GROWING UP, I HAD A FRIEND who was embarrassed of her father. Without knowing his age, all of us felt he was the oldest out of any of our dads. Not that it was a big deal to any of us, but to her she felt uncomfortable by it. He did not participate in any of the school functions that involved any physical activity. I do not think that was an issue for my friend because I knew what bothered her the most about her dad; he spoke with a heavy accent. Being the oldest of his siblings, he tried taking care of them in their war-torn country after their parents were killed. Some of the siblings did not make it out when he was planning for all of them to immigrate to the United States. Out of all the fathers I knew, he was the only one with an accent. It did not bother me at all; I thought he was a sweet, quiet man who despite the circumstances dealt to him and his family, he did a wonderful job of providing for his children. They owned the apartment building they lived in, and the dad had other real estate holdings, so there was some sense of security for all of them. I can say as we all grew older my friend learned more about her family history, which instilled in her a strong sense of pride for her father. SHE WAS NOT THE ONLY FRIEND I had who was embarrassed of their parents. There was the friend whose mother enjoyed participating in school functions. However, she would always come dressed inappropriately. Added to that was her over the top, loud personality. Many of the other parents tried to avoid her. Either she was oblivious or just did not care, because she never wavered in her choices of clothes and level of outrageous loud bantering. My friend would try to steer us in a different direction to avoid her mother anytime she showed up at our school. I remember one time at a school carnival, I spotted her manning the ball toss booth. From my spot away from her, I could see what she was wearing had to be upsetting some school officials. And sure enough, as I was walking towards her to say hello, our principal walked up to her and said she would have to cover herself up. I do not know if she expected it or not, but she bent over and took a sweater out of her bag. The principal told her to keep it buttoned up or she would have to leave the school. I never mentioned this to my friend. I am sure many of us at one time or another found something our parents were doing that was embarrassing; however, I do not think it was on the scope of what the young boy was experiencing in this dramatic, horror mystery. WHEN MIDDLE SCHOOL TEACHER JULIA MEADOWS, played by Keri Russell (Dark Skies, Free State of Jones), notices one of her students withdrawing more and more from the classroom lessons, she takes it upon herself to find out what is going on. However, she does not understand there is a reason why her student doesn’t want her to get involved. With Jesse Plemons (The Power of the Dog, The Irishman) as Paul Meadows, relative newcomer Jeremy T. Thomas as Lucas Weaver, Graham Greene (Wind River, Dances with Wolves) as Warren Stokes and Scott Haze (Venom, Child of God) as Frank Weaver; I found this film played out more like a suspense story than horror. However, there were a few gory scenes with blood. There is something about Keri that I always find believable, and in this story, she was quite good. Add in Jesse and I did not mind the slower pace because the 2 actors were excellent together. The buildup of tense suspense was well done, and I feel it helped as two story lines were vying back and forth. Compared to other movies in this genre, this one is not the greatest; but it still entertained me. There was nothing here that the writers and director would find embarrassing.
2 ½ stars
I HAVE NOT THOUGHT ABOUT HIM for decades. His hair matched his personality; it was bright, fire red. If memory serves me correctly, at one time he was the only redhead in the class. He could be so sweet in front of the teachers, flashing this smile that revealed a little space between his two front teeth that I assumed the teachers thought was adorable. Add in the two freckled fleshy cheeks with that smile and I am sure the teachers forgot what they were angry about in the first place. Little did they know; he could be equally mean. One time he was seated at his desk, quietly cutting with a pair of scissors, little bits of hair off the long-haired girl who was sitting in front of him. One of his favorite tricks to play was to break the ink cartridge inside of a pen and let the ink drop on the seat at a student’s desk; so, if the student did not notice, they would sit on the inked chair and stain their clothing. Doesn’t he sound like a real charmer? Luckily, he was not a fast runner so more times than not I was not the focus of his bullying. It was nothing for him to kick someone in the back to see them fall and that would include any animals that crossed his path. MAYBE I AM STEREOTYPING, BUT IN my experiences most bullies were not sweet and charming. With them never being anything but mean, there was never an expectation that one would catch them at a kind moment and be given a pass. This red-haired student, in my opinion, was more lethal because his actions were intentional and thought out. He had to get some enjoyment out of inflicting harm on other people, where someone who was always mean may not be aware, they are doing anything wrong or “bad.” Take it from me, there is nothing worse than sitting in class next to a known bully or mean kid because the entire time is spent keeping one eye on them in a state of perpetual dread, that something awful was about to happen. I am remembering how uncomfortable I was sitting in the classroom, not that the classroom was the only place where harm could befall me. The locker room in the gym was always a fertile place where bullies would rule. My vivid memory of this red -haired student appeared shortly after I saw the main character in this dramatic, western romance. TWO BROTHERS RUNNING THEIR CATTLE RANCH together face a change when one of them becomes fond of a widow. With Benedict Cumberbatch (The Courier, Doctor Strange) as Phil Burbank, Kirsten Dunst (The Beguiled, Little Women) as Rose Gordon, Jesse Plemons (The Irishman, I’m Thinking of Ending Things) as George Burbank, Kodi Smit-McPhee (Let Me In, The Road) as Peter Gordon and Sean Keenan (Glitch-TV, Lockie Leonard-TV) as Sven; the acting in this film was spectacular to the point where I felt Oscar nominations would be in store for some of the actors. The scenery, the music and the wonderful direction of scenes made this such an entertaining movie watching experience for me. The story’s pace was done in a slow and deliberate pace, where I found myself uneasy, as if there was going to be some impending doom taking place. This reaction was almost visceral for me, due to Benedict’s character. I especially enjoyed the way the director kept things at a minimum when it came to the actors. Instead of trying to manipulate the viewers’ emotions, she let the actors show their feelings in a look or gaze; it was effective. I also was surprised on how the story turned out; but it made perfect sense to me. This was an amazing film that, as I said earlier, should be a participant in this year’s Oscars’ ceremony.
3 ½ stars
IT IS ALL IN THE DELIVERY I discovered. There is something about a dynamic speaker delivering a message to a group. I saw proof of it when I was a reader at a wedding ceremony. Not that I want to brag, but there was a person before me who did a reading that had no feeling to it. More importantly, I did not feel any connection to what the person was saying regarding the couple being married. I looked around the church and saw some of the guests were looking down or whispering to each other. This made me more nervous than I already was since I was to be the next reader to go up to the altar to read a passage. Despite having practiced reading my passage for a couple of weeks, when it was my turn and I stood up, my stomach still trembled with nerves as I made my way to the alter. Once in position at the podium, I looked out at all the guests before taking a deep breath and began to read. I made a point to read slowly and look up at the audience from time to time. My biggest fear was put to rest when I did not fumble mispronouncing any of the words. After the ceremony, people stopped to tell me what a wonderful job I had done. In fact, one guest asked if I would be interested in becoming a reader at her church. The spoken word was alive and well and I felt good about my “performance.” SINCE THAT WEDDING, I HAVE PAID closer attention to speakers I encounter. Whether they are in person or televised, I notice the things they do or not do to engage with their audience. At a convention there was a seller in front of his booth who was talking about the products his company had developed. I happened to be familiar with the products; however, if I hadn’t been, I would not have stopped to listen to this presenter. He was monotone in his delivery, just standing still in one spot. It was a shame because the products were quite good. To make matters worse, this booth was next to another one that had a spokesperson who was dynamic and funny. Too bad their product was limited in its abilities; but you would not know based on all the attendees who were congregated around this booth to listen to the presenter. I could only imagine how the dry speaker next door was feeling with no one paying attention to him. Let us face it, having a spirited person as a spokesperson/leader is what can motivate people to want to be part of the experience they are talking about. There is a clear example of this in this Golden Globe winning, intense biographical drama. AS MORE INDIVIDUALS BECAME ATTRACTED TO what Fred Hampton, played by Daniel Kaluuya (Black Panther, Queen & Slim) was telling them; the more concerned was the FBI. They needed to find someone to get close to Fred and his organization; but who would want to do such a thing? With LaKeith Stanfield (Knives Out, Sorry to Bother You) as Bill O’Neal, Jesse Plemons (The Master, Game Night) as Roy Mitchell, Dominique Fishback (The Hate U Give, The Deuce-TV) as Deborah Johnson and Ashton Sanders (Moonlight, The Equalizer 2) as Jimmy Palmer; this film festival winner grabbed my attention from the beginning and never let go. The entire cast of actors were remarkable in acting out their characters; however, Daniel and LaKeith were the big standouts for me. The script was both powerful and scary at the same time, to the point there were parts of this film that came across as a thriller. Taking the story as it was presented in this film, I could not believe what was being done to Fred Hampton. Not only was this an historical period of time being depicted in this picture; it was being told in a powerful and engaging way that I would soon not forget.
3 2/3 stars