I NEED TO GIVE YOU SOME background first, for today’s review to make sense. There was a student in my class, who you never wanted to get into a fight with her. Yes, I said her. She was tough looking; though, part of the reason may be due to her having to repeat 6th grade. I sat near her in class. Because I was one seat behind her, she was forced to cheat off the boy sitting across from her; he was a “B” student. She was the first peer of mine who smoked cigarettes. Her usual spot to smoke besides the girl’s restroom was outside on the stairs that led up to the service door, at the back of the school. Let me call her Judy, Judy had a red leather cigarette case that had a gold clasp on top, that she would tap her fingernails on while she was smoking. Besides being tall for her age, she was bulky which explained why many of us knew not to mess with her. I saw her in a fight with another girl and I could not believe how vicious she was with her punching, scratching and slapping. Our teacher had to break up the fight, but it was after the other girl was crying with her dress torn in spots. Because Judy was a smart aleck and prone to disrupt the class, the teacher usually looked at Judy first whenever something unexpected happened in our classroom. NO MATTER WHAT KIND OF TROUBLE Judy would get into, I remained friendly and on good terms with her. The reason being she came to my rescue when a fellow classmate was picking on me. She went right up and punched him in the stomach; he never bothered me again. Ever since that time we had a casual friendship. With me not having to worry about ever being on the receiving end of her aggressions, I was able to see a different side to her as the school year progressed. Most of her acting out was directed more towards the popular students. Now I am not saying it was right; however, if a popular student dared to talk down or act snobby around her, it would set her off. From my vantage point in the classroom, I could see some of the popular girls would try to get Judy in trouble and it usually worked because the teacher just assumed it was her fault. If the teacher would only take the time to really see what was going on, she would know what I did about Judy. I thought of this while I watched the main star in this dramatic, crime film. AFTER BEING RELEASED FROM PRISON RUTH Slater, played by Sandra Bullock (The Heat, Ocean’s Eight), returns to her hometown with a hope she can just blend in. It will be a challenge since some people cannot forget what she did. With Viola Davis (Suicide Squad franchise, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) as Liz Ingram, Vincent D’Onofrio (The Cell, The Magnificent Seven) as John Ingram, Jon Bernthal (King Richard, The Accountant) as Blake and Richard Thomas (The Waltons-TV, Wonder Boys) as Michael Malcolm; the bright spot for me in this picture was watching Sandra and Viola, though there was not enough Viola in my opinion. The rest of the cast was good, but these two actors were operating at a higher level. I appreciated the idea of the story; however, the script and the directing were uneven. There were slow parts where the script was a letdown, along with being predicable. It wasn’t until the last half of the movie where I felt more engaged. I would have appreciated if the writers would have taken Ruth’s motivation for coming back and expanded on it. I think it would have added extra drama to the story.
2 ½ stars
AS GRANDMOTHERS GO, SHE WAS THE worst I had ever seen. I was a little kid when I met her, and I thought back then she was a mean person. There was never a smile on her face, nor did she ever want to play with us. I was good friends with her granddaughter; you would have thought she would have made an exception for me, though I quickly learned not to be around her. I still can remember playing outside and she came out with a bag of candy. She appeared surprised when she saw us before she came over to offer her granddaughter a piece of candy. I was sitting right there next to her, but the grandmother did not offer me a piece. Instead, she walked back to the entryway and remained there eating her candy. I felt sad that she did not offer me any candy; but I was not shocked because her daughter, my friend’s mother, acted the same way. This is why I was never asked to stay for lunch or dinner, despite my friend coming over to our house to eat. For the several years we were friends, I noticed more and more how my friend’s mother was so much like her mother. It made sense since children learn from their parents, whether the parents know it or not. WHERE THAT GRANDMOTHER WAS PASSIVELY TEACHING her daughter, I had a neighbor on the block who was molding his five children in his own likeness. I know this sounds almost God like, but the kids dressed like their father even. He was a scientist who always had a studious look on his face. With horn-rimmed glasses that 4 out of his five kids also wore, he was not a parent who you would find playing in the backyard with his family. When I saw him there, he was either building something or reading a book. His kids would either help him or they would be doing some type of activity such as reading, painting or constructing something on their own. They were polite, but not overly friendly; I remember the mother being the friendliest one out of the group. They went to the same neighborhood school as I did; but I rarely saw any of them in a class or hallway. I used to wonder what they could be doing because they were nowhere to be found until I discovered all their free time was spent in the school library. The only thing I could think of was the kids were being groomed to become scientists whether they wanted to or not. I had always wondered the same thing about the world class tennis playing sisters in this biographical sports drama. FROM THE TIME THEY WERE LITTLE Richard William, played by Will Smith (Gemini Man, Suicide Squad), had a plan that would make his daughters known around the world, whether they wanted it or not. With Aunjanue Ellis (The Help, Men of Honor) as Oracene “Brandy” Williams, Jon Bernthal (Baby Driver, Fury) as Rick Macci, Saniyya Sidney (Fences, Hidden Figures) as Venus Williams and Demi Singleton (Goldie, Godfather of Harlem-TV) as Serena Williams; this movie based on historical events was fascinating to me. Maybe it is because I am a fan of tennis; but I found the story fascinating. Granted, I do not know if everything I was seeing happened in real life; however, Will’s performance was so good that it kept me drawn into the story. At times, I thought there was too much tennis being shown that took away from the story and I also would have appreciated getting more back story when the girls and Richard were much younger. The other aspect I admired in this film was the purposeful way they stressed education and fun. Whether scenes were accurate or not, this was an engaging film and there is no denying the sisters are history worthy.
3 1/3 stars
DECADES AGO, I SAW THE MOVIE, “The Bad Seed.” After seeing what the girl did in that film, I was convinced a young girl I knew was related to her. Any time I was around her, I always kept at least one eye on her because I never knew what to expect. I saw how adults doted on her, telling her she was so pretty and bright; I did not buy it for a second. I was playing with a small group of kids from the block, when she came out carrying an umbrella. She had it open as she twirled it between her fingers. Dancing around us, she closed the umbrella and pretended it was a sword, thrusting and jabbing the air with it. As I said before, I was watching her while trying to play the game. Suddenly, she turned and stabbed the back of one kid’s head with the umbrella tip, then thrusted the point into the back of the kid next to them. There was a scream of pain as the rest of us dropped our toys and scrambled to stand up to go after her. We did not have a chance because she had run back into her house, laughing all the way. I DID NOT UNDERSTAND WHY SHE was so mean; her parents seemed fine or let me say the mother was nice. The times I saw the father he seemed okay, but he did not smile much. How and why their daughter would be like that I did not know. Looking back now as an adult, I have to think that girl had to learn that behavior. I believe everyone is born with the ability to be good or bad; no one comes into this world knowing hate. Something had to be happening to that girl to make her act out in a violent way. Either inside the family or from some source out of the home; but I must believe she was not born an evil being. Children learn from their parents. I knew a boy who had an abusive father, who I think was an alcoholic. This boy grew up, got married and was divorced within a couple of years because he was abusive to his wife. It is obvious to me he learned such behavior from his father while he was growing up. Now there may be some physiological reason why a person acts in an abnormal way; but putting that aside, I say a child sees what is going around them and acts accordingly. There is a strong example of it in this dramatic, crime film. WITH THE TIMES AND NEIGHBORHOOD CHANGING, the Moltisanti and Soprano families must find a way to continue their business dealings at all costs. If they cannot keep up, there would always be someone ready to take their place. With Alessandra Nivola (American Hustle, Disobedience) as Dickie Moltisanti, Leslie Odom Jr (One Night in Miami, Hamilton) as Harold McBrayer, Jon Bernthal (Baby Driver, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Johnny Soprano, Vera Farmiga (The Front Runner, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) as Livia Soprano and Ray Liotta (Wild Hogs, Something Wild) as “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti; I first must say I have never watched an episode of The Sopranos.” My review might be less positive than someone who was a fan of the television show. I thought the sets and music choices were great. The performances were good, especially Alessandra and Ray; however, the script failed to develop any of the characters. I felt I was watching vignettes filled with caricatures. For not having any knowledge of these characters, I was able to figure out what was going to happen to most of them during the story. In my opinion, the entire production of this picture was disjointed. From the praises I have heard from the TV show’s fans, this movie would be better off being buried on a back lot of the studio. There were several scenes with blood and violence.
I FELT AS IF I WERE driving through the site where a horrific battle had taken place. The landscape was painted in shades of white, gray and black; it was supposed to have been predominantly filled with greens, blues, yellows and a multitude of combined primary colors. The road I was driving on appeared to be dusty, as if it had not been dusted in months. I barely could make out the road markings; so, I was driving slower because of all the curves in the road. The black figurines thrusting out of the ground reminded me of a scene I saw in a movie, where the charred remains of the dead residents of Pompeii looked like ashen statues. These black structures looked like they were part of an abstract painting, frozen into freakish poses. Some looked like they had multiple arms while others appeared to have been the results of a mad scientist’s freakish experiments. I was convinced I was seeing whisps of smoke slowly twisting away from different parts of the terrain. The air even smelled smokey with traces of sulfur. When I planned my vacation, none of this was part of my itinerary; I was envisioning wild animals roaming the grounds. Instead, everywhere I looked I saw dull, barren land. It turned out I was one of the first to drive through this portion of the state after it had succumbed to a major forest fire. TOWARDS THE END OF MY VACATION, I read the forest fire had burned through thousands and thousands of acres. The reporter mentioned the charred remains would help repopulate the landscape, but that it would take time. Those black figurines I saw on my road trip were the burnt remains of decades old trees. I wondered how the animals who survived the fires would be able to live on the land; there could not be any food for them, nearby. It was sad to see the devastation. I know life is a series of events connected in a circle, from birth to death; however, after seeing what I saw I had a difficult time trying to justify the reason for such destruction. From the news I heard and read, there was no word yet about the loss of human life. What did come out sometime later, was that the fire appeared to have been started by a visitor who was camping. I could not believe it. I wondered if the camper(s) even knew what they had done. The idea that these individuals could have been that careless angered me. If you wish to see some of the destruction that can take place in a forest fire, then feel free to watch this dramatic, action thriller. IT WOULD TAKE EVERY OUNCE OF strength and wits for smoke jumper Hannah, played by Angelina Jolie (By the Sea, Maleficent franchise), to keep the lost boy she found alive in the middle of a forest fire and gunfire. With Finn Little (Angel of Mine, Storm Boy) as Connor, Jon Bernthal (Baby Driver, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Ethan, Aiden Gillen (Game of Thrones-TV, The Maze Runner franchise) as Jack and Nicholas Hoult (Tolkien, Warm Bodies) as Patrick; it was fun to see Angelina back in an action figure role. And action is predominately what took place in this movie. With little or no depth to the characters, this was the type of story one only needs to feel; no need for a lot of thought about the story. There were some tense and exciting parts that drove the rest of the scenes that paled in comparison. For the most part there was nothing new in the script; it was simply because of the acting and the thrills that made this an easy picture to watch. However, I do hope those who have been careless when it comes to protecting the land from fires appreciate what smoke jumpers have to do to try and keep a place safe; let alone, see what kind of destruction can take place from a single careless moment.
2 ½ stars
IT WAS NOT THE RIDES THAT interested me at carnivals and local amusement parts; it was the games of chance. When I was younger, I would save up my allowance for these games. I was convinced I could win prizes and boy did I love looking at all the prizes. There was a game where I would have to throw rubber rings at a table full of empty bottles and try to get the ring to land on the bottle’s neck. Each toss I would see my ring bounce from one bottle to the next while I secretly wished for it to land on a bottle instead of dropping down between them. The prizes, big fluffy stuffed animals, were on a shelf that went around the top of the entire booth. There was another game that was or like a game called Skeeball, where one had to roll a ball down a lane that curved up at the end to propel the ball hopefully into one of the holes on the backboard. Each hole was labelled with a number; the higher the number the bigger the prize. With every roll of the ball I would make adjustments, hoping I would get the ball into the center hole to receive the biggest prize. OUT OF ALL THE GAMES AT A carnival, one of my favorites was the slot car racing one. It was because I had my very own race car model. There was a model store in the neighborhood where me and a cousin would race our cars on the elaborate race track that was set up in the middle of the store. Unfortunately, I could not use my race car at the carnival games (imagine that); however, it did not matter because I loved racing cars. I cannot tell you how much money I spent at those games and rarely did I ever win a race. Seeing the winner of the race receive a cool prize from off the shelf would only make me more determined to play the race again. My cousin was the same way because we felt with all of our experience there was no reason why we could not crush the competition. Thinking back on it I would hate to think how much money I spent on those games; little did I know they were designed to thwart the participant from winning. However, once I saw what I could win I did not think about how much I was spending to get that prize. The same was true for the head of the Ford Motor company in this biographical, dramatic action film. AFTER HEARING THE DISPARAGING COMMENTS THE chairman of Ferrari made about his company Henry Ford II, played by Tracy Letts (Lady Bird, The Post), was determined to build a car that would beat Ferrari’s car at France’s Le Mans race. It did not matter how much it would cost him. With Matt Damon (The Martian, The Departed) as Carroll Shelby, Christian Bale (Vice, The Big Shot) as Ken Miles, Jon Bernthal (The Accountant, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Lee Iacocca and Caitriona Balfe (Escape Plan, Outlander-TV) as Mollie Miles; this was an exciting film to watch. I am not fond of watching car races, but I would see this picture again. The acting was outstanding, matching the well-done script that captured the 1960s perfectly. I found the racing scenes thrilling and felt at times I was sitting in the race cars. For being such a long movie, I rarely noticed the time going by because the script and action kept me engaged with the story. Whether the story was accurate in this movie, it did not matter because I found it to be a logical progression of events and feelings. Compared to the money I used to spend at those carnival games, buying a ticket to see this film made me feel like a winner.
A life without music is a life less rich. At least that is how I feel about music. The famous line from William Congreve’s play “The Mourning Bride” goes, “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast.” It is usually misquoted as a savage beast; either way I agree with its meaning 100%. However I feel music offers us so much more. As the world appears to be more divided currently, music is the one common element that goes past all boundaries. In my opinion music is a universal language that can establish common ground between individuals. One place where I often see this taking place is at a wedding. You have two distinct families with nothing in common except one of their family members is in love with someone from the other side. There could be differences in race, religion or culture but put on some music and people will come together on the dance floor, beginning the first step in making contact with the other side. ANOTHER benefit music offers us is comfort. How many of us have a “breakup song?” You know that one song that you played over and over because it was speaking to you at the time of your separation from the person you loved. Sure it may cause a tear to spill over your eyelid, but it started the path for your heart to heal. I remember whenever I was sad I would sit at the piano and play my favorite music pieces over and over. By the time I walked away I felt some of the heaviness on my heart had been lifted. Music has to be playing whenever I am in the car or when I have to clean the house. I can better tolerate housekeeping when there is a steady beat playing in the background. If I did not have music playing during my commute I would walk into the office frustrated and angry. Maybe it would be different if I had the mad driving skills like the driver in this action crime movie. SURVIVING a car crash as a young boy Baby, played by Ansel Elgort (Divergent franchise, The Fault in our Stars), may have been influenced by it because he became a fearless getaway driver for crime boss Doc, played by Kevin Spacey (Elvis & Nixon, House of Cards-TV). The only problem was he was not allowed to do anything else. With Jon Hamm (Keeping up with the Jones, Mad Men-TV) as Buddy, Lily James (Cinderella, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Debora and Jon Bernthal (The Ghost Writer, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Griff; this film had a banging hard rock soundtrack. The characters and action were all put into synch with the driving beat. I could not recall seeing in a movie such precision between the two. The driving scenes were intensely thrilling; some of the scenes must be seen to be believed. Ansel was amazing in this picture; I felt it was a breakout role for him. Shifting into a lower gear (I could not resist), there was little explanation about the different relationships between characters. I did not understand Baby’s connection to his friend for example. One other thing for me was the change from such high speed action scenes to lesser ones; it made for some odd pacing. The final diagnostics for this music driven movie is it fires on most cylinders.
Water seeking its own level is a way I look at people who have an overabundance of one attribute. Let me show you what I mean. If I saw a person who was extraordinary in a sports activity I would soon discover they were deficient in another part of their life. Not to make this sound like a given but within my small world this seemed to be the norm. There was this boy in school who was a genius when it came to mathematics. He had little skill in socialization, often times he would be off and away from the other students. Because he showed this amazing side of himself and the teacher did nothing to bridge the gap between him and the rest of the class, the other students shied away from him. He had a hard time through high school, though he only stayed for a couple of years before getting a scholarship to MIT at the age of 15. I hope this explains what I mean by water seeking its own level; because math skills took up a majority of this person’s brain, other skills were not fed as much. Hopefully I am making sense here; because there was a time (or maybe it still happens) when people did not take the time to find that special skill in a person. I feel each person has abilities but some don’t translate well. Another way of saying this would be to describe human beings as a recipe. If there is too much sugar they are extra sweet; if they are mean spirited then there is not a lot of goodness in them. Everything has to find a way to balance out inside of us some way. CHRISTIAN Wolff, played by Ben Affleck (Gone Girl, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), had a father who refused the advice of doctors on how to treat his son. It was because of his decision Christian was able to take care of himself as an adult. This action crime drama twisted its way inside of me. With Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air, Pitch Perfect franchise) as Dana Cummings, J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Labor Day) as Ray King and John Lithgow (Interstellar, Love is Strange) as Lamar Black; the story grabbed me on several levels. First I thought the way the writer handed the subject of autism was both sensitive and humorous. Ben did a wonderful job and I especially liked the chemistry between him and Anna. They were not only sweet together but plausible. I thought the flashback scenes would have been a distraction but on the contrary they only added a real depth to the characters. Now keep in mind I never look ahead while watching a film to try and figure it out. This film took me by surprise with the twists and turns that took place. Keeping this real, let me tell you there were a few scenes that did not ring true; but in the scheme of things, it did not matter to me. The movie took an important subject and made it part of an entertaining story. Now if I could find an accountant like this one; or on second thought, I would be glad to wait for a sequel to this film.
Actions reveal more about a person than their words. There are some individuals who use their words as a way to accentuate the meaning of their actions. Throughout my life I have been reminded over and over that actions speak louder than words. Some people are quick to say things they think someone wants to hear as a way to avoid being an active participant with that person. I have noticed however that actions can quickly bond people together. Spending one’s elementary school years with the same classmates connects them in a special way that can remain for a lifetime. When events are of an extreme nature, they have the power to connect people in such a rapid way that solidifies their relationship on a high level. This makes all of the participants act as one unified force. An easy example of this would be any sports team. Having grown up around veterans from every war since world war II, it is quite apparent they have a unique and special bond that is not found among civilians. ALLIED forces were making their final push through the European landscape in April 1945. Army sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier, played by Brad Pitt (World War Z, Fight Club), and his tank crew had orders to secure and defend a crucial crossroad against the advancing Nazi troops. If they could not successfully carry out their mission, there was a chance the allied forces would suffer a major defeat in their campaign. This action war film was one of the most intense movies I have sat through in a long time. There will be some of you that will not be able to take the assault on their eyes from the intense violence and blood in some of the scenes. Putting that aside, this drama from writer/director David Ayer (End of Watch, Training Day) was so well done; I found myself holding my breath several times out of anxiousness. Brad and the actors who made up his tank crew, Shia LaBeouf (Transformers franchise, Lawless) as Boyd “Bible” Swan, Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson franchise, 3:10 to Yuma) who was the biggest standout as Norman Ellison, Michael Pena (End of Watch, American Hustle) as Trini “Gordo” Garcia and Jon Bernthal (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Ghost) as Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis were all so good that I totally took them to be soldiers. If there was any fault to this film I felt some of the violence was overdone. Granted I have never been involved with armed conflict but it started to feel excessive, whereas I would have preferred learning more about each solider. That being said, prepare yourself for battle if you are going to see this intense film.
3 1/3 stars