WE WERE A TIGHT GROUP OF four friends. Our friendship started decades ago, kindled by our mutual love for music and dance. Throughout the years, we shared in each other’s joys and tragedies. As the years passed by, we pretty much knew how each of us would react to a situation; whether it was at a party or a restaurant, we had each other’s back, as they say. I remember we had gone out to dinner and wound up at a bookstore afterwards. While walking around I got a call that a relative had died. My friends were there to console and comfort me before I had to go and pay my respects. The same could be said for any of us when one was experiencing a hard time. I cannot tell you how many times over the years we would congregate at someone’s house after hearing about their breakup with a significant other. With being so close through the years, there was nothing we could not talk about with each other. We knew about each one’s ailments, fears, concerns and when needed would housesit for one another. Throughout the years, like most people, there never was a time where one of us would entertain the thought of one of us not being there. SADLY, THAT TIME EVENTUALLY COMES WHEN one is no longer with us. Suddenly, our foursome was turned into a trio. Gratefully, we had each other to help with the burden of sadness. Intellectually, I could process our friend’s death; death is an inevitable that each of us will experience. The only difference is whether it is at an early or old age, though early and old are more blurred these days. The hardest part for me is the routine that comes along with a long-term relationship. Being able to pick up the phone and talk to my friend was part of my life and incorporated into the things I would do on a consistent basis. It is the same with a broken relationship; I find the routines are the hardest part to overcome. And it could be the simplest of things like going grocery shopping together, that suddenly feels painful the first time after the breakup, when I must go by myself. One of the most important things I have learned is everybody mourns and handles grief in their own way; no one has the right to tell someone they are wrong for the way they handle their sadness. To see what I am talking about, this picture shows several different ways individuals mourn their loss. WITH SOME OF THE WORLD’S NATIONS testing Wakanda’s strengths since the loss of their king/Black Panther, there was a bigger threat brewing near their shores. With Letitia Wright (Guava Island, The Silent Twins) as Shuri, Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Us) as Nakia, Danai Gurira (The Visitor, The Walking Dead-TV) as Okoye, Tenoch Huerta (The Forever Purge, Dark Forces) as Namor and Angela Bassett (Gunpowder Milkshake, Contact) as Ramonda; this sequel did an admirable job of honoring the late Chadwick Bosman who was the Black Panther. The film is beautiful to watch, and I appreciated the way the script wove in the emotional loss and its effect on people. On the other hand, I felt the writers went on too long with the mourning because it cast a maudlin pallor over the story. For a Marvel film, there was not the usual amount of well-choreographed action. My favorite characters were the ones that Angela Bassett, Danai Gurira and Tenoch Huerta portrayed; Angela had some wonderful intense scenes that broke up the monotony of the sadness. This movie did not have the thrilling wonderment of the first one; however, it was a good solid sequel to move the franchise forward. There was only one extra scene in the middle of the credits.
I WAS NOT RELATED TO EITHER THE bride or groom, nor any of their family members. Based on what I saw during the reception I was glad. A friend of the bride brought me as a guest; that was the only connection I had to anyone. The wedding was held in the ballroom of an old, majestic downtown hotel that looked like a movie set from a long-lost era. All the exits were nestled into archways with lit sconces on each side. Both the ceremony and reception were held in the room, except when all the guests were ushered out into an antechamber for drinks and appetizers. While we were in that space the hotel staff set up the ballroom for the reception with dining room tables and a dance floor. It was during the reception that I witnessed the fathers of the bride and groom trying to “one up” each other. When one Dad gave a toast the other one had to jump up and give a toast that was better than the one from the other Dad. By better I mean gushing with superlatives of love and affection that really were meant more for the guests than the bride and groom. IT DID NOT STOP WITH THE speeches. On the dance floor the two fathers always stayed within eyesight of each other; if one was twirling his dance partner around then the other would start to do it. When one Dad dipped his wife down for a romantic kiss, the other Dad quickly sought out his wife and brought her to the dance floor to do the same thing. I sat in my seat observing all of this, wondering why no one hadn’t stepped in to tell the 2 fathers to grow up. Believe me I was not the only one who noticed their competitive behavior towards each other. The expressions on their wives’ faces said it all; it was a look of disgust. Yet, neither one did anything about it as far as I could tell. Though they did not look alike facially, one could easily mistake one Dad with the other because they were acting so much alike. They had the same annoying characteristics; the same hand gestures and they both were acting like children. It was as if each was the other’s doppelganger. At least they were harmless where I did not have to worry for my safety, unlike the ones in this horror thriller. VACATIONING BY THE BEACH WAS SUPPOSED to be a relaxing time until Jason, played by Evan Alex (Kidding-TV, Mani-TV) went missing for a short time. His mother Adelaide, played by Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Queen of Katwe), already had a bad feeling about the place even before this incident. With Winston Duke (Black Panther, Person of Interest-TV) as Gabe, Elisabeth Moss (The One I Love, The Handmaid’s Tale-TV) as Kitty and Shahadi Wright (Hairspray Live-TV) as Zora; these actors did a heck of a job with the script. Lupita was so outstanding that I would not be surprised if she gets multiple nominations this awards season. The script was both fresh and new, having a mix of humor and horror which I have always found hard to do. I must commend writer and director Jordan Peele (Get Out, Keanu) both on his writing and directing of this film. The scenes were done thoughtfully and skillfully in the same way that Alfred Hitchcock did his pictures. There were a few things done in the story that I felt went over my head, though I was aware Jordan was making social commentary. Maybe another visit to the theater to watch this movie would help me; but in the meantime, there were enough things going on in the story that kept me thinking.
3 ¼ stars
SHE DID NOT LOOK LIKE an average woman, whatever average was supposed to look like. I only say that because I remember hearing the comments made about her appearance. We worked together years ago when aerobic meant doing hard impact body movements. The best way to describe her would be to say she was thick because she was not overweight per se. Her arms and legs were large for her body due to her intense weight training regimen. I would see her on the fitness floor from time to time and was always amazed with the amount of weight she used in her exercises. She was usually the only female among the male weightlifters and it amused me when I could tell some of the men were intimidated by her strength. In the locker room I would hear guys talk about her. They always had something negative to say about her appearance, never about her achievements. I am not going to repeat them here since they were rude and ignorant; let me just say I felt the men had to tear her down to make themselves feel better. They could not lift the same amount of weight as she so of course they had to say something to save face, the cowards. MY HOPE FOR THE CURRENT times we live in is that men and women will get closer to be thought of as equals. Not to be crude or rude, but except for the different plumbing women and men can do similar skills and work; maybe with only some slight adjustments. The notion that one gender is weaker than the other is a dated falsehood that needs to be buried once and for all. I remember the teasing I took for having a female internist and the rude comments that were made about what must have taken place during my physical exams. Can you believe it? I did not care if the doctor was a man or women; I was more concerned if they graduated at the top or bottom of their class. No matter what doctor I go to, I always try to look for a copy of their diploma hanging somewhere up on a wall. This divide that has been around for centuries between the sexes is more about power than gender. Well I am here to tell you it was impressive to see the achievements women made in the African country in this action, adventure film. UPON HIS FATHER’S DEATH T’CHALLA, played by Chadwick Boseman (Get on Up, 42), would have to participate in an ancient ritual to determine who would become the Black Panther and lead the nation. Someone else had already had been working for years on how to seize the throne. This science fiction movie also starred Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Fantastic Four) as Erik Killmonger, Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Star Wars franchise) as Nakia, Danai Gurira (The Visitor, All Eyez on Me) as Okoye and Letitia Wright (The Commuter, Top Boy-TV) as Shuri. First off I have to tell you this was not your typical superhero movie. There were no aliens or monsters hell bent on destroying Earth. I was fascinated by the story line and especially the use of women in the script. Black Panther was almost secondary for me compared to the scenes involving women. Michael B. Jordan and Danai commanded the screen with their roles. A majority of the fight scenes were filmed in an odd way; sort of a jerky slow/fast motion type of way. It was not a major distraction since these scenes were not all focal points in the story. The character development along with the juxtaposition of ancient rituals with modern technology kept me fully interested in this picture. Oh and also the great visuals and musical choices for the soundtrack. For those not into superhero movies this one may be worth your time. I enjoyed the different way it told a story and hope going forward that the novelty will wear off in having strong female characters participate in leading a story. There were 2 extra scenes in the middle and end of the credits.
3 ½ stars
One of the big mysteries I still struggle to understand is how people gain confidence. The answer is so elusive to me because I see some people who exude confidence; not in a bragging or boastful way, they just seem to have a strong sense of self and more importantly they believe in themselves. The ones who have the skills and knowledge to back up their confidence deserve it in my opinion. But the individuals who do not have the talent or masterfulness in the field they claim make me curious to know why that person feels that way. At the other end of the equation there are people who have the skill or artistry but do not believe they perform it well. I fall into this category. Since I feel that way I have always looked to see if my lack of belief is due to the environment I grew up in or were there other factors that made me feel like I am never good enough for the task at hand. Was it negative comments I received, people’s perceptions about overweight individuals or being forced to blend in with the majority; I just do not know? What I do know however, is the strength inside of me is partially fueled by my desire to prove people wrong or more precisely prove myself wrong. How twisted does that sound? With everything I have just said I am aware that I have been fortunate with the opportunities that were available to me. There is just one other factor that needs to be part of this conversation and that is acknowledging those individuals who were born with a particular gift like being genetically predisposed for a certain set of skills. It does not matter what their environment is like or their circumstances; they simply have the aptitude. But do you want to know something? A person still needs to believe they can do it. SPENDING her days selling maize Phiona Mutesi, played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga, happened to see a game of chess being played. It was a game that came with a multitude of possibilities. This film festival winning movie was based on a true story. With David Oyelowo (Selma, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) as Robert Katende and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Non-Stop) as Nakku Harriet, the acting was incredible. Lupita had such power in her expressions that I thought I saw fire coming out of her eyes; that is how good she was with her character. This biographical story could have fallen into oversweet sappiness, but due to the script and directing the story came across with a solid sense of realness. I have to tell you the story was amazing. I enjoyed the setting and contrasts shown in this picture. Chess is something that is considered refined almost stately in some circles and I loved the fact that it was being played by poor villagers in a town of Uganda. After watching this film all I can say is I wish I had some of Phiona’s strength. Stay for the beginning of the great ending credits.
3 1/3 stars
My face was pressed against the glass window as I saw the airplane being pushed away from its accordion pleated, collapsable walkway. There was an emptiness inside of me as my visiting family members were flying back home. I imagined them settling into their seats and wondered if any of them were looking out of the jet’s windows back at me. Once the plane taxied out of sight I turned and headed out of the gate area. Walking through the terminal I noticed the massive flow of arriving and departing human beings streaming everywhere. One of my little mind games I played when I was a kid was to make up stories about the different people who were walking past me. With the amount of people that travel through an airport, it is an ideal venue to play this game. Where this was an innocent creative outlook for me, back when one could accompany their guests all the way to their gate, these days a majority of people play this game but for totally different reasons. The writers and director used people’s stereotyping and fears to add a charged dimension to this action thriller. Liam Neeson (The A-Team, Kinsey) played former policeman turned air marshal Bill Marks. During a transatlantic flight Bill received a text message demanding $150 million dollars be transferred to an offshore bank account; otherwise, one passenger every 20 minutes would be killed. Added to the mystery was the fact that the bank account was opened in the name of Bill Marks. Liam gave it his all, committing himself to the role and doing a great job as a broken, alcoholic air marshal. If you think this sounds familiar you would be right; it reminded me of Denzel Washington in the movie Flight. The difference however was Denzel’s film made sense; this one had several implausible scenes that defied logic. Putting that aside, I will say there were some tight, tense scenes that kept the viewer guessing on who was the real villain. Personally, I thought the villain was not strong enough. Among the cast was the terrific Julianne Moore (Carrie, Hannibal) as frequent flyer Jen Summers. I found it surprising that relative newcomer, Oscar nominee and winner Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) had such a small role as flight attendant Gwen. She had maybe a paragraph’s worth of dialog; I can only assume this film was made before 12 Years a Slave. Rounding out the main characters was Michelle Dockery (Hanna, Downton Abbey-TV) as flight attendant Nancy. I have to hand it to Liam; at his age to still be an action hero and maneuver through the aisles of an airplane, he would be the main reason to see this thriller.
2 2/3 stars
I first learned about prejudice in elementary school, but it was not from school books. My first exposure had to do with religious differences. After answering a classmate’s question on what was my religion, he told me I was dirty. At the time I was confused by his comment, remembering I looked down at my hands to see if they were unclean. Shortly after I discovered other classmates were treated to the same encounter. If you were not the same religion as this boy, he believed something was wrong with you. The next form of prejudice I witnessed occurred later when a new student was enrolled into my class who was African American. There was no overt actions taken against her; however, she was shunned by several students. I did not understand why classmates would react in such a way, let alone try to figure out the reasoning behind it. My elementary school years were only a prelude to the horrors I would encounter when I entered into high school. One of the reasons I started this review by writing about the prejudices and discriminations I saw at such a young age was to prepare you for what were the most realistic depictions of them that I have ever seen in a movie. Based on Solomon Northup’s memoir, this movie should be required viewing in every school. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men, American Gangster) was unbelievable playing Solomon; a free black man with a wife and two children, living in upper state New York who was kidnapped, shipped to Louisiana and sold into slavery. Directed by Steve McQueen (Shame, Hunger), I have never experienced the range of intensity and hatred portrayed in a film about slavery like it was done in this film festival winner. Relative newcomer Lupita Nyong’o was outstanding in her role as Patsey, the slave of cotton plantation owner Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender (A Dangerous Method, Prometheus). The story was amazing to watch on film; I can only imagine what Solomon Northup’s book must be like to read. Even with some actors such as Paul Dano (Prisoners, Ruby Sparks) as Tibeats and Benedict Cumberbatch (Atonement,War Horse) as Ford having brief screen time, they still made every minute count with their characters. This is a movie that needs to be seen by everyone. Now I certainly would not be considered an optimist, but forgive me if my hope is the human race would be better by witnessing the ugliness of prejudice and slavery shown in this magnificent film. There were several scenes that showed blood and violence.