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
HIS attendance was perfect; he never missed a day of work. The quality of his work was outstanding and it showed in his yearly performance review because he never received a below average mark in any of the performance categories. However, he never received an above average mark either; but, he did not complain about it, grateful he had a job. The travel time for him was long; it required 2 buses and a train to get to the office. The company had over 200 employees but he could not call one of them a friend. Some individuals would only talk to him if they had to for business; he was used to the blank or condescending looks he would get for nearly every action he took. SHE was in love and it did not even take her long to realize it. They had met at a coffee shop one afternoon. Over their drinks they did not strictly make small talk; they ventured into deeper subjects and it was apparent there was a unique kindness being shared between them. Over the next several weeks a mutual fondness grew between them. Each was starting to think they found the right one they wanted to be with for the rest of their life. With the blossoming love they shared they became more affectionate with each other. Simple things like holding hands at the movies or a quick kiss on the cheek, actions everyone in love has done from time to time. When they were affectionate they did not realize people around them would stop what they were doing to watch the happy couple. The look on these strangers’ faces was usually a grimace, a look of disgust. Nothing the happy couple did was inappropriate but it did not matter, there was another reason. And the reason could be found in the color of a person’s skin. LOSING the space race to the Russians was not acceptable; it would take effort from every single person at NASA to get astronaut John Glenn up into space. But if you were not the right color, you did not count to some people. Based on a true story this is a must see drama. Starring Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Empire-TV) as Katherine G. Johnson, Octavia Spencer (The Help, Snowpiercer) as Dorothy Vaughan, recording artist Janelle Monae (Moonlight) as Mary Jackson and Kevin Costner (Black or White, Draft Day) as Al Harrison; this film festival winning movie was unbelievable. Let me start with the story; what an amazing achievement during a time period that most of us had never known about while history was being made in getting a rocket into space. The acting was wonderful from everyone; even minor characters fit right in without missing a beat of the story. As a movie viewing experience I had a great time clapping and cheering with the audience during a few scenes. Knowing how the story was going to end, since it is a part of US history, did not take away from the enjoyment in watching the amazing feats being achieved by the people in this movie. The space program has come so far from blasting John Glenn into space; now if only we could elevate our thinking about judging a person on their abilities instead of their color.
It suddenly appears from what seems to be its own volition and surprises you. Like an air bubble that has suddenly risen up to disturb the still surface of a pool of water, the thought bursts into your consciousness where you have to stop and wonder where it came from. I do not know about you but this happens to me on a consistent basis. I could be walking or driving along and suddenly some random thought pops into my head that at least has some type of connection to something in my life; but it can be so weird at times. There are things I can remember from when I was an infant; however, I could tell myself I have to do something as soon as I am done with what I am doing and as soon as I walk out of the room the thought goes poof, disappearing from my mind. The brain is both bizarre and miraculous at the same time. I have a friend who works in the medical field. You would not believe the things I hear that have to do with the brain; some of them would make good science fiction stories. To this day I remember watching a computer screen as the image of a patient’s brain, who had just suffered a stroke, began to appear. It was fascinating to watch as I could see where the blood was pooling inside of them. It was that experience and its aftermath that caused me to see the human brain in a different light. The same thing took place for me when I watched this crime drama. WHEN agent Bill Pope, played by Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, The Proposal), was killed his boss Quaker Wells, played by Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight franchise, Paranoia), became desperate enough to see if the dead agent’s memories could be taken out of his head. This action film also starred Kevin Costner (Black or White, The Untouchables) as Jericho Stewart, Tommy Lee Jones (The Homesman, Hope Springs) as Dr. Franks and Gal Gadot (Fast & Furious franchise, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) as Jill Pope. As you can see a well qualified cast was assembled for this picture. Though the basis of the script had a science fiction slant to it, I was willing to go along and believe the story. I enjoyed the way Kevin played his character and was a bit surprised to see him so intense in the action scenes, though it could easily have been a body double. But this is what annoyed me about this movie; if you want me to believe the story than follow through with it. When one character’s house with elaborate security was broken into, tell me how the house was broken into again later in the story. They didn’t change the pass code? C’mon, this among other issues ruined the story for me. Congratulations to the person who came up with the idea for this story, but then why make it predictable in a scatterbrained way?
1 ¾ stars
Sometimes it takes a different set of eyes to show you what you are capable of doing. Imagine you were born on a farm where you grew into the capability of throwing 50 pound bales of hay onto a flatbed truck. Since it had always been part of your life it would never occur to you that you were strong. However if you compared it to someone who did not have early strength training, you would be considered strong. The key fact in the equation has to do with the comparison aspect and it is something that I find very few people use when commenting on themselves. When someone tells me something about themselves such as they are overweight or too tall let us say, I ask them compared to what? Most of the time I find such statements to be very subjective. Though I have lost a great deal of weight I do not consider myself a thin person because I’m using a warped comparison of what I believe thin looks like. This is one of the reasons it is beneficial to have someone else show you what you are or what you can achieve. If my first aerobic instructor did not nurture and encourage me to choreograph routines, I do not know if I would have ever become a group fitness instructor since I previously flunked high school gym classes. OUT of a job as high school football coach due to anger issues Jim White, played by Kevin Costner (Black or White, Man of Steel), was forced to leave and take an assistant coaching position at a small high school with a dismal football record. Looking at the students, it was obvious to Coach White the kids were not cut out to play football; however, he did think they could do something that had never been done at the small high school before. Based on a true story, the script to this sports drama was written in such a way that allowed the viewers to tear up. There were parts of this movie where I had to wipe the tears from my eyes. I thought Kevin and Maria Bello (A History of Violence, Prisoners) who played his wife Cheryl were well suited for each other, coming across in a believable way. The actors like Carlos Pratts (Coyote, Counterpunch) as Thomas Valles and newcomers Sergio Avelar and Ramiro Rodriguez as Victor Puentes and Danny Diaz were quite good. The issue I had with this film concerned the script; it was contrived and written like a fairy tale. It needed more details and less manipulation. I found it upsetting because I really liked the story. Whoever was in charge should have shown the writers the true story would have been enough to tell.
2 1/3 stars
Those who had the larger sized box of crayons were the cool kids. If I remember correctly the largest size was the 128 count box; I mostly had the 32 count, though one year I did get as a gift the 64 size. With double the number of crayons the possibilities to me seemed endless. Since I had so many crayons I felt I had to use every single one, so my drawings took on a more colorful palette. I started making trees different colors, sometimes making their leaves multi-colored. There were times they looked like large chocolate ice cream cones topped with candy sprinkles. When I started giving extra colors to people I remember a couple of students telling me I could not do it. We would argue back and forth with them saying they were not human and me telling them they were still humans. The people I drew had two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth. Now these arguments had nothing to do with racial prejudices; those students were following the norm and expecting everyone to do the same. I just did not care what the skin color was nor give it any importance. It is something I have and continue to carry into my adult life which is why I thought this film had an important message. AFTER his wife was killed in a car accident Elliot Anderson, played by Kevin Costner (Draft Day, Man of Steel), was left alone to raise his granddaughter Eloise, played by Jillian Estell (So This is Christmas). That was until Eloise’s paternal grandmother Rowena Jeffers, played by Octavia Spencer (Get on Up, Snowpiercer), decided she should get full custody of her granddaughter. This film festival winning drama had two good things going for it, Kevin and Octavia. The two were not only good in their individual scenes, they really were fired up for their mutual scenes. That is not to say the other actors in this movie, like Anthony Mackie (Runner Runner, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), were bad; they were all decent. Acting aside, the story was the most important part to this picture. Its message was something that needs to be repeated over and over. I felt the 1st half of the movie did a good job to tell the story, but then the writers started to complicate the message. It seemed as if scenes were being designed to manipulate the viewer just to add emotional value. I found it to be predictable, with a layer of syrupy sentiments that made me almost groan. With that being said I do believe most viewers would still appreciate the story/message of this film more than the execution of it.
2 3/4 stars
It is important to hear encouragement but how much of it is heard depends on the person. I have seen people on those reality shows where their family and friends have told them they can sing or dance and it is obvious they do not have talent. They believe every compliment they are receiving, even if it is only being given out of kindness. I personally do not think it is fair to mislead a person unless the whole family or friends do not realize they are all tone deaf or lack rhythm. Being a defensive pessimist on top of being my own worst critic, I am in a different category. Any compliment I receive I tend to discount. Though appreciative of encouraging words, they actually are the fuel that drives me harder to do better. All these years I thought it was a stubborn streak that kept me pounding away to succeed at the task at hand. I have come to realize there is a voice inside of me that has high standards, pushing me to prove wrong the other voice in my brain that tells me I am a failure. The same can be said for those people who told me I could not do something; it only made me fight harder to prove them wrong. The first thing I heard inside of me when my first short story was published was that 7th grade teacher who told me I would never be a writer. It all comes down to believing in yourself and that inner drive was something I admired in general manager Sonny Weaver, played by Kevin Costner (3 Days to Kill, Mr. Brooks) in this sports drama. Hoping to rebuild the Cleveland Browns football team, Sonny would butt heads against strong opposition for his NFL Draft pick from Coach Penn and team owner Anthony Molina, played by Denis Leary (Sand, Rescue Me-TV) and Frank Langella (Robot & Frank, The Ninth Gate). Even with his mother Barb, played by Ellen Burstyn (Another Happy Day, The Fountain), questioning his moves Sonny was determined to do what he thought was right. I found the NFL Draft story exciting and thought Kevin was believable in his role. The part that did not ring true was the story involving Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club, Elektra) as Ali. There was little chemistry between her and Kevin’s character and I just found it phony and unnecessary. If the writers would have stayed with the football story, including the back stories for the hopeful picks, this movie would have been better in my opinion. Keep in mind I am not a fan of team sports but I enjoyed all of the drama and tension revolving around the team franchise. Whether Sonny made the right choice or not did not matter to me; his drive and conviction was what I admired in him the most.
2 1/2 stars
If one is not careful they will find their job has taken over their life. There are some people who define themselves by what they do for a living: I am not one of those individuals. I cannot tell you how many times people have assumed I adhere to a strict, proper diet because I teach fitness classes or that I must be a tough SOB since I am a credit manager. These are my professions, what I do for a living; however, they do not represent all of me. I am aware my multiple jobs have had an effect on my personal life; some relationships did not last due to my frequent unavailability. Now with the addition of movie reviewing, I have quite the hectic schedule. Here is one example from this past Saturday: I taught a cycle class from 8 to 9am; changed and ran out of the club to make a 10:15am movie; stopped for groceries afterwards then on to home for lunch; out the door for a 2:30pm matinee; came home to change clothes and make a banquet reception from 6 to 11pm; returned home and collapsed into bed. This is a day in my life but at least I do not have to kill people for a living like they did in this action film. Kevin Costner (Man of Steel, The Guardsman) played international spy Ethan Renner who was recently diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Having stayed a safe distance away from his wife Christine and daughter Zoey, played by Connie Nielsen (One Hour Photo, Gladiator) and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, Romeo and Juliet), for their protection, Ethan wanted to reconnect with them before it was too late. There was only one problem; to receive an experimental drug that could extend his life expectancy, Ethan would have to take on one more job. How could he be a father and a spy at the same time? From an early start into the movie I did not find the story credible. The character of Vivi Delay, played by Amber Heard (Never Back Down, Drive Angry), made no sense to me. If she was a superior of Ethan’s, I did not understand the whole car and wardrobe look to her character. Kevin and Hailee did a decent job of acting but the script was dull and often times ridiculous. The fight and chase scenes were decent though. Maybe instead of taking 3 days to kill they could have done it in two. There were a few scenes that had blood shown.
I am so grateful I stopped using my charge card after the November Black Friday hacking scandal came to light. You see I used my card at that retailer over the weekend it was discovered and was concerned my account information got stolen. This past Saturday I received a phone call from the charge card company because they were detecting a suspicious transaction taking place on my account number. Someone in Plano, Texas was attempting to buy $41.28 worth of items at a grocery store, using an actual charge card with my number on it, at the checkout cash register. After telling the representative on the phone that I had the card in my possession here at home; she denied the purchase and closed the account, telling me a new account number and charge card would be issued and sent to me immediately. The reason I am mentioning it is because this happened just before I left to see this action thriller. The story involved electronic sabotage. Chris Pine (Star Trek franchise, Unstoppable) played Jack Ryan. After an injury ended his military career, Jack caught the attention of Thomas Harper, played by Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves, Waterworld), who believed Jack’s skills would help the CIA foil a possible terrorist act against the United States. Possibly due to not having read the Tom Clancy books with Jack Ryan and my hacking episode, I enjoyed this action mystery film more than I though I would. Sure I still thought of Captain Kirk when Chris was on screen, but I thought his action scenes were well choreographed and his acting was good enough for the role. I thought Kevin did a fine job playing an older no-nonsense character. Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina, King Arthur) who played Doctor Cathy Muller was adequate, but the character felt more like it was there just to add a love interest into the story. As for Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn, Hamlet) who directed and starred as Viktor Cherevin in this movie, his direction and pacing was tight, keeping the story moving forward; I never felt a dull moment. However, his character was confusing to me because I did not quite understand his motives, nor thought he was intense enough. There were a couple of “you have to be kidding me” scenes but they played into the action scenes. If they make a sequel I probably would go see it. I just would not use my charge card to pay for it. There were a few scenes that had violence and blood.
2 2/3 stars
Every week I would take a trip to outer space, where I would visit aliens and super heroes. I learned about ray guns, space ships and all kinds of devices that were not found on Earth. I never knew our planet was being protected by people with special powers; I wanted to grow up and be just like them. You would be surprised to find out how often Earth had been saved by these special individuals. Each Saturday morning I ate my breakfast on a little snack tray, in our living room in front of the television. The Saturday cartoon shows I watched was where I discovered all these new places and people. In this reboot of the Superman story, I felt I was back watching those morning cartoons. Henry Cavill (Stardust, Immortals) was a perfect blend of wholesomeness and angst as Clark Kent/Kal-El. I found the childhood scenes touching as we witnessed Clark being picked on by the other kids. The story focused on Clark’s struggle with feeling different but not fully understanding the reasons why. Not until a mysterious object was discovered on Earth would he then learn about his true identity. The casting in this action movie greatly helped with the weak story. Amy Adams (Enchanted, The Fighter) as Lois Lane, Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, The Iceman) as General Zod, Russell Crowe (The Next Three Days, Gladiator) as Jor-El and Diane Lane (Unfaithful, The Perfect Storm) as Martha Kent were all excellent. The sets and props were so imaginative; I got a real kick out of seeing them. Plus, I want to point out the musical score was awesome. Just like those Saturday cartoons, this film was driven by action. There were so many battles, with an over abundance of special effects; it became too much for me. As a result the story suffered because there was not enough room to develop the characters; despite the movie being 2 hours and 23 minutes long. I will say some of the fights were unbelievable; they looked like cartoons that came to life. As long as you go into the movie theater knowing this was more of a comic book/Saturday morning cartoon type of film, that was small on drama; it will entertain you. At the end of the movie I did have a craving for some sugary crunchy cereal. A brief scene that showed a small amount of blood.
Making something look easy is a real art form. It can be quite hard to pull off. In my yoga classes I strive to make the poses available to all fitness levels. When teaching cycle class the members do not know, while I am giving out movie reviews and news tidbits, I am watching their body alignment, posture, signs of fatigue, anything that may be detrimental to their health. My goal is not to let anyone feel intimidated in my class; I do everything I ask the class to do and never leave someone behind. While watching this DVD my impression of the coast guard was blown out of the water, so to speak. I never gave much thought to the United States Coast Guard. My only exposure was seeing them on television rescuing pets or drunk people out on the water. I have to tell you how surprised I was with this film. The story took place at one of the USCG’s training centers for their rescue swimmer’s team. Kevin Costner (Waterworld, Dances with Wolves) played Ben Randall, an elite rescue swimmer who was offered a teaching job after a rescue mission turned deadly. Ashton Kutcher (No Strings Attached, The Butterfly Effect) played hot shot high school swimming champ Jake Fischer, who joined the coast guard to escape a mysterious past. The chemistry between the two actors was better than I expected; they were believable, sympathetic characters. The physical requirements the trainees had to achieve were daunting; I had no idea how rigorous and dangerous it was for them. Sela Ward (The Fugitive, Sisters-TV) played Ben’s wife Helen; I would have preferred more scenes with her than the filler love interest inserted into the story. This dramatic action film had similar elements to the movie An Officer and a Gentleman, which I did not mind in the least. After sitting anxiously through the exciting action scenes I wished the writers would have spent more time on the ending; it seemed rushed and predictable. My impression of coast guard personnel has been totally altered by this hardy movie. I will never underestimate how they make things look easy.
2 2/3 stars — DVD