OUT OF THE CLASSROOM WINDOW I SAW two boys fighting. I was working on homework in study hall, but I kept looking up at the two fighters. They appeared to be from an upper grade because I never saw either of them in any of my classes. As was typical, at least at the schools I attended, there were several other students hovering near the two boys to watch them fight. As far as I could tell it seemed like the two were evenly matched. They were exchanging punches and kicks equally. At some point as I was watching them one of the boys tripped on something and fell backwards. As he hit the ground the other boy pounced on top of him and showered him with body and face blows. The poor boy did not have a chance to regain himself and fend off his assailant. It wasn’t until the fallen boy’s face started bleeding that the other boy got up off him and started to walk away, but only after giving the defeated boy one last kick in the stomach. The boy on the ground curled up into a fetal position and laid there as an instructor was running up to him. I TRIED GOING BACK TO MY STUDIES, but the images of the two boys fighting would not fade from my memory. As they replayed in my mind, I remembered the one boy tripping and it occurred to me if he had not fallen the outcome might have turned out differently. It might have been a pebble, stick or some litter that caused him to trip. I thought of all the lucky breaks he could have gotten, he wound up getting one case of bad luck that sealed his fate. Up until that point, I never thought about how luck plays a part in a fight. Maybe because of the video games I used to play, where everything was in a more controlled environment, it made me think skill was the only important factor in a battle. I started looking at the fights I had been in and wondered how big of a factor did luck play in my losses. Since I was mostly on the receiving end, I cannot remember all the details. However, I remember one fight where 3 boys were chasing and throwing stones at me. They had been chasing me for three blocks when suddenly we were all getting drenched in a downpour. For some reason they broke off their pursuit and I made my way home through back alleys. I can see that was a lucky break for me just as I can now see how luck played in the historical battle in this dramatic action film. AFTER THE SURPRISE ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR, the United States Navy was left exposed to an ultimate defeat. So many things needed to be in place if the US government wanted any chance of pushing back Japan’s Imperial Navy. With Ed Skrein (If Beale Street Could Talk, Alita: Battle Angel) as Dick Best, Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring franchise, The Phantom of the Opera) as Edwin Layton, Woody Harrelson (Shock and Awe, Natural Born Killers) as Chester W. Nimitz, Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, Dracula Untold) as Wade McClusky and Mandy Moore (A Walk to Remember, This is Us-TV) as Ann Best; this movie had a lot to live up to because of the well-known true events this story was based on. I thought the CGI effects were excellent, providing an extra thrill to the aerial fight scenes. The story itself is incredible; but sadly, the script was a big letdown for me. I found the dialog cheesy, filled with rah-rah moments by characters trying to build up morale. The acting did not register with me as anything great, but that might have more to do with the script lacking any depth or emotion for the actors to play on. What bad luck for this picture to get a deficient script for such a world changing battle.
THE WORDS KEPT REVERBERATING INSIDE my head. I had never heard them before; wait, that is not exactly right. I had heard those words before, but they were never spoken to me. Now, I was the recipient of these words and was feeling as if my life was going to change forever. No more standing by myself; no more groans or dirty looks from others. Here right in the middle of the school gymnasium I was the first person the team captain asked to be on his team! This had never, never happened to me before. Usually whenever the PE instructor picked two students to be team captains, I was always the last one picked. To tell you the truth I did not blame them. I did not enjoy team sports, I was not good at playing them and I did not have a killer mentality. All of that changed however, when students saw me throw a ball. The only reason they witnessed it was because I was the last person on the team who had not been tagged out. Granted, I was hiding behind players to avoid getting hit with the ball. So, there I was left defending our side against three opposing team players. I tagged each of them out due to my precise, fast and hard throwing of the ball. The students were shocked. MY WORLD CHANGED FROM THAT POINT on or at least I thought so. Students in gym class who had never spoken a word to me or only uttered derogative words my way were acknowledging my presence. I was not as fearful of walking into the locker room and gymnasium expecting to get bullied or abused. It was a surreal time for me. In fact, there was talk about me trying out for the pitcher position on the baseball team. If you are wondering if this all sounds too good to be true, you are right. My time in the spotlight was short-lived. A transfer student arrived who excelled in sports. He could hit, throw, shoot and pass a ball; plus, he was fit and trim instead of fat and chunky. I was immediately discarded and returned to the back of the line, so to speak. No one wanted me on their team anymore. I could live with it; but, when the nasty comments and abusive contact started up again, I had a hard time coping. I desperately wanted to get out of that school. Watching the main character in this action thriller, I could relate to how she must have been feeling. UNDER HER STYLISH VENEER ANNA, PLAYED by Sasha Luss (Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets), had a lethal set of skills that people wanted to exploit. They were not interested in anything else, which was a mistake. With Helen Mirren (The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Woman in Gold) as Olga, Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, High-Rise) as Alex Tchenkov, Cillian Murphy (The Party, In the Heart of the Sea) as Lenny Miller and newcomer Lera Abova as Maud; this movie had potential. I could have gotten into the story, but it stayed locked on the repeat button. There was nothing imaginative about the story. If Charlize Theron’s Atomic Blonde had not been made, maybe I would have been more forgiving with this picture. However, I was periodically getting bored. Now there were some fight scenes that were fun to watch, and I enjoyed some of the plot twists; but overall, there was not much creativity in the story or the script. For the life of me I could not understand why Helen took the role in the film, but I was glad she did; she did her best with what she was given. Given the choices out there, this movie is not one that need be chosen for your viewing pleasure.
1 ¾ stars
AS A YOUNG ADULT they did not have a typical body shape for their gender. To say they were stout would be a bit of a stretch; let us say they filled out their shape. Their size may have fooled people but make no mistake they were strong; I saw the way they could throw a ball and it was impressive. There was another person I knew who was not the most popular of kids; not the upper echelon status of cheerleaders and football players, but the tier just below it. Good looking in a funky sort of way, they were extremely smart. You would always want them on your team whenever there were debates or science projects. They had a wonderful command of the English language, yet they never used it in a show off type of way. I PURPOSELY DID NOT reveal the sex of the individuals I was talking about. How many of you thought I was talking about boys? How many thought it was girls? Those of you who thought it was girls would be right. You see from a very young age I saw examples where both boys and girls were capable of doing the same thing. Whether it was being super smart or athletic or talented, both sexes were equal in my mind. The idea of one being a “weaker” sex made no sense to me. In my adult life I have had both female and male military people in my classes; they shared that same discipline vibe and were equally capable of lasting the entire class time, no matter how intense were the exercise levels in the class. I have a hard time relating to individuals who see the sexes as not being equal. For example someone who makes a wisecrack about a stay at home Dad needs to be schooled in parenting in my opinion. In light of the recent events of sexual harassment and the #MeToo campaign, I thought this dramatic movie based on a true story might be an enlightening experience. UP UNTIL THE 1940S all comic book heroes were male. Harvard psychologist and inventor William Moulton Marston, played by Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, Dracula Untold), envisioned something different because of what he saw in his marriage. With Rebecca Hall (The Town, The Gift) as Elizabeth Marston, Bella Heathcote (The Neon Demon, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Olive Byrne, Connie Britton (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Nashville-TV) as Josette Frank and Oliver Platt (Love & Other Drugs, The Ticket) as M.C. Gaines; the acting in this film was beautiful to watch, especially from Rebecca and Bella. The story was totally new to me since I was a Batman comic book fan and I have to tell you this story was fascinating on many levels. There were 2 main story lines: the debut of Wonder Woman on the public consciousness and the home life of its author. For me there seemed to be too much being crammed into the script, where I felt I was being cheated out of learning more about specific events or time frames. Somewhere during the picture I started to get bored or more to the point, wished it had delved further into the characters’ development. If nothing else I truly appreciated learning the history behind the Wonder Woman character and how she added something new to society’s beliefs. I only wished this movie would have been just as strong as its comic book hero.
2 ½ stars
WHEN I ask why they are attracted to that certain feature of the individual, the answer is never the same. It is perplexing to me how people acquire a particular attraction to a person’s height, hair color or body type. Friends of mine to this day test me because they cannot believe I do not pay attention to the surface details of an individual. They will point at someone and ask me if I would be attracted to that person. Each time I have to tell them I do not know until I have had a couple of conversations with that particular individual. Maybe from my studies in psychology I attempt to rationalize a person’s tastes in potential dates. In some circles of thought one could say one of the reasons a person is attracted to redheads is because they are less available, rarer if you will. This person wants to stand out from the pack. Someone may be attracted to facial hair because it represents a father figure, an authoritarian. There are so many different interpretations, yet they still do not answer my fundamental thought: why should it make a difference what a person looks like? You can have what looks like the most perfect apple in your hand, but it still may be rotten underneath the skin. TAKING this a step further, I feel the same way about a person’s ethnicity. The only thing a person’s ethnic makeup tells me is what region of the world their ancestors were born. After taking in the cultural differences, I do not find anything different between people of different races. Each group produces geniuses, thieves, liars, bigoted and loving people. I find this whole discrimination thing puzzling and troubling. People are quick to make judgments about individuals solely based on skin color; I just do not get it. From what I have said you may begin to suspect, this fairy tale is one my favorite stories from childhood. SIMPLY by plucking a single rose off a bush Maurice, played by Kevin Kline (Cry Freedom, My Old Lady), was imprisoned by a monstrous beast, played by Dan Stevens (The Guest, Downton Abbey-TV). If it was not for his daughter Belle, played by Emma Watson (The Bling Ring, Harry Potter franchise); Maurice would have never survived the ordeal. This live action, fantasy musical was based on the animated film version of this story done in the 1990s. With Luke Evans (Dracula Untold, The Raven) as Gaston and Josh Gad (The Wedding Ringer, Jobs) as LeFou, the cast members not associated with singing surprised me with their vocal abilities. Emma took her character and made it a somewhat more modern and determined figure. I do not know if it was because of this or not, but I found her interactions with the Beast emotionally too fast. She never had a sense of revulsion upon meeting the Beast; in other words there was a lack of tension between the two. The same argument could be made with other portions of the film; the story was quickly pushed from one action scene to another I felt. At least the creativity and imagination that went into the sets and individual pieces were thoroughly entertaining. Along with the wonderful musical score and beautiful story, there are more things to like about this film than not. Maybe just do not look too deep under the surface to find the cracks.
A good way to feel the heartbeat of a city is to take a ride on its commuter train. It is an easy way to not only see the city but to watch how its citizens mingle throughout the city’s arteries. When I used to take public transportation to work I would find myself getting lost into the brief visual vignettes all around me. There were the train’s adult babies who would quickly be lulled to sleep by the swaying of the train car as it rolled down the tracks. Among the passengers there was the group that always had a hardcover or paperback book to read, while another group used their electronic devices. The thing I liked to do was look out the windows. From my train car I could watch a parade taking place that had citizens carrying a long paper dragon down a street in a neighborhood with a large population of Asian Americans. In another part of the city I could see people sitting outside at a café having an afternoon coffee with shopping bags lying at their feet like trusted pets. After a few times on the same route I would know which train stops some of the passengers would get off at; business attired people would step out in the downtown area of the city and passengers with book bags or textbooks in their laps would get off at one of two stops that was close to a city college. For a different type of experience taking the train at night brings in a more intimate experience; at least it does for me. Apartment buildings would reveal a grid of lit windows where each one told a different story. With one blink of the eye I could see someone cooking up a storm of a meal or two people studiously peering down at a table full of jigsaw pieces. Each day would be a different scene and you would never know what you could witness. CATCHING the same train everyday Rachel, played by Emily Blunt (Into the Woods, Sicario), would come up with an internal story for the people she would see. But what if a person was not following her script? This mystery thriller based on the bestselling book also included Haley Bennett (The Magnificent Seven, The Equalizer) as Megan and Justin Theroux (American Psycho, Wanderlust) as Tom. Since I did not read the book I was confused for the 1st half of the movie, though Emily was excellent as Rachel. The issue for me was the script. I did not care for the scenes jumping back and forth in time along with several scenes that did not come across as authentic. All this did for me was to slow the pace down of telling the story. It was not until the last half of the picture where things picked up and it started to actually be a mystery thriller for me. An interesting side note; when I mentioned this to one of my classes 5 out of 6 people who read the book said they did not like it and felt the same about the book as I did about the film. Too bad the train ride I took did not reveal much excitement for me.
2 ¼ stars
Sometimes I wish I could have seen the earlier years of a person I have known or recently met. An individual, no matter how hard they have tried, will still act out a particular way based on past interactions from their life. I am sure all of us have had times where we silently wondered why a person was acting a certain way. It could be something as benign as not liking candles or as wicked as mercilessly teasing a cat or dog. I knew someone who rarely gave an opinion about anything. Being asked where they wanted to eat or what movie to see, they could not voice their thoughts, only say whatever or it did not matter. It wasn’t until I happened to meet their parent that I finally saw the reason why they were acting that way. The parent was overbearing and quick to belittle their child. My curiosity goes beyond people in the present; I would enjoy finding out what transpired with historical people, like Napoleon or Catherine the Great, that influenced or molded them that has not been told in our history books. Purely for entertainment value, I find taking liberties with a known character or actual person an acceptable form; look at the success of Wicked, the story about how the Wicked Witch of the West came to be. VLAD III dubbed Vlad the Impaler, played by Luke Evans (Immortals, Fast & Furious III), was an ideal candidate to use to create an action fantasy backstory. Protective of his family and subjects, not wanting to see the children of his kingdom experience what he had as a child, Vlad would have to look beyond his kingdom if he was going to repel the Sultan Mehmed, played by Dominic Cooper (The Devil’s Double, Need for Speed). His search would lead to a force that could even overpower him. The idea for this dramatic story was appealing to me and I found the opening scenes compelling. Joining Luke and Dominic was Charles Dance (Game of Thrones-TV, Gosford Park) as Master Vampire; all three had a strong screen presence. The special effects were not the greatest but were darkly fun to watch. With a good start it was all the more disappointing that the script got sillier and sillier as the film progressed. Seriously, I was stunned that the writers thought the idea of a blindfolded army going into battle was a good idea. Add in the trendy haircut for Dominic’s character Mehmed and this was a movie sorely lacking the guts for a great backstory. There were multiple scenes that had blood and violence.
1 3/4 stars