THE AROMA OF ELEPHANT dung was one of the strongest memories I took away from the circus. I only went to the circus once when I was around 6 years old. To get to our seats we had to walk down a long aisle where the floor was covered in sawdust. Once we were seated I was able to see three rings set up in the arena, with the middle one much larger than the other two. I was excited to be there because all I wanted to see were the tigers. To start the show a tall man dressed in a tuxedo with a top hat walked into a single spotlight that then followed him to the large ring; his amplified voice reverberated throughout the massive arena. From one end of the arena several spotlights pierced the dark and lit up a parade of elephants walking in single file as they made their way around the arena. As they passed where I was seated one of the elephants defecated. Because it happened at the far edge of the arena none of the circus performers noticed what happened, so it remained there for the entire show. MAYBE THAT IS WHY I never wanted to go to the circus after that time. The only type of circuses I will go to today are the ones that are animal free. Even if that elephant had not altered my feelings about the circus I would not go to a circus that used animals for entertainment. For the type of circus events I have attended I get to see humans doing unhuman things; this is the way I describe it, because the performers are doing such spectacular things they almost look as if they are not of earth. There is one particular company that travels around the world, pitching a massive tent in an open space, where the performers are dressed in a variety of costumes and makeup. This is my favorite event to see because at one time I can witness people from all different walks of life, from all different parts of the world, come together and create something magical. I do not know how someone could say anything negative about such an environment. OUT OF WORK AFTER the company he worked at went bankrupt Phineas Taylor Barnum, played by Hugh Jackman (Pan, Logan), had an idea. It was an idea that sounded crazy but he did not care what people said, he was willing to take the chance. This musical, dramatic biography also starred Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea, My Week with Marilyn) as Charity Barnum, Zac Efron (Baywatch, Dirty Grandpa) as Phillip Carlyle, Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming, K.C. Undercover-TV) as Anne Wheeler and Rebecca Ferguson (The Girl on the Train, Despite the Falling Snow) as Jenny Lind. The look of this film was wonderful; I thought the sets and costumes were a perfect fit. As for the music written by the same writers who did La La Land, I thought it was much better in this picture; I can actually remember a few of the songs. Sadly despite the decent acting the script failed this film. You got these big, beautiful song and dance numbers connected with a weak script that lacked emotion. I felt a disconnect between the drama of the singing with the acting parts. There was such a timely message to the story that I wished would have been explored more in hopes of connecting everyone together. I would not say this circus movie reminded me of the smelly circus I went to as a kid, but this film could have used a bit of air freshener to make it a better show.
2 ¼ 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.
GREAT results can happen when one’s dream remains in a somewhat fluid state, like a soap bubble that grows with the input of more air. A young person grew up with the dream of living in the country, where her art studio would inhabit the abandoned barn on her property. Her skills as an artist were refined over the years to the point she was able to earn a living selling her works. From each sale she took a portion of the profit and squirreled it away to eventually become the down payment for her dream. But something happened when she fell in love with a man who had his own dreams. Ever since he was a young boy he wanted to live in a high rise apartment building that had a doorman. All of his schooling was laid out towards making his dream come true; he finally had his dream job that took him to all parts of the world. The only thing left was to save up and find that special apartment that would be his home base, a secure beacon high above the city. DREAMS have always been a part of my internal motivations. The story I wrote to start out this review is similar to something I experienced when I met someone who had their own dreams. Trust me it was not the easiest thing to do, to let someone else’s dream form a bond with my own; however, once I realized our dreams could blend together without losing our goals it got easier. A relationship is partially a negotiation, a compromise; the key is paring down to the important aspects of one’s dreams then finding a way where they can remain intact within the new dream being formed between two people. Let the couple in this musical movie show you. SPARKS formed right from the start when aspiring actress Mia and jazz musician Sebastian, played by Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, The Help) and Ryan Gosling (The Big Short, The Place Beyond the Pines), first met. Each came into the relationship with a dream; the question was how to achieve it. This comedic drama started out with a bang by having a big, opening musical number. If you are not a fan of musicals and their history there is a good chance this film will not have a strong impact on you. I knew Ryan had a musical background but did not know Emma could sing; both of them had a wonderful chemistry together. With J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, The Closer-TV) as Bill and musical artist John Legend (Soul Men) as Keith for part of the cast, the story was partially an homage to those old fashioned musicals from the 1930s and 40s. The dance numbers were fun but I found the music only okay, nothing very memorable. The allure of this film I believe is due to its novelty; there hasn’t been a good film in this genre recently. I will tell you I enjoyed this movie, especially the story line; however, I was a bit confused to the point I felt I must have missed something, wondering if I needed to see the movie again. Maybe from the unavoidable buzz I was hearing I dreamt this was going to be one of my 4 star movies.
The first time I saw them on a small screen I thought they looked unusual, almost bizarre. Every Saturday afternoon there was a television show that showed old movies. I did not understand the point of a movie musical the first time I saw one. Why actors were breaking out into songs in the middle of their scenes baffled me. It was not until I paid attention to the lyrics that I realized the songs were explaining parts of the story. These films along with the others that got broadcast came from a different time. The screwball comedies, dramatic romances and other genres had movie stars that were, to use a cliche, larger than life. I was familiar with those who had a prolific career, churning out a new movie every year. These actors gave off an almost regal persona; it appeared the film studios kept each of them up on a pedestal to be admired and revered. As far as I can recall there was never any controversy associated with those actors, unlike the current actors of today. It seems as if more times than not actors are just as famous for their offscreen activities as they are for their acting roles. This however brings up an interesting thought: are current actors more out of control then the ones from years past? It would seem easy to say yes but upon more thought, I do not think there is much difference between the different eras except for the way we get our news presently. This comedy sheds some light on what the movie studios used to do for their actors. EDDIE Mannix, played by Josh Brolin (Everest, Sicario), had one mission and that was to keep things running smoothly for the film studio. With the actors they had under contract it was a 24 hour a day job. This dramatic comedy written and directed by Ethan and Joel Coen (Fargo, True Grit), was set in the 1950s when movie studios was churning out movies like an assembly line. The cast which included George Clooney (The Ides of March, Gravity) as Baird Whitlock, Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Only Lovers Left Alive) as Thora Thacker/Thessaly Thacker and Channing Tatum (Magic Mike franchise, Foxcatcher) as Burt Gurney were all representative of past celebrities. For example Channing’s character was similar to a past star like Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire. With the variety of actors in this film, each had essentially their own story going on. Though things kept moving along I felt most scenes were only offering a brief glimpse of a story before it was time for the next actor’s turn. The movie came across as little skits pieced together. I found the story amusing but nothing that warranted any major investment. Don’t get me wrong, this picture was fun to watch; however, if one is not familiar with movies that came out from the old Hollywood era, they may not enjoy this film as much.
2 3/4 stars for fans of old movies 2 stars for fans unfamiliar with the Golden Age of Hollywood
As far as I can tell there is no price one can put on love. It is not something to barter or negotiate; I consider it an all or nothing proposition when it involves being in a relationship. True love is unconditional, where you accept everything about your significant other. In other words one cannot go into the relationship hoping to change something about their loved one. I remember this one guy a good friend of mine was dating who would make comments anytime we would go out to dinner and order dessert. After she would order something he would look at her for a silent moment then say, “Do you really think you should get that?” I do not know how she put up with it because I found it offensive. There was another couple I knew where one of them was the major wage earner while the other had a long string of bad luck in trying to keep a job. The breadwinner was always making not so passive aggressive comments like, “I’ll have to put in more overtime for us to afford it” or “I’m not spending my money on that.” To me this was simply another form of abuse. Relationships cannot survive without communication, respect and acceptance; trust me, I am well versed in this type of situation. DIFFERENCES in religion, backgrounds and job status had little importance as Cathy Hiatt and Jamie Wellerstein, played by Anna Kendrick (The Voices, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) and Jeremy Jordan (Joyful Noise, Smash-TV), fell in love. While Jamie’s dream of becoming a successful novelist started to take hold, Cathy was still trying to land that one big role that would change her life. No matter, they were in love and they were going to get married; everything would work out in the end…or would it? This film festival nominated dramedy based on the musical from Tony award winning composer and lyricist Jason Robert Brown (Parade) was lucky having Anna and Jeremy. The two were so well suited for each other, though I will say Anna was the stronger of the two. The entire story was done in song which I did not mind; however, except for a couple of the numbers the majority of songs sounded similar to each other. Also, there was not one song I could recall once the movie was over. The hardest part of this film for me was the order of the scenes. It took me forever before I realized the scenes with Cathy were going from the present to the past while Jamie was going from the past to the present. I found this totally confusing, diminishing the enjoyment in watching this picture. I previously mentioned the importance of communication in a love relationship; it also is for telling a movie’s story.
2 1/2 stars
LIving a life filled with “what ifs” is like driving a car with filthy windows; you may get to your final destination but will not have seen where you have been going. I understand this concept on an intellectual level, but it has always been a challenge for me emotionally. It is easy for me to fall into this “what if” trap for example by standing in a checkout line where a customer in front of me suddenly needs a price check on one of their items. I will immediately think I should have chosen that other line that did not look busy. Maybe it was the environment I grew up in or lack of confidence, but a life spent wondering what would have happened if I had done something different is a waste of time. I cannot reverse time or change the results; so why devote energy to something that is out of my control? It would be similar to going out to dinner and after the meal wishing you had chosen your other choice. You would not go and purge yourself of the meal to start over; you could only gain the knowledge not to order it again. Now in the field of entertainment I see nothing wrong with the “what if” scenario being used as a meaningful plot device. WHAT if Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin borther had lived? Though this dramatic musical film does not mention Elvis in any of its advertisements; it was obvious to me if the character looks like Elvis, sings like Elvis and moves like Elvis then the writers were using Elvis’ birth as the catalyst for this story about identical twins who were separated at birth. Both roles played by newcomer Blake Rayne, the one named Drexel Hemsley would grow up to be a rock superstar while the one named Ryan Wade grew up being groomed to follow in his father Reece’s, played by Ray Liotta (Identity, Smokin’ Aces), footsteps in the ministry. I did not have a problem with the idea for this story per se; however, having to sit through this film with its ridiculous cliches and pandering to faith based viewers was torturous for me. It stunned me to see Ashley Judd (High Crimes, Divergent) as Louise Wade trying to do something with the horrible script. I would say the same for Ray; but after seeing his name listed as a producer, one has to wonder what he was thinking, agreeing to this mess of a movie. The only reason this film received as a high rating as it did from me was due to the musical numbers. After seeing this picture you would be justified in wondering what would have happened if you had gone seen some other film.
1 2/3 stars
There are two very important elements needed to transform a dream into reality: passion and determination. One must feel a deep desire inside that bubbles over the flames of possibilities. In addition, one must have the strength to remain committed to their long term goal. When I started out to become an aerobic instructor I had to audition in a variety of undesirable places across the metropolitan area. I would be placed in racquet ball courts where my recorded music would bounce off the walls, creating a blur of musical tones as I strained to remain on the beat. At a few clubs I was introduced to the fitness director who would look at me with disgust, as if they had just scrapped me off the bottom of their shoes. None of this deterred me; I was determined to get my style of teaching into health clubs and eventually succeeded. Regarding my movie reviews, I have had to do some creative scheduling to make sure I can see the new releases as quickly as possible. Sometimes this means I am seeing 3 to 4 films in one day; but it does not phase me, I am determined to offer the best possible service I humanly can. Would I like to be a paid movie critic someday; you better believe it. I keep the dream alive and the dream keeps me alive. There was a man in this dramatic musical film who also was determined to see his dreams come true and his name was Frankie Valli, played by John Lloyd Young (Jersey Boys-Broadway). Though you may be familiar with the voice and the music, there was a story of failure and success behind the singing group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Inspired by a true story this biographical film was directed by Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Unforgiven). The singing numbers were the best part of this movie. I found the story to be as dramatic and startling as a classic opera; however, due to the script and direction, there was no life in this dull picture. Having seen the staged play, this production had the life sucked out of it. Personally I do not enjoy seeing an actor come out of character to talk to the viewing audience; it was done here multiple times. For me it took away the magic of the story, creating a pause to the dramatic build up. The strongest character in the cast was Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter, Stand Up Guys) as Gyp DeCarlo. I am sure there are many people whose dream was to see this story come to the big screen; it was a shame it could not have been told better.
2 1/4 stars
Each of us has had experience with it, yet we handle it in a variety of ways. Not all solutions are the healthiest for us, but we try as best as we can. What I am referring to are relationships that are toxic. It could be family, business or personal ones; it does not make a difference to how lethal the toxicity can be. I have experienced the effects of being in a toxic relationship and suffer both physically and mentally. A heaviness comes over me, where each step I take feels as if I am pulling the soles of my feet off from sticky wads of chewed up gum that cover the ground. My shoulders slouch down unable to maintain the excess weight that has been placed on them. Mentally my brain strains to process the images my eyes have taken in, coating them in thick dark syrup; I am only able to understand a portion of what I see. Now I can spend this entire review on ways we can protect ourselves in these types of relationships, but then I could not talk about this dramatic musical film. See for yourself how toxicity brewed inside the Cobbs family in this movie. Based on American Langston Hughes’ play, this updated version had a strong cast of actors who tried to carry the story. Jennifer Hudson (The Secret Life of Bees, Dreamgirls) played a single parent named Naima who had a son named Langston, played by Jacob Latimore (Vanishing on 7th Street). Having fallen on hard times, about to be evicted from their place, Naima had to send her son to her parents Aretha and Reverend Cornell Cobbs, played by Angela Basset (Strange Days, Gospel Hill) and Forest Whitaker (Platoon, Phone Booth). But there was a problem, they had not spoken to each other for many years. Though unhappy with the situation, Langston was desperate to find out what happened between his mother and these two strangers he was forced to stay with in New York City. My favorite part of this film were the musical numbers. I am partial to strong female vocals which Jennifer and the choir aptly provided. Sadly that is all I liked about the film. I am sure the original story on stage was a powerful piece; however, in this movie version it was so heavy handed, determined to show the viewer the struggles, that I was bored. Part of the reason had to do with the poor screenplay; it introduced scenes without providing character backgrounds. This movie was disappointing, though it did remind me of one of the biggest lessons I learned: I do not have to accept anything, just respect it.
1 3/4 stars
The last song set was my favorite part of this musical comedy because it reminded me how much I love concerts. There was nothing like being with 20,000 people who were there for one reason: to watch a musical artist create a magical moment. I especially would get a kick when a musician or singer made an unexpected change to a familiar song. It made me feel special as if I were part of an exceptional group, that would be the only ones to hear that version of the song. That fond memory was pretty much the only good thing associated with this cheesy film. A cross between the television show Glee and the movie Footloose, this film had nothing original to bring to the genre of singing competitions. Queen Latifah (Just Wright, Chicago) was newly appointed church choir director Vi Rose Hill. She was chosen over long term benefactor and choir member G. G. Sparrow, played by Dolly Parton (Nine to Five, Steel Magnolias). This set up a continual conflict between the two women. If it involved Vi’s daughter Olivia, played by Keke Palmer (Akeelah and the Bee, Cleaner) and G. G.’s grandson Randy Garrity, played by relative newcomer Jeremy Jordan or what musical direction to take the choir; the two woman never let up in every situation. The script was nothing but cringe worthy and icky. It came across as if the writers cut and paste bits from other movies, thinking since it worked once it would work again. Of course, Queen Latifah and Dolly had their big solos and for the most part I enjoyed the singing numbers from everyone. But then again I am a sucker for most any singing done in a movie. Sadly I have to say on a musical scale, this movie was a D flat.
1 7/8 stars — DVD
The stage musical of Les Miserables is one of my favorite shows, having seen it three times. It has one of the best musical scores I have ever heard besides incredible set designs. At least the productions I have seen. The story set in the 1800’s in France, revolved around the life long pursuit by police officer Javert of Jean Valjean, a former prisoner who broke parole. There were so many different aspects of the story to hook in the viewer; from redemption and unconditional love to salvation and honor. Everything I loved about the stage show was abused in this film version. While watching this 2 hour and 37 minute movie, I felt the director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Red Dust) sucked the life out of this classic tale. As much as I was impressed with his Oscar winning film The King’s Speech, I was disappointed in this ugly movie. The reason I use the word ugly is because the majority of the scenes looked like they were shot with camera lenses stuck in portrait mode. Constantly seeing angled shots of the actors’ faces quickly became a bore. Then there was the quick cutting from shot to shot, along with using a spiraling camera shoot on actors and buildings, that made me slightly nauseous. Shame on Mr. Hooper; it would have been easy to add drama to the scene if we could have seen some of the body language of the actors. Hugh Jackman (Real Steel, X-Men franchise) who I normally enjoy, had something wrong here as Jean Valjean. While every actor singing had a mellowness to their voice, it seemed as Hugh was forced to sing in a higher key. His voice was shrill and grating on my ears. Russell Crowe (Gladitor, A Beautiful Mind) as Javert did an admirable job with his singing. Playing factory worker Fantine, it seemed as if Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married) knew she had one chance to make the Oscar voters notice, giving it her all to her song performance. I will say she did a great job. The surprise for me was Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn, The Other Boleyn Girl) as Marius. I had no idea he could sing and do it so well. Sacha Baron Cohen (Hugo, The Dictator) and Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows) were comic relief as the crooked innkeeper and his wife. I knew I was going to witness misery in this movie; I just did not realize it would be my own over this poorly done film.