HAVING NOWHERE TO GO FOR the holiday a friend invited me to come celebrate with her and her family. Normally I decline such invites simply because I do not want to be the outsider at a family function. Some families are close-knit to the point where they have a shorthanded way of communicating with each other; sharing inside jokes, memories and/or conversing about family matters. I would feel out of place in this type of situation. Since I knew some of my friend’s relatives I agreed to go to their family dinner. I picked up a box of candy on the way to my friend’s house, so we could go together to her parents. Once we arrived I was warmly greeted by her parents and sister. I found it amusing when I was introduced to the different relatives who were present because I already knew about some of them from the stories my friend shared with me. Let me just say she has some crazy characters in her family and those are her words. In total there were approximately 20 relatives made up of aunts, uncles, cousins and some cousins with children; it was a full house. My friend’s parents had put up folding tables and chairs to accommodate everyone. IT IS ONE THING TO HEAR stories about people; it is another thing to actually sit down with them and share a meal. We had gotten through the appetizers and soup portion of the dinner before a verbal fight broke out between a couple of relatives. An uncle remembered a past incident a certain way and an aunt remembered it a different way. They were bickering back and forth as the main course was coming out to be served. The hostess asked the 2 combatants to settle down which surprisingly they did rather quickly. However, within 5-10 minutes the two were back at it, yelling at each other. Unfortunately, more relatives got involved so there was this crescendo of angry voices trying to out shout each other. I sat quietly as I ate my meal; I was not about to let a good meal go to waste. It was a bit surreal I admit; but on the other hand, I found it interesting to see these relatives swearing and calling each other names. My hope to stay out of the melee was dashed when one of the aunts tried to get me to agree with her point of view. It was then that I became uncomfortable and wanted to leave this family dysfunction. In a way I had the same reaction while watching this film festival winning documentary. WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play), this musical biography traced the life of Whitney Houston. I thought Whitney had an incredible voice, even buying some of her music. But once she started her decline I lost all interest in her. This is just my thing; once a celebrity becomes unprofessional in some way, I have no reason to support them. It doesn’t matter if they are gifted or incredible with what they do; once they cross that line I am done with them. This is where I was with Whitney. Seeing this documentary was eye opening in some respects. The use of past TV and movie clips were entertaining as were some of the interviews. Whether the director was getting honesty out of the interviewees is questionable; but for my needs I thought the director did a beautiful job in telling a story, albeit a tragic one. From watching this biography, I felt every person involved had a hand in Whitney’s extinction. In a way this story was not so different from other sad stories of dead celebrities; the difference here was we were able to see Whitney wanting to dance with someone, but most dancers were not suitable partners.
2 ½ stars
IT WAS THE COOLEST ROOM in the house and I am not talking about temperature. As you walked in there was a closet on your left that was long and narrow. Past that was a perfectly square room with only one window near a corner. Around the entire space were vinyl albums; most of them were lined up vertically, filling up bookshelves that were on every wall. Any flat surfaces, such as the top of a dresser or bookcase, had record albums stacked on top of them. It was like walking into a treasure trove of musical history. There were different genres of music to satisfy almost anyone; from classical to Broadway musicals, opera to blues, Top 40 to Jazz. No matter what type of mood one was in, they could always find something among the shelves of records to satisfy themselves. The other thing that stood out in this room was the record player; yes, an actual record player. It was a rectangular box covered in cream colored vinyl that stood on a short pedestal. With a clasp on top, once it was opened it would allow two speakers to swing out on hinges like a double door revealing a turntable that one would need to pull down like a Murphy bed. OUTSIDE OF THIS ROOM THERE was another place I found that had even more vinyl records. It was a small store situated between a clothing store and a barbershop, on a commercial street in a residential neighborhood. More times than not there was at least one cat lounging in the front window. Walking inside the place was like entering a concert hall; there was always music playing from a set of speakers that were hanging in opposite sides of the space. The proprietor was a balding man with a thick beard. Everyone thought he was a genius. You could recite one line of a lyric and he would know what song it was from. If you told him which artist you liked, he would ask you if you heard about another artist that was similar and then go find their album to show you. He had arranged the store with rows of bins without any breaks; so, once you entered a row you could only exit it at the ends. On the walls he had hung posters, all were of musical artists and none of them were hung straight. I had almost forgotten about this store until I saw this film festival winning, musical drama. THEIR LOVE OF MUSIC MADE a special bond between Sam Fisher, played by Kiersey Clemons (Flatliners, Dope), and her Dad Frank, played by Nick Offerman (The Founder, Parks and Recreation-TV), just as his record shop was closing and college looming for her. With Ted Danson (Made in America, Body Heat) as Dave, Toni Collette (Hereditary, The Sixth Sense) as Leslie and Sasha Lane (American Honey, Shotgun) as Rose; I thought this was one of Nick’s better roles. This charming story had a script that was easy with little surprise. Maybe because I admire Toni, I wished the story had incorporated more of her character. Granted she was a secondary character, but I was left feeling there was unfinished business and that is all I will say about it. Kiersey was excellent; I especially enjoyed the songs her character sang. Part of my hesitation for giving this movie a full endorsement had to do with the continuous one level of emotional depth that came across the screen. Sure, there were some touching spots in the story but overall there was not enough drama for me. If nothing else though, I certainly got a kick out of seeing Frank’s record store and listening to some decent music.
2 ½ stars
WITH ONE OF MY PREVIOUS cell phones I programmed most of my contacts with songs as their ringtone. I want you to know I never missed a call. In the middle of a crowded shopping mall or restaurant it did not make a difference because I would always hear the notes of the song. My ears from the time I was born were always accustomed to music and not just one genre; I was exposed to everything from classical to the blues. At some point in time I dreamt about being on a game show where the contestants had to name the song the game show host was playing for them. I was positive I could win. There is something about music that puts me in a place where I may feel relaxed or romantic or exhilarated; besides a wealth of other feelings. I am willing to bet many of us have a “go to” song we play when we have a heartbreak; there were several in my roundhouse. MUSIC CERTAINLY HAS EVOLVED OVER the centuries; I can only fantasize what it must have been like for early man and woman when they struck their first note. Imagine the idea of tying a string to essentially a piece of wood and discovering you can play different sounds depending on where your hand presses down on the string. The same goes for any wind type of instrument; who thought of blowing air into a shell or ram’s horn to make a sound? No matter how music is made one of the main foundations among all genres are the feelings that go into the musical piece. I find when a musical artist can connect to their song it makes me believe what they are saying. I know it is true because even the judges on those singing reality shows (my guilty pleasure) say the same thing. A singer needs to feel what they are singing and pour their emotions into the lyrics. Though it is a cliché I agree that music can soothe the savage beast. If you are not sure about this then you might want to check out this musical, family drama. LIVING WITH AN ABUSIVE FATHER the only thing that saved Bart, played by newcomer J. Michael Finley, was listening to music. It would take years before he understood why. Based on a true story, this movie also starred Dennis Quaid (A Dog’s Purpose, Far from Heaven) as Arthur, Brody Rose (Gifted, Christmas on the Bayou) as young Bart, Trace Adkins (The Lincoln Lawyer, Deepwater Horizon) as Brickell and Madeline Carroll (Flipped, Mr. Popper’s Penguins) as Shannon. With the story being faith based the thing I appreciated about this script was its ability to tell a story without drumming faith into the viewer’s head. The faith based films I have recently seen all focused on telling the viewers what we should believe, instead of creating a well done piece of work that told a story. Maybe because this was a true story about a dark subject I found it more palatable. I also enjoyed the music and especially Bart’s singing; the actor could easily do a Broadway musical with that type of voice. As for the script it did not have any real surprises in it. I felt Dennis did a better than usual job of acting in this film. What tied this whole picture together for me was the showing of statistics and the connection of events that led Bart on his journey. What sold me on this film was the music; if I had not enjoyed it I would have rated the movie lower.
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO the packaging. The other culprit would be the marketing side. From the movie trailers I saw, the entire time I thought this film was another one based on a Nicholas Sparks’ novel. It had all the trappings of being one with its love being lost then found again, adding in a crisis or a child; they all seem to follow a formula at least in their movie versions. Let me say I have not read any of his books so I do not know how they compare to the movies. Imagine my surprise after sitting through this picture to discover it was not one of his stories. The entire time I sat in my seat I could have sworn the story came from Nicholas. Oh, the other thing I want to mention is that I am not knocking down Nicholas’ ability as a writer; it is just the recent movies of his books have not been entertaining or well done in my opinion. To this day I think the most successful of the films has been The Notebook and wasn’t that back around 2004? I CANNOT SAY I WAS DISAPPOINTED when I found out the story was not associated with Nicholas Sparks, simply because I had low expectations when I walked into the theater. It would be akin to me being offered a tater tot and discovering they were made with shredded cauliflower instead of potato. If you happened to have seen the trailer for this film the film clips were precisely the kind the movie studios use to market a new Nicholas Sparks movie. I have noticed his films all seem to be the same story or at least idea now. From my experiences each of his pictures must have a scene that will make the audience members tear up. As far as I am concerned just because a script can make you feel sad doesn’t mean it is a wonderful, entertaining movie. Adding a sad scene into a story is like adding butter onto your oatmeal; it helps make it more palatable for the eater. In the case of this movie the oatmeal was at least 2 days old. WHEN COUNTRY MUSIC STAR LIAM Page, played by Alex Roe (The 5th Wave, Hot Summer Nights), returned home after being away for almost a decade; he had to come face to face with the woman he left at the altar. She did not come alone. This dramatic, musical romance also starred Jessica Rothe (Happy Death Day, La La Land) as Josie, John Benjamin Hickey (The Taking of Pelham 123, The Bone Collector) as Pastor Brian, Abby Ryder Fortson (Ant-Man, Rated) as Billy and Tyler Riggs (Angels in Stardust, Boomtown) as Jake. The only positive things I can say about this film are I enjoyed the songs and this story would appeal to a narrow group of fans within the romance novel genre. The acting was almost non-existent though the character Billy was cute. I felt the directing and editing were poorly done; there really was not anything in this script that would come across as a surprise to anyone who ever saw a romance picture in their life. This was such a boring movie that I actually had a hard time keeping my eyes open. Honestly everything about this film made it seem as if it was made for a 2nd tier cable movie station; I could not get over how lifeless the characters were as if there was not a director on set to direct them to act. If you feel you are missing a dose of Nicholas Sparks’ words then maybe this film would satisfy your needs. I recommend you take your money instead and buy yourself a new romance novel.
1 ½ stars
SOMETIMES OUR DREAMS DO not come true or at least not the way we had hoped they would. I have mentioned in previous reviews I feel dreams are a vital part of a person’s life; in my opinion, they are the oasis in the voyage of our lives. Just recently a friend was telling me the next 3 months were going to be intense for him at his workplace. He needed to dangle something in front of himself to strive towards (like that carrot in front of a horse thing), to get through his grueling work schedule, so he was planning a trip in April. I listened as he told me how he will think about exotic locations he wants to visit while crunching data for reports. I saw it as a pressure valve thing where he needed to take his mind off of the tedious and monotonous motions of his day. Let us face it who can sit in a sterile work cubicle every day, doing the same thing over and over, without letting your mind at some point drift to something more pleasurable? ANOTHER AVENUE WHERE OUR dreams may come into play is when we encounter people who were with us during the birth of a particular dream. These individuals represent validation that our dreams were a real thing that we wanted to achieve at some point in time. Think about the friends you had during high school and college, where you would all talk about what you wanted to do after you were done with school. I remember bumping into a former classmate who recalled my interest in photography; they asked me if I pursued photography as a career. As the two of us started to talk about the past I saw images in my mind of me spending every weekend in the darkroom, developing the past week’s worth of photographs. I dreamed of being a photojournalist back then, remembering the amount of photos I would take in hopes of submitting some of them to news organizations. After meeting that former classmate my dream of being a photographer came back to life for a short time. I found my camera up on a shelf in the closet, so I started taking photographs again to see how it would feel. The feeling only lasted a short time but it did feel good. A similar thing happened to the friends in this musical comedy sequel. DISENCHANTED AND DISILLUSIONED WITH the life they were now leading the former Bellas singing group got back together to audition for an overseas USO tour. Being chosen meant each of the members could leave their life behind and start over with a new one; however one had to be careful what they wished for. Starring Anna Kendrick (The Accountant, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) as Beca, Rebel Wilson (How to be Single, Bridesmaids) as Fat Amy, Brittany Snow (Hairspray, Prom Night) as Chloe and Anna Camp (The Help, True Blood-TV) as Aubrey; this 3rd installment quickly went from a cute to silly story. I thought the script was awful and missed the opportunity to relive the original film’s charm. There seemed to be less singing and an increase in lame comedy bits that bored me. It was a shame the producers decided to make this sequel that dragged down any fun memories one might have had with the former films. And with the different story lines that were thrown into this picture all I have to say is this 3rd one was not the charm; instead it was off key.
1 ¾ stars
ANGER IS SOMETHING that you are told you should not get or show. As far as I can tell most people give anger a negative connotation. From years ago I can still remember people telling me either not to get angry or saying it is not nice to be angry. I vaguely remember someone telling me “instead of getting angry, get even.” Back then I did not have enough self awareness to deal with anger or express it properly. What I did learn about anger, it was a valid emotion like any of the others. I would never encourage anyone to hold in their anger because when it is held inside it can build up and come out with more force than the occasion calls for. Also bottled up anger can physically and mentally do nasty things to one’s body. IF HANDLED PROPERLY anger can be used like a high octane fuel to motivate an individual to overcome a challenge. Personally if I had not funneled my anger and put it to constructive use I believe I would have self destructed. Anger helped me lose weight and it also got me to remove toxic people from my life. Trust me it was not an easy process and I do not want to make it sound like it was no big deal; but after being picked on for such a long time, I started to redirect the self-destructive side of anger towards more positive uses. I started taking steps to build myself up, internally and externally. When I think about it I do not know if I would have returned to putting pen to paper if I did not get in touch with my deep seated anger. An interesting thing to note, in situations where I thought someone intentionally wanted to hurt me I would lash out at them. Dealing with anger allowed me to get clarity about a situation and instead of getting angry I could express how my feelings were hurt. I have to say the main character in this dramatic, film festival winning movie does an amazing job of expressing her feelings. TIRED OF BEING made fun of and living with her alcoholic mother Patricia Dombrowski aka Killa P aka Patti Cake$, played by Danielle Macdonald (The East, Every Secret Thing), wanted to get out of New Jersey. With all the feelings she had been putting down to paper, she wanted to use them and become the next rap superstar. With Bridget Everett (Trainwreck, Inside Amy Schumer-TV) as Barb, Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull, Analyze That) as Nana and McCaul Lombardi (American Honey, Age of the Moon) as Danny; the cast was excellent in their roles. It was especially terrific seeing Cathy in her role. The first thing I have to tell you is I am not a fan of rap music; however, the music for this film was so intoxicating I would consider buying the soundtrack. Danielle was unbelievable both with her acting and rapping. The theme to this story was a familiar one that has been done before; however, there was a pure rawness to this one. I will say there were a few scenes that came across as odd but I discovered afterwards the director had done the videos for a couple of music artists, which then explained the fantasy feel in some scenes. There were no major surprises in the script; I had a feeling on how things would play out. As you might imagine I could relate to Patricia and admired her strength.
THE HONEYMOON phase is a real thing in a burgeoning relationship. However it can be quite deceptive for the individuals. I have seen many couples during this period who were bubbly and giddy in love, freely participating in public displays of affection. To the outsider they appeared perfectly in synch and for all intents and purposes they might have been. But it is here where that deception comes into play. With the couple exploring their love connection they might begin to feel that they could be together forever…and they just might succeed. But when 2 people never go past this faze to their real daily world, any slight obstacle can trip them up with drastic consequences. They were so focused on the happy, joyful, loving experiences they never took the time to really learn about each other. Even if some individuals are conscious about the different phases to a relationship they may fear showing their faults or quirks to their partner in love. RELATIONSHIPS take work sometimes; it would be great if everything was simple and easy but most people are complicated. From my past experiences I have learned to express my feelings more and not hide my quirks so far in the future hopes. The reason being I need a person to love me for who I am, instead of them focusing on the good stuff and thinking the difficult things will disappear or worse yet that they can change them in me. Going into a relationship with the idea you can change someone is the quickest way to kill the relationship. I mentioned in an earlier review about being with someone who resented me teaching fitness at night, but there have been others who thought they could change me to suit their needs. I will say it helps if a person will talk about their needs instead of going into a relationship under the pretense the person they are in love with will figure it out. I may not be an expert in the relationship department but I do know a relationship needs communication and respect. Feel free to take a gander at this Oscar nominated romantic drama to see what I mean. DISSIMILAR backgrounds and beliefs were not a concern for Elise and Didier, played by Veerle Baetens (The Ardennes, Code 37-TV) and Johan Heldenbergh (The Zookeeper’s Wife, The Brand New Testament), when they first met. Their love of bluegrass music and physical attraction to each other was a good start to begin a relationship. They were setting themselves up for a fall when their lives took an unexpected turn. This film festival winning musical movie also starred Nell Cattrysse (Labyrinthus, Het Vonnis) as Maybelle and Geert Van Rampelberg (The Treatment, The Memory of a Killer) as William. I thought the acting was excellent because to me Didier and Elise came across as a real couple. The script surprised me and I will tell you why. Normally I am not a fan of a story jumping back and forth in time; but in this case, it worked to break up the intensity of the situation with the musical numbers and home life scenes. There was honesty in the script, where I felt myself getting drawn into the lives of these people. As I stated earlier relationships are not always easy. Flemish and Dutch were spoken with English subtitles.
3 ¼ stars – DVD
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.
THE man standing up on the stage was of a large stature, making the stage look less immense. Queried by the judges he politely answered their questions. There was a hint of nervousness in his voice. One of the judges asked him to begin his audition. A song began to play with a solid beat and the man began to dance to it. The television camera cut back to the judges who all were sitting in a row, each one with a look of disbelief on their faces. The big man shocked all of them with his dancing that was part cheerleader moves, part dance and part pole dancing; all were being done exactly to the beat. To finish off his performance he did a twirl with a leap into the air, coming down into a full leg split with one leg stretched all the way in front of him and the other in the opposite direction behind him. The audience erupted with applause as well as the judges who were still in a bit of shock. Because of the man’s size the judges as well as the audience assumed dancing would have been the last thing the contestant would have performed. I have come across similar scenarios in my fitness classes. A person would walk in and look like they would rather be at the dentist’s office getting a tooth drilled than being in an exercise class; however, once I started the class the person would get into it in an intense way. Years ago I taught an aerobics class that was made up of a mixture of strength and dance moves. First I have to tell you I took one look at this one man and thought he would hate the class, figuring his wife standing next to him had forced him to come with her. He was over 6 feet tall and stocky. Talk about shock for both of us; I was stunned he stayed for the whole class and he was amazed how tough of a workout it was to keep up. It goes to show you one can never assume something based on a person’s appearance. It is a lesson well learned since I was surprised with what I discovered in this biographical music drama. FROM a young age Afeni Shakur, played by Danai Gurira (The Visitor, Mother of George), taught her son that words were more important than a basketball. Based on true events this film went through the life and death of actor/rapper Tupac Shakur, played by relative newcomer Demetrius Shipp Jr. Normally I am not a big fan of a story jumping back and forth in time; however, the way the script was written made this a non-issue for me. Starring Hill Harper (Concussion, CSI: New York-TV) as the interviewer, Kat Graham (17 Again, The Vampire Diaries-TV) as Jada Pinkett and Dominic L. Santana (Love for Sale, Dead Heist) as Suge Knight; I thought the acting was excellent. There was not a time I did not think I was watching Tupac. Since I am not too familiar with his work I found this movie enlightening. If one already is familiar with Tupac this film may only be repeating known facts. I will say I wished the script had given more personal background about Afeni and Tupac. Now get this, as people were leaving at the end there was a tap on my shoulder. A man stopped to ask me what I thought about Tupac. I said I had no idea where he came from or who he was, but was now impressed with what he accomplished in his short life.
2 3/4 stars
Do you think food tastes any better coming out of a refrigerator costing $2000.00 as opposed to one costing $500.00? Unless the owner of the expensive refrigerator is a gourmet cook and the other owner cannot even boil water, I do not think so. I never understood this mentality about the more something cost the better it should be. Do you remember a television show that filmed the inside of celebrity houses? Now I can appreciate the “finer things in life” such as artwork or custom made furniture, but some places were just outrageous. Usually those places matched the owners who managed to always be in the news, even if it meant they had to be involved in some ridiculous incident. I do not know about you but I have noticed it is always the same celebrities getting in the news and usually not for a philanthropic or generous act. Personally I find it offensive but I understand their need for publicity, both good and bad. There used to be a time where celebrities maintained some form of discretion. When I think of the old Hollywood actors I do not recall most of them being associated with a scandal. Granted the internet and reality TV has altered the playing field; but seriously, how many of us really care to hear the stuff that is out there these days? From shaved heads to addictions to cheating to posing without clothes; it seems like some celebrities’ stunts become the thing they are known for as they get more popular and overshadow their original body of work. SKYROCKETING in popularity Conner, played by Andy Samberg (That’s my Boy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine-TV), decided to leave his boy band and go solo. He would soon discover popularity has a ferocious appetite. This musical comedy mockumentary also starred Sarah Silverman (I Smile Back, Take This Waltz) as Paula and Tim Meadows (Mean Girls, The Ladies Man) as Harry. The story started out slow for me, where I felt the script was just an expanded version of a Saturday Night Live skit. It was logical since Andy and the writers here were responsible for his digital short films on the show. However, as the story continued it occurred to me the writing trio were creating a satirical social commentary about celebrity fame. There were several biting cuts and loony ideas expressed in this film. I enjoyed the multitude of celebrity cameo appearances that went on throughout the entire movie; I think Andy must know almost everyone in Hollywood. The key to watching this picture is not to take it too seriously. I continued to find parts of the script that did not work for me; but, considering what I have seen and heard these days, the things that did work were sharp. Even the musical numbers were trippy though there was strong language used at times. In a way this movie told a familiar story except it was updated for current times. I recall seeing Andy doing the talk show circuit to promote this film. It may not have been enough to make this film popular at the box office; I just hope he doesn’t start to do some goofy stunts to help gain notoriety for this movie.
2 2/3 stars