IT LOOKED TO ME LIKE A GLASS lighthouse, shining bright in the darkness. The space it was in seemed cavernous to me; there was one complete wall that bowed out of the house to accommodate a baby grand piano. I could be sitting in the dining room yet be able to see the brightly lit curio cabinet in the living room. Whether people were visiting or not, the its light was always on. The cabinet was made of glass and wood that had been washed in a gold paint. The top of it came to a point like a domed roof, with a gold ball that sat right at the pinnacle. There were four glass shelves evenly spaced apart that had a curious mix of things that all fascinated me. However, on the bottom shelf there was a chess set that grabbed my attention the most. Sitting on the thick chessboard were these intricate sculpted ivory pieces my relative called netsukes. I had never seen anything like it. Half the pieces sat on black colored bases and the rest on light colored ones. I would stand at the curio cabinet, its light the only one on in the room, wanting to take the chess pieces out and play with them; but I knew my relative would not approve. The only time I could hold one of the pieces is when my relative took one out and placed it in my hands for only a short moment. Otherwise, they were off limits to everyone. THAT CHESS SET PLANTED A SEED in me because my infatuation with it caused me to learn how to play the game. I received a gift of a travel sized chess set that looked like a large wallet. When I would unzip the sides of the red vinyl rectangular wallet and fold the sides down, it would reveal a square red and white checkerboard. The chess pieces were magnetic dots with each of their tops embossed with the outline of either a white or black chess piece. Except for my relatives with the curio cabinet, I did not know anyone who played chess; so, I would play against myself. I would try different first moves, wanting to give each magnetic chess piece a turn. Luckily, I was finally able to convince a friend to let me teach him and we started playing a few times a month. It was good practice for me I thought; I just did not know practice for what? I was able to plan a few moves out but not anywhere near what the students in this dramatic movie were capable of doing. SOME FROM BROKEN HOMES AND OTHERS FROM different backgrounds, a group of inner-city students found one thing in common; they liked being treated equal in Mr. Martinez’, played by John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge, Spawn), high school classroom. With Rachel Bay Jones (Ben is Back, Grey’s Anatomy-TV) as Principal Kestel, Michael Kenneth Williams (12 Years a Slave, Assassin’s Creed) as Mr. Roundtree, Corwin C. Tuggles (Detachment, Orange is the New Black-TV) and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. (Bumblebee; Love, Simon) as Oelmy “Ito” Paniagua; this film that was based on a true story provided a feel good experience for me. I thought John was exceptional in his role; he reminded me of a teacher I had back in school. The story did not provide much surprise to it; it followed a typical story line that I have seen before. Set in Miami during the late 90s, I liked the throwback feel of the film. Despite having nothing that stood out as special for me, I thought the story was still moving. And if you decide to see this movie please stay for the credits to see the extra scenes.
2 ½ stars
AS THE LIGHTS WENT DOWN MY irritation subsided only to be replaced with brimming excitement. The first note struck on the electric guitar echoed through the stadium and the crowd started to cheer wildly. The stage was flooded in dazzling lights of several colors as the members of the rock band rose up from underneath the stage. I was in my happy place as the band tore into their first song of the night. All the hassle it took to drive to the stadium while fighting traffic every step of the way, parking in the outrageously expensive parking lot, then pushing through the mass of people to get to our seats was all worth it to hear our favorite band. My buddy and I endured all this work to get to a concert, sometimes on a weekly basis; because there was no greater feeling than sitting with 20,000 fans who were all experiencing the same feelings. It was a rush for me. We had been doing it for several years; so, we had our routine down solid on how to navigate each venue. Rarely did we get disappointed by a group or musician. My proof would be all the T-shirts I acquired throughout the years. AS PRICES ESCALATED FOR THE PARKING, ticket fees and the price of admission; my passion for seeing concerts started to wane. Some popular musical artists were charging prices that were easily 50 to 100% higher than other acts; I found it offensive. Just because they had the #1 hit in the country and were wildly popular did not, I felt, give them the right to gouge their adoring fans. My buddy still wanted to see every musical artist and group, no matter the cost. I started becoming more selective. We had a good run of concerts I felt; but the hassle and cost were chipping into the enjoyment factor. The concerts that took place during the weekdays were the toughest for me. Getting home late and trying to get to sleep while in the euphoric afterglow of a concert was getting harder and harder for me to do. I felt bad for my friend; we were both tight into our concert routine for years and now it was changing because of me. I tried being as supportive as I could; however, I just could not keep it up. There were times my friend would go by himself to see a concert; it used to make me feel bad. With the passing of time, we started settling into our new roles. I saw the same thing playing out in this latest installment of the action, comedic crime franchise. AFTER NEARLY BEING KILLED BY A drive-by shooter; Mike Lowrey, played by Will Smith (Men in Black franchise, I Am Legend) and his partner Marcus Burnett, played by Martin Lawrence (Big Momma’s House, National Security), team up with a newly created team from the Miami police department to try and track down the source of the shooter. With Joe Pantoliana (The Matrix, Wedding Daze) as Captain Howard, Alexander Ludwig (Lone Survivor, The Hunger Games) as Dorn and Vanessa Hudgens (Beastly, Spring Breakers) as Kelly; there were no surprises in this movie. If you are a fan of the series, then you will enjoy this latest one; it is pretty much more of the same. Not that this is a criticism; for the script had the same type of quick bantering jokes and humor while Will and Martin delivered their brand of chemistry to the big screen. Granted, part of the humor was now being based on their advanced ages. The action scenes were exciting and some of them were even fun to watch. I believe this is a film one must be in the mood for to watch. If one delays it for a bargain price, there would be nothing wrong in doing that.
2 ½ stars
AN act of kindness delivers a bigger impact during the time when the recipient is being hunted down as prey. Few of you may understand but for everyone else the victim is always aware of their surroundings. A soft sound from behind, an eye peeking out from a doorway; like a skittish deer in the woods the victim has to be ready to flee. For the one person who performs that act of kindness, which ranges from standing up to the aggressors to providing a safe haven; they are indelibly etched into the heart of the victim. One thing acts of kindness and violence both have in common is they each can have a profound effect. THE effect could span through many stages of a person’s life not to dissimilar in the way Claude Monet painted his series of haystacks. His approach was to show how the perception of light could alter the look of his landscape. Essentially the hay was the same; it just looked different depending on the location of the light source. Regarding the prey one may not see on the outside the change that takes effect from a good deed. Trust me the kindness is like a seed planted deep inside the victim where it cannot be harmed from any blows or kicks. You may ask what does the seed do for the prey; it provides the bloom of hope and there is nothing stronger than feeling that sense of hope growing inside. These thoughts flooded me during the time I spent with this dramatic movie. I felt I was walking through an art museum watching the different stages of the main character’s life. GROWING up in a rough environment it is the acts of kindness that last the longest. This film festival winning movie was a moving experience. Starring Mahershala Ali (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, House of Cards-TV) as Juan, Naomie Harris (Spectre, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) as Paula, Ashton Sanders (Straight Outta Compton, The Retrieval) as Chiron and musical artist Janelle Monae as Teresa; the acting was amazing. There is a good chance this picture will get an Oscar nod. Set in Miami the story was broken down into 3 distinct segments of Chiron’s life. What I enjoyed the most was the way the script did not manipulate the viewer. Instead the story smoothly unfolded or better yet, presented itself in a totally believable way. If you were to strip away the labels associated to each character you would be left with basic human emotions and a sense of self-discovery. The filming and the wonderful soundtrack seamlessly blended into forming complete picture frames and I actually mean picture frames. I truly felt like I was at an art gallery/museum, walking through and admiring works of art. It was brilliant to have 3 actors play the character of Chiron as a child, teen and adult. The direction was fresh and beautiful, even during the rough parts of the story. There were times though where the dialog was hard to hear for me. Like an act of kindness, I feel like I received a gift by watching this movie.
3 ½ stars
It is hard to tell someone what they are attempting to do is not very good. I am not referring to someone’s behavior or actions per se, more as a reality check to a person’s desire. Many of you may have seen these reality shows where a person auditions to be part of the program, as a singer or dancer. I am all for encouraging a person to pursue their dreams, but some of the people I have seen on these television shows appear to have been chosen solely to amuse the viewing audience. I find it perplexing that the contestant claims their family and friends said they would make a great singer or dancer, when it is obvious they cannot carry a tune or stay on beat. Remembering one of my writing classes, there was a student who wanted to be a writer. Through class discussions we found out his family encouraged him by holding mini story times for him to read his stories to the family. Based on what he read in our class, his stories tended to follow a formula: the endings always involved someone dying and the use of profanity was meant to shock the reader since its use rarely fit his characters. He did pass the class but by junior year he either dropped out of school or changed majors; I never saw him again. I do not think anyone wants or enjoys having to be the one to perform the reality check, but isn’t it preferable to watching the person go through with some ill-advised life decisions based on unrealistic hopes? There was a similar situation taking place in this comedic sequel. BEN Barber, played by Kevin Hart (The Wedding Ringer, Get Hard), was positive he was on the right path to becoming a permanent police officer when he accompanied his future brother-in-law Detective James Payton, played by Ice Cube (21 Jump Street franchise, Barbershop franchise), to Miami to help solve a case. James was convinced Ben could not handle the pressure. If you saw the original movie and enjoyed it then you will be in store for the exact same thing in this film. I first have to say I do not consider Kevin an actor; he is exactly the same in every role I have seen him in previously. Regarding this action picture, there were many aspects of it that irritated me. The jokes about Kevin’s height (is this a requirement for every one of his movies?), the jokes about the two characters becoming brother-in-laws and the lack of a solid story all contributed to my boredom. However I did enjoy Ken Jeong (The Hangover franchise, All About Steve) as A.J. and Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality, Demolition Man) as Antonio Pope. This film as far as I was concerned was a quick money grab by the movie studio. Someone needs to tell them they are not producing a decent product if this is what they come up with for a sequel.
1 3/4 stars
I always know what to expect whenever I stop at one of these places. The only time I go to one is when I am out of town on vacation. You see when I am exploring a new area I do not want to spend time sitting down at a restaurant, waiting for someone to take my order and then having to wait further for my food to come to my table. This is why I will quickly grab something at a fast food establishment. I save eating at a local restaurant for dinner time. The only time I partake in fast food is when I am traveling out of state. If I have planned my day full of activities and sightseeing, I do not want to spend a lot of time taking in food. To me food is just fuel to continue my pace for the afternoon. The reason I eat fast food is because no matter where I am the meal is reliable; there are no surprises, nor do I have to think about how my body is going to react to something foreign. However, based on recent news there are reasons to worry about certain foods we eat these days. The meal is quick and adequate; I do not have to devote any thought to it, just consume and get out of the place. I know actually what to expect whenever I venture into such restaurants. I see my logic can be applied to other areas of interest, such as movie franchises. AFRAID Dave, played by Jason Lee (Chasing Amy, My Name is Earl-TV), was going to leave them once he proposed to Samantha, played by Kimberly Williams (Father of the Bride franchise, We are Marshall), Alvin and his brothers decided to follow Dave to Miami to stop the proposal. From the very beginning of this film I knew what to expect from the story. There was going to be the same type of humor, similar big song and dance numbers and an antagonist; in this case it was Tony Hale (Stranger Than Fiction, The Heat) as Agent Suggs. With the addition of Josh Green (Fair Haven, The Girl in the Book) as Miles, the story was set and off went the chipmunks. There was essentially nothing new to this latest installment of the franchise. Little children should still enjoy it though there were a couple of scenes that may not be appropriate for them. Except for one good dance number I was bored through a majority of this picture. I found it pretty predictable for the most part, besides the repetitive use of some sight gags. It seems to me this franchise is just following the same formula setup from the past films; there was nothing new or different. As long as the viewer knows what to expect once they get into the theater, I guess this movie serves some kind of a purpose.
1 2/3 stars
I figured out the purpose for these Step Up movies. They are the assisted living homes for the former dancers of the television show, So You Think You Can Dance. After the dancers end their run on the TV show, they participate in these movies. Maybe some will progress to other acting roles; but the majority, I believe, will remain long term residents. In this latest version, former SYTYCD contestant Kathryn McCormack played Emily, the daughter of a wealthy property developer. Accompanying her dad to Miami where he had business dealings; Emily met Sean, played by former Calvin Klein underwear model Ryan Guzman, down by the beach. It just so happened everyone around was dancing; imagine that. Besides working at the hotel where Emily and her Dad were staying, Sean was a leader of a dance flash mob called The Mob. When her father’s development plan jeopardized Sean’s neighborhood, Emily had to choose sides. We have seen this story a thousand times, there was nothing original here. Viewing this film, I had to wonder what came first: the dance numbers or the script. Gratefully I did not have to see this movie in the 3D version, which was being heavily rotated at my theater. Why would anyone want to have a leg kick appear like it was smacking them in the face? If you just want to see an extended music video, then this is the movie for you. The wild choreographed dance scenes were lively and enjoyable, some were rather creative. But with the lack of acting skills and a tired script, my interest level was low. I think the residents of this movie franchise are in need of some desperate rehabbing.