THERE IS A FINE LINE BETWEEN the feelings of annoyance and hatred. I cannot say it is a rock-solid line in my world. My grocery store stopped carrying my brand of bagged spinach, so they could sell their in-house store brand. I was annoyed but bought their bag anyway. Honestly, I cannot tell the difference except their brand has more loose stems in the bag than my brand. Well now for the past 3 weeks, I open the bag and find partially decomposed pieces. I double checked but knew the bag’s expiration date had not passed. The first time this happened, I was annoyed. The same the 2nd time it happened. But now, I hate their bagged spinach and plan on going to a different grocery store just to get bagged spinach that doesn’t look like slime after you open the bag for the first time. Currently, I am getting annoyed with this store’s fresh broccoli. I do not know what is happening but the last couple of times I have brought it home and washed it, within a couple of days the florets turn dark and mushy. I have been buying broccoli for years and have never had an issue up until now. If this keeps up, I will stop buying the store’s broccoli as well. I am telling you, if they keep annoying me with food that quickly goes bad, I may decide the heck with them and buy all my groceries from a different store. SO MANY PEOPLE ARE QUICK TO JUDGE something or someone and decide they do not like it. I am guilty of this when it especially comes to food. If it doesn’t look good to me, I will not eat it. I am a texture eater; if a food dish looks like it is gelatinous, I cannot stomach even looking at it. Have you ever had food in a sauce that you saved for the next day and the sauce turned into something like an aspic? It has happened to me with some Asian dishes. It is more than an annoyance for me when I open the storage container and see pieces of food suspended in a murky jelly like substance. Do I actually hate it? I know I hate when it happens but maybe I can say I do not like the look of it, though my feelings are close to hating the stuff. Hate is a word I try not to randomly throw around on what essentially are innocuous things. I do not hate public transportation, but I hate running for a bus or train that pulls away as I am getting up to it. For the first time this year, I experienced the strongest feelings that bordered on hatred for a movie. A COMEDIAN’S AND OPERA SINGER’S RELATIONSHIP is all being viewed in the public’s eye. As the two get more serious, so does the pressure. With Adam Driver (Marriage Story, The Report) as Henry McHenry, Marion Cotilard (Angel Face, The Immigrant) as Ann Defrasnoux, Simon Helberg (Florence Foster Jenkins, Old School) as The Accompanist, relative newcomer Devyn McDowell as Annette in prison and Natalia Lafourcade (Amar no es querer, El cielo en tu mirada) as Special Guest/The Police; this dramatic musical romance tested my limits on keeping me engaged. Visually I did not mind the scenes; however, I thought almost every musical number was awful. Listening to Adam sing through the film was rough. Maybe there is some secret symbolism in the story; but with my focus being on the entertainment factor, I thought the script was a poor piece of a story that has been told time and time again. The irony here is I liked the acting; but there was nothing in this picture that I found enjoyable. To me, it was pretentious as it attempted to be “artsy.” And at 2 hours and 21 minutes, it was a long and painful waste of time.
1 ½ stars
CONSIDERING I FIRST SAW HER WHILE sitting inside a shopping cart, it is rather amazing the memory of her is as strong today as it was decades ago. It was the only grocery store I knew as a little boy; she worked behind one of the cash registers and her name was Henrietta. With wire-rimmed eyeglasses and her shiny, light brown hair pulled tightly back into a large bun that was stuffed into a black hairnet; I always perked up when she was the checker for our checkout line. She knew my name which even for my young age, made me feel important and special. Not all the time, but often enough she would give me a lollipop or a small candy bar. Always with a smile on her face, to me she was the kindest and sweetest person I knew. When I got old enough to go to the grocery store myself, I always chose the check out aisle she was working. Though I had outgrown the desire to eat every bit of candy given or bought for me, Henrietta would give me some kind of small trinket or object. One time I received a pencil sharpener that was shaped like a rocket ship; another time I received a bottle of bubbles. She was such a strong fixture at the neighborhood grocery store; I could not think of the store without thinking about her. NEXT TO THE GROCERY STORE WAS a laundromat and next to it was a hot dog place. Once my friends and I were old enough, we would go to the hot dog restaurant for lunch instead of the school cafeteria. The restaurant was a fast-food joint that served hot dogs and hamburgers in these red plastic baskets that were lined with a red and white checkerboard sheet of waxy paper. The cook knew we students had to be back to school on time, so he made sure to get our orders out to us quickly. Sometimes after school, I would stop at the restaurant to get a soft drink before walking a couple of blocks to the local drugstore. The store had the look of an old-fashioned apothecary with its wooded shelves going high up the sides of the walls. Light fixtures hung down by black piping and the ceiling was made of stamped tin. The pharmacists knew me and would let me take family members’ prescriptions home without a signature. Each store in my neighborhood was a familiar and welcome place; many of the store owners knew me. Nearly all the residents in the neighborhood knew each other. The apartment I grew up in never seemed small to me because my home was my entire neighborhood, just as it was for the residents in this musical drama. ONE WAS NEVER ALONE WHEN THEY lived in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood, both in good times and bad. With Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born, Honest Thief) as Usnavi, Melissa Barrera (Vida-TV, Dos Veces Tu) as Vanessa, newcomer Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island) as Benny and Jimmy Smits (Star War franchise, NYPD Blue-TV) as Kevin Rosario; this film based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (Hamilton, Mary Poppins Returns) Broadway musical brimmed over with singing and dancing. The music was infectious, accompanied by electrifying choreographed dancing. I thought the directing was crisp, providing a few opportunities to create powerful scenes. There were a few scenes that did not resonate with me; either they were offshoots to what I thought was the main story line or the scenario presented was predictable to me. If one is not a fan of musicals, I do not feel they will enjoy watching this movie as much as those familiar with Lin-Manuel’s style of song writing. The sense of belonging within a community, done in a vibrant and bold style, was a nice change of pace from the typical pictures that have come out this year. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
3 ¼ stars
SHE TOLD ME IT WAS A television show when I asked her what made her decide to become a dancer. I quizzed her further and she said it was a variety show she used to watch with her family on Sunday nights. Two ballet dancers were introduced by the host and she was immediately enamored by their costumes. The woman looked like a pristine fairy and the man looked like a stately prince. She had never seen ballet dancers before, but as the music started and the two dancers began to perform, she was mesmerized by their movements. The female dancer seemed weightless like a snowflake, spinning and fluttering across the stage. The male dancer had broad shoulders that made him look more regal as he lifted and guided the female dancer through their movements. I listened to her describe the performance and I could see the impact of this one of several acts on the show had a profound effect on her. Before the dancers were done performing, she had already decided that she was going to be a dancer when she grew up. She listed for me the highlights of her journey in becoming a ballet dancer and it was not a simple, straight street to ballet; she had some detours along the way. However, she told me throughout her struggles she kept believing she could do it. HER STRENGTH IN HER BELIEF REMINDED me of a woman who was a participant in my yoga class. I worked at a hospital-based fitness center, where I introduced yoga to the fitness members. The center did not have a quiet room for me to teach class, so they had me taking the members to a laboratory in the hospital to conduct class. One day this woman came into the room in a wheelchair; I thought she was a patient who was lost. When I asked her where she was going, she told me to yoga. Talk about being embarrassed; this was the first time I was going to teach a wheel bound person in a general class setting. During my instructions, I included options that the woman could do while seated. After attending class for a few weeks, I asked her one day how yoga made her feel. She told me how much see looked forward to class because she would get the best night’s sleep after taking class. I was pleased to hear this and asked her if she had any goals she wanted to achieve in class. She said yes, she wanted to stand up out of her wheelchair. I told her it was a wonderful goal and I hoped I would get to see it. She said she believes she will one day, and I told her I believe in her. WHEN HIS ASSISTANT TOOK HIS IDEAS and left him, the town’s toymaker Veronicas, played by Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Black Panther), stopped believing in himself. One day a strange little girl came to town with a belief. With Keegan-Michael Key (Playing with Fire, Let’s Be Cops) as Gustafson, Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, Notting Hill) as Mr. Delacroix, Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls; Everything, Everything) as Jessica and newcomer Madalen Mills as Journey; this musical family fantasy film was a magical viewing experience for me. At times coming across like a Broadway production, other times like a family classic; this was one of the most entertaining films I have seen this year. The fanciful special effects, the singing and dancing, the costumes and the sets took a somewhat predictable script and elevated it into pure entertainment. I will say if you are not a fan of musicals, you will not enjoy this picture as much. For me, I could easily see this film being translated to the big stage of Broadway. My skepticism about films made for the small screen has been altered; I am a believer now.
3 ½ stars
PLAY DAYS ARE NOT JUST FOR children. I am giving each of you permission to schedule yourselves a day to have fun. Remember when we were little we could find enjoyment from the most innocuous things? There was a phase my friends and I went through where our bicycles had to have playing cards clipped to our back wheels, so the spokes would make the cards clap. To us this made the sound of a car engine. I recall taking a fallen tree branch, stripping off all the leaves and little offshoots from it, to make a magic staff or if smaller, a wand. With that branch I would become a wizard or a king. I cannot tell you how much fun I had when I discovered putting a small paperclip on the front of my paper airplane would make it soar further through the air, when I released it from our 3rd floor apartment’s back porch. Another fun thing to do was to skim pebbles across the surface of water to see if we could make them skip. It served no real purpose except to amuse us as we tried to make the thrown pebbles travel as far as possible. I FIRMLY BELIEVE TAKING TIME OFF from one’s daily life to do something mindless and fun is a great way to recharge the mind and body. For me, going to the movies is one of the fastest ways to put myself in a relaxed state; I can totally forget about the outside world and any of the issues that come along with it. Obviously, I have a purpose in seeing movies; I get to review them. But, there are other things I do that could be considered completely mindless that are just as much fun. It is not necessary to have a purpose or financial gain to experience something joyful. Watching the tide roll in or seeing the sun set does not provide something tangible that you could put in your pocket or bank account. Instead, it may provide you with peacefulness or calmness. It is a feeling you experience that allows you to forget what you were doing. Now I do not know about you, but there are times I want to escape from my daily routines and not have to think about anything. If you would like to try and experience this then I would recommend you go and see this musical comedy, because there is nothing you will have to do except sit and watch it. HOPING TO FULFILL HER MOTHER’S dreams Sophie, played by Amanda Seyfried (First Reformed, The Last Word), was almost ready to open a hotel in paradise. She only wished her fathers could see what she had done. This sequel or should I say prequel also starred Lily James (Baby Driver, Darkest Hour) as the young Donna, Meryl Streep (The Post, Out of Africa) as Donna, Cher (Moonstruck, Mermaids) as Ruby Sheridan and Andy Garcia (Book Club, Geostorm) as Fernando. If you have not seen the first film, it would not hurt for you to watch it before seeing this picture. The writers did their best to bring the new viewers up to speed with the story, but there still was a learning curve involved. I found the jumping back and forth in time a little annoying but ultimately, I did not care since there were so many songs packed into the story. There was only a bare minimum of a script and for the most part it did not do anything but steer the characters to the next song. If you are not an Abba or musicals fan you will not enjoy this movie. Everyone else will enjoy themselves with this mindless fluff piece and that is exactly what it was meant to do. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
2 ½ stars
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