversation with someone and cut through the words and figure out the person’s makeup. You could say it is a valuable skill. GOOD AND EVIL has been the topics to several of my past reviews. I believe everyone has both of them inside; what they do with good and evil is up to them. I am familiar with both types of individuals I mentioned earlier. Several of my friends fall into the seeing good category; they take what they are given without question. One of the hardest parts about this for me is when one of my friends is in a relationship with someone I can see has evil in them. I offer my opinion when I am asked for it unless there is something blatant they do that cannot be ignored. Trust me I do not get any pleasure out of telling a friend I do not think the person they are dating is telling the truth. There was one friend I had who was in love with this guy who seemed to have these incredible jobs where he would travel the world. I remember one time where he was talking about a place I was extremely familiar with and I caught him in a couple of lies. It was with a heavy heart I had to break the truth about this mooch not having such a job. For me evil can come in many forms as this action, adventure fantasy will show you. WITH THE WORLD being made up of good and evil, the dark tower was the only thing that kept the two forces separate. Walter O’Dim aka The Man in Black, played by Matthew McConaughey (Free State of Jones, Killer Joe), was determined to make the tower fall. Based on the Stephen King (The Shining, Carrie) book series this film also starred Idris Elba (Star Trek Beyond, Luther-TV) as Roland Deschain aka The Gunslinger, Tom Taylor (Doctor Foster-TV, Legends-TV) as Jake Chambers, Jackie Earle Haley (The Birth of a Nation, Watchmen) as Sayre and Katheryn Winnick (Love & Other Drugs, 50 First Dates) as Laurie Chambers. I found Idris to be an interesting choice for this film. He has the acting capability as well as the rest of the cast but for me the script did not offer any of them the opportunity to be memorable. For the most part I found the script cheesy and it stayed in the mid range level of emotions. The idea was intriguing but I felt this story needed more punch to it. Matthew who can play crazy intense again was not offered the chance to let loose. Also the special effects were dull. Having never read any of the books, I wondered how much evil Stephen King really had put into this world.
1 ¾ stars
Summer for me meant the typical things such as hot weather, no school and trips to the ice cream shoppe. There was one other thing important to me; it meant the television season coming to an end until autumn. Most of the major networks showed reruns and I was perfectly fine with it. But then something happened and some television shows had more episodes than others, while others started either earlier or later in the season. Since I do not like change this caused me undue stress. By the way when I say I do not like change, I really mean it. Having a mind set of not fixing things if they are not broken, consistency brings calmness to me. In fact, just hearing the word change gives me reason to pause (except when using it to describe the direction I am driving); this is why I prefer to use the word evolve. Now the reason I am talking about this is my way of explaining the sadness I experienced while watching this movie. It was hard to see Anton Yelchin (Green Room, Like Crazy) reprising for the last time his character Chekov. I could not help but think the crew I have gotten to know will never be the same. My other sadness was thinking about the passing of Leonard Nimoy, the original Spock from the TV series and Spock Prime in this latest movie franchise. A part of life is death, it is an absolute given; yet it is for the most part an unwelcome change. With today’s review I did not want to turn it into a maudlin piece; I wanted to express my dislike with change and the sadness it caused, so we can move on to the rest of my movie watching experience. RESPONDING to a call for help the Enterprise comes under a vicious attack that will change the lives of the crew members. This latest in the action, science fiction series saw the return of Chris Pine (The Finest Hours, Z for Zachariah) as Captain James T. Kirk and Karl Urban (Dredd, The Loft) as Doctor “Bones” McCoy. Brought into this adventure story were new characters Sofia Boutella (StreetDance 2, Kingsman: The Secret Service) as Jaylah and Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, Beasts of No Nation) as Krall. I have to say these two were a welcome addition with both their acting and action skills. It was needed with the fast paced fight scenes in this film. There was a lot to like in this film but I felt the script was the weak link. I never felt I understood fully the villain’s story besides the disappointing major battle scene, at least for me. During a middle period of the picture I felt I was just watching a series of fights and battles that did not have much thought put in to where the story was going. On a positive note I really liked the idea behind the story, especially the dynamics between Spock and McCoy. This installment may not be the best out of the series but it certainly was not the worst. Outside of the passing of Leonard and Anton, I was not sad with the outcome of this film and left the theater feeling happy.
When something that has only been created in a novel or been seen on television comes to life it can be a miraculous experience. Think about it, for those who saw Santa Claus sitting in his big chair with a line of children waiting nearby to tell him their wish list of toys; it had to be an amazing event. Depending on a child’s age seeing characters from their video games brought to life must also be a heady experience. I remember the first time I went to the zoo; having only seen household pets, squirrels, birds and a couple of farm animals; I was so excited to see all the exotic animals that were living in the zoo. My very first stuffed animal was a chimpanzee dressed in red overalls. Now I was seeing what I thought were all of his cousins jumping and swinging around in their own habitat. I have mentioned previously how I prefer reading afterwards the book a movie was based on, due to the author’s choice of words are usually better than the finished film project. With that being said I have to say there has been many times where I love seeing stories, historical events and folklore coming to life on the big screen. When done right, a movie can provide the voices of the characters one has made up in their heads of the ones in a novel. They can also bring to life an event that took place years ago but still has an importance in one’s life to this day. Today’s review is about a movie that brings new life to a classic story. WHEN it suddenly became dangerous to stay at home the man-cub Mowgli, played by newcomer Neel Sethi; was taken by the panther Bagheera, voiced by Ben Kingsley (Learning to Drive, The Dictator), who would take him to a safer place. Mowgli’s journey would be life changing. This adventure drama was absolutely unbelievable to watch on the big screen; in fact, I may go back to see it in 3D because the CGI in this film was beautiful and realistic. Kudos to Neel Sethi because he was utterly believable as Mowgli; keeping in mind he was the only live person in this fantastical family film. Now that does not take anything away from actors such as Bill Murray (Rock the Kasbah, The Monuments Men) as Baloo the bear and Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation, Thor franchise) as Shere Khan the tiger who were perfect voicing their characters. Having read the Rudyard Kipling book and seen the animated film years ago, I was totally taken into Mowgli’s world from my theater seat. I still love the first film but I have to tell you this version has every right to be considered a Disney classic on its own merits. It will not matter if you are familiar with this story or not because either way all the characters in this picture will draw you into their “real” world and you will be glad you were able to visit it.
One would think we have gone beyond stereotypes; but I still get “that look” in people’s faces when in conversation, if it comes up, I mention my primary doctor is a woman. That look could be made up by a furled brow, downturned lips, maybe one side of the upper lip rising up in a sneer or even rolling eyes; it is so strange to me. When did it become the norm for someone to foist their prejudices onto someone else? Through my life I have been the victim from a variety of biases. There was a person who wanted to know if I celebrated Thanksgiving. When I said yes and asked why they asked, the person told me she did not know if people from my religion celebrated the holiday. I had to tell her Thanksgiving was an American holiday not a religious one. Possibly I mentioned before how one of my elementary teachers told me I would not amount to anything if I decided to pursue writing as a career. Discrimination was and still is a cancerous attribute in humankind. The thing that scares me the most is seeing those individuals who are proud of their prejudices. Granted you tend to know exactly what to expect from someone who does not cover up their biases. However, there is a completely different level that has more subtly to it. Now it occurs to me if you are starting to wonder if this animated movie is as serious as tonight’s topic the answer is yes; but it is mixed inside of a fun, action adventure film. JUDY Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin (Walk the Line, Once Upon a Time-TV), was the first bunny on Zootopia’s police force. Her boss Chief Bogo, voiced by Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, Thor franchise), took one look at her and decided she could only issue parking tickets. The only way Judy could prove herself was to take on a dangerous case that she had to solve in 2 days time or lose her job. I was so surprised by this picture; it took me a short time to realize there was an intelligent, inclusive script that still provided fun and excitement. If one expects singing and dancing in this animated movie they will be disappointed since there was none. However, all ages will find enjoyment in watching this film. As for the actors chosen to voice the characters, it was brilliant casting by the movie studio. With Jenny Slate (Obvious Child, Bob’s Burgers-TV) as Bellwether and Jason Bateman (The Gift, This is Where I Leave You) as Nick Wilde, I have to say Jason was outstanding. He and his character were literally the same, that is how good he was in the role. So to finish up, this movie has an important message that everyone should take the opportunity to see and have fun doing it. Do not be surprised if you come out being more diligent in celebrating the differences in all of us.
3 1/2 stars
Everyone has their own way of offering penance to right a wrong. There are some people who will say they are sorry so many times that it begins to sound like a standard salutation. When I have to I will usually use the word “apologize” instead of “sorry” because for some reason I have it in my brain that the word sorry should be saved for important occasions. I want the word to have deeper meaning when I use it. Instead of verbalizing one’s regrets there are some individuals who will perform an act of kindness to represent the regret of their actions. After the disintegration of an important relationship, where I kept starting my heated sentences with the word “you” instead of sharing my feelings, I spent months volunteering at a few non-profit organizations that represented us. A goal I have for this lifetime is not to leave with any regrets. Sure there are times I feel guilty about something that happened; but before I act upon it I look back to see how I could have handled the situation differently. When someone tells me they wished they did not feel guilty I point out that feeling guilt is a good thing; it shows that we are aware and in touch with our feelings. On the other hand there are people who know how to manipulate others by placing a guilt trip on them. FORMALLY part of a Congo based assassination team Terrier, played by Sean Penn (All the King’s Men, Milk), did not realize when he returned after several years that he would become the target. This action drama film assembled a capable cast. Besides Sean there was Javier Bardem (The Counselor, Eat Pray Love) as Felix, Jasmine Trinca (The Son’s Room, The Big Dream) as Annie and Ray Winstone (Hugo, The Departed) as Stanley. It was obvious Sean put a great deal of time into this role since he bulked up for the character, removing his shirt several times to show it off. This may sound odd but the story was easy to follow; it just did not make much sense. Sadly the script was poorly done where I found myself being bored several times. The truth is once I understood the story I realized the writers had a perfect opportunity to create a compelling, tight script. They failed miserably because there was no tension, suspense or connections between most of the characters. If they thought the violence and bloodshed would suffice, I have to say they were completely wrong. I tried finding good things to say about this crime movie but I could not come up with anything else. There is nothing I have to apologize for with this review. There was blood and violence throughout the movie.
1 1/2 stars
I am generally not as kind of a person as I used to be or even want to be. Those within my circles of friends and family I try to be kind and thoughtful; however, these days strangers are a whole different story. And I have to tell you I hate being that way. Through the years as some of my displays of kindness were met with deceitfulness, those layers of negative experiences started to pull the kindness inside of me down into a setting hardness of mistrust. There were the relationships where kindness was met with covert acts of hurtfulness; helping the high school student who was selling local newspaper subscriptions but my money never made it to the newspaper office and the former co-worker who took my data to pretend it was their own hard work; each thing kept chipping away at me. Look at all the news being reported about internet or phone scams that prey on unsuspecting individuals; it is enough to make one never answer the phone or open a piece of mail again. I know all of these things can lead to a society that is made of closed up and isolated people; it is a scary thought. KINDNESS was met with a night of terror and horror for Terri, played by Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Person of Interest-TV). All it took was to help a stranded driver who had a car accident and needed to make a phone call. Unbeknownst to Terri the gentleman was escaped convict Colin Evans, played by Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom). The strongest element in this crime thriller was Taraji and Idris. The rest of the cast that included Leslie Bibb (Iron Man franchise, Law Abiding Citizen) as Meg and Henry Simmons (World’s Greatest Dad, Madea’s Family Reunion) as Terri’s husband, really took a back seat to Idris and Taraji. With their solid acting the two actors had a believable chemistry that kept me interested in the story. Now about that story; the script was kept at such a poor level that the movie kept brushing into hokeyness. It was astounding how many times Taraji’s character Terri, who was a lawyer, kept making poor choices. Even though the story was predictable and filled with cliches, I still was able to be mildly entertained for a portion of the time. It was a shame this movie was not kind to its actors and it would be unkind of me to tell you to go see it at the movie theaters. There were several scenes that had violence and blood in them.
There are some movies where the story carries the characters, while others have the characters carry the story. Films such as The Wizard of Oz or Sink the Bismarck are story driven. Movies where the character makes the story would be something like The King’s Speech or Captain Phillips. I am especially fond of cinema where the character was an actual person. Though he was before my time, I was fascinated with the film The King’s Speech about King George VI. Learning about the character’s life in visual form created an extra layer of understanding from what I already learned in history books. Now when the main character is someone of my time, I feel like I am witnessing history, that I am part of it. For some reason the idea of future generations reading about a noteworthy individual from my lifetime gives me a charge. I do not really know why; I just like the idea of being able to tell someone about events on a personal level. In regards to this biographical movie, the main character was the driving force. Luckily the main character of Nelson Mandela was impressively played by Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, RocknRolla). This dramatic picture covers Nelson’s life from childhood through his 27 years of prison to becoming President of South Africa. After my first initial recognition of Idris as a current movie and television star, I quickly forgot it and believed I was watching Nelson Mandela; that is how good Idris was in the role. My knowledge about Nelson’s 1st wife Winnie Madikizela was limited; but not only did I think the actress Naomie Harris (Skyfall, 28 Days Later) did a wonderful job portraying her, but I felt I gained an understanding of what happened to the relationship of the two. With the wonderful acting I felt the story suffered here; there was so much history to cover that some parts of it went by too quickly. Here was a case where I think making two movies would have been better. I found myself not being engaged as much when Nelson was not in the scene. It was a disappointment because I saw this film soon after Nelson’s death. With all the newscasts and special reports that came out, I was already invested in his life story. This Golden Globe nominated movie covered a lot of ground; it just did not dig deep enough for me. Several scenes included the Afrikaans and Xhosa languages with English subtitles.
2 1/2 stars
I never understood why monsters would constantly attack Japan. The poor citizens were caught on film as they screamed and ran away from creatures, who had names like Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra. At the age where I would soon realize those horrible monsters were actually humans dressed in costumes; I could be found sitting on the floor in front of our console television, mesmerized by those massive creatures of destruction. Even today I can still hear Godzilla’s roar just before flames would shoot out of his mouth. Writer and director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone) has created a beautiful tribute to those old classic movies with this science fiction film. In the fine tradition of Japanese director Ishiro Honda (Godzilla, All Monsters Attack) and American visual effects creator Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad), Guillermo honored these 2 men with this visual masterpiece. Earth had been fighting a war against alien beings called the Kaiju (Japanese for strange creature). To combat the massive beings, the government created colossal robots called Jaegers (German for hunters), that were each synched with 2 pilots that were mentally connected. Under the command of Stacker Pentecost, played by Idris Elba (Prometheus, Thor), it appeared the Kaiju were learning to adapt with each battle. Cast in the starring role of Raleigh Becket was Charlie Hunnam (Children of Men, Sons of Anarchy-TV). This was not the best choice because he lacked screen presence. Compare him to Idris or Rinko Kikuchi (Norwegian Wood, The Brothers Bloom) as Mako Mori and you will see what I mean. Details were spent on the special effects and the fight scenes. The monsters were certainly imaginative; but I found myself drawn more to the robots. What was weak for me was the story, particularly some of the cheesy dialog. It did not help having the overly dramatic music accompanying several scenes. I hope they will make a sequel because there were parts to this film that verged on greatness. It just came up a little short in becoming one heck of an exciting thrill ride movie for me. Move over Godzilla, there is a new beast in town. Stay through the first set of credits at least.
2 3/4 stars