THERE WAS AN EERIE GLOW throughout most of the apartment. It was not caused by sunlight or incandescent lightbulbs; the only way I could describe the color, was to say it was a cross between bright fluorescent with bright neon greenish white. We were picking up a friend’s friend at their house which none of us had seen and our friend never warned us. As all of us entered the apartment I noticed an aquarium in one corner with the source of the erie glow perched above it. As it turned out almost every room had 1 to 3 aquariums set up with the same type of light. I did not recall fish tanks having a light above them, but I never had fish for pets. However these fish tanks had no water in them and the top parts were covered with a heavy metal mesh. One of my friends asked about the aquariums. It turned out they were not empty but each of them held a snake. I am not talking worm size or small garden variety; they were jungle sized snakes. I have only seen these type of snakes in a zoo or adventure/horror film. THE OWNER OF THESE SNAKES had them as pets. Pets, I wondered; did he actually take them out and pet them? I was never a fan of snakes and I got creeped out when the owner took one of his snakes out and draped it around his shoulders. A couple of my friends petted the reptile when offered, but I declined. I had to admit I had a bad attitude about all of it, but as the owner explained his reasons and fascination with snakes I realized I had no right to judge him on his choice of pets. When I thought about it more, I came to the conclusion what really is the difference between having fish or snakes as pets? They are not for me but if they provide comfort to someone else, so be it. For many people pets are part of their family. Animals provide unconditional love, affection and even emotional attachments. Some pets are more like family to us than our own relatives. It certainly was obvious in this action, adventure science fiction film. AS THE GORILLA HE RAISED from infancy was growing in unheard of speed and massive height Dave Okoye, played by Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), would not give up on his friend; even as everyone around was becoming frightened. With Naomie Harris (Moonlight, Skyfall) as Dr. Kate Caldwell, Malin Ackerman (Watchmen, 27 Dresses) as Claire Wyden, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Red Dawn, The Losers) as Harvey Russell and Jake Lacy (Miss Sloane, Obvious Child) as Brett Wyden; the first thing I have to say is this: there is no way one cannot like Dwayne Johnson. In this role he fits right into his comfort zone of acting. I have seen this exact style in his recent films and I hope he starts mixing it up a bit. Granted I believe he knows his capabilities and limitations, so picks projects that suits his acting abilities. In this big production of special effects set in Chicago, the story had some holes in it as well as the script. I thought the dialog was childish at times and felt the movie was cartoonish. However I was not put off by it because I liked the special effects. This is the type of picture I call a “popcorn film;” one where you do not have to think much, just sit back and watch it. If one can watch “stupid pet tricks” then they will have no problem with this movie.
2 1/2 stars
DEATH does not owe anyone an answer; it takes what it wants and all we can do is experience grief, relief or believe it or not, happiness. I say happiness because of a funeral I once attended where I knew the deceased but not all of the other people in attendance. Sitting in the chapel I was shocked with some of the comments people were so free to share with those around them. One person said they were there to make sure that bastard was buried deep in the ground; another guest wanted to come to see if there was actually someone who was mourning the death. I could only silently sit in my seat because I was too stunned to say anything. As a side note the funeral service was done quickly with only a couple of eulogies. FROM a previous review I mentioned the hardest deaths involve those where the person was taken early. When a person reaches an old age one can hear comments such as, “he lived a long life” or “she did what she wanted to do,” at the funeral. Sadness could be wrapped up in the sense of loss but rarely have I heard anyone question why the individual perished. If there was a long growing illness I could understand the sense of relief one would feel at the time of death. From my experiences I have learned when a person dies unexpectedly; it is harder for those who are left behind. When the individual has suffered for a long time, finishing their journey here, those remaining do feel a sense of relief. I do not recollect anyone questioning why the person died. Personally I think asking questions that you cannot get answers for only delays the healing process. I know a couple of people who still want to know why a friend of theirs committed suicide. This makes for a hard road to travel, the asking of questions. You can see for yourself in this dramatic movie. DEVASTATED by the death of his young daughter Howard, played by Will Smith (Suicide Squad, Concussion) began writing letters to Death, Youth and Love. It was not long before they started answering him. This film festival winner had an excellent cast that included Edward Norton (The Grand Budapest Hotel, American History) as Whit, Kate Winslet (The Dressmaker, Finding Neverland) as Claire, Michael Pena (End of Watch, The Martian) as Simon, Naomie Harris (Moonlight, Skyfall) as Madeleine and Helen Mirren (Trumbo, Woman in Gold) as Brigitte. For a story line I did not mind the concept and felt the actors were more than capable to do a fine job. Out of the cast the 2 that stood out for me were Naomie and Michael; they were believable and conveyed true emotions. Outside of them I did not feel a connection to anyone else. Whether the rest of the actors knew the script was poorly written or not, they did not provide any substance to their characters. As for the script I found it to be in manipulative in a sappy way. I felt the film was created just to get viewers weepy and use that as their connection to the story. Sitting through this picture was like experiencing a slow death.
1 ¾ 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
There is a saying that I have seen in numerous places recently; it goes, “Being kind is easier than being mean.” I have noticed it on social media sites, T-shirts and heard it talked about on television talk shows; it seems to be everywhere. Now here is my question, “Why?” Why are so many people (at least to me) talking about kindness? I can remember a time where it was polite to hold the door open for someone, to give up one’s seat to someone else on public transportation or let a person enter in ahead of you. Really, how much of a burden would it be to do any of these acts? Something happened that has turned kindness into a rare gemstone; days could go by before I would see an example of it being done. There certainly is a layer of distrust that has permeated our consciousness. A good example of why this is would be the time I signed up for a newspaper subscription from a high school student who knocked on my front door. They took my money but I never received a paper, finding out the newspaper company never solicits subscriptions in such a way. Another reason I feel is due to the electronic revolution we have been embracing. With the fraud now associated to our ATM and charge cards, a good portion of us are afraid to click on any email links. That simple click could unleash a virus on one’s electronic device that will steal our identity, wipe out our savings and possibly lead a path for the virus to seek out our contacts. I have gone through at least half a dozen times where my bank has called me due to fraudulent activity on my charge card. It is enough to make a person go back to the old days and pay cash for everything. Stuff like this is only one part of the factors that cause a person to hold back from doing a kind act. Then again, see what happens when one does something kind in this movie thriller. LITTLE did Perry, played by Ewan McGregor (Star Wars franchise, The Impossible), know that the offer of a drink by Dima, played by Stellan Skarsgard (The Avengers franchise, The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo), would have such an effect on his life. This story based on John le Carre’s (A Most Wanted Man, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) novel had a good mix of actors that also included Naomie Harris (Skyfall, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom) as Gail. Stellan was outstanding in the role to the point I felt he dominated the movie screen. The story started out slow and though I did not read the book, I found myself able to predict where the story would lead next. Being able to figure out the story was kind of a drag on my enjoyment level while watching this film. At least the acting quality was at a good enough level for me to stay interested in what was going on. I guess this is my way of being kind to this picture.
2 ¾ stars
Letters come together and form words, and then words come together and form sentences. These simple actions trigger a thought, an idea or even ignite one’s imagination. One of my favorite word games is the one where you are presented one large word and you get a short amount of time to make up as many words as you can, using only the letters of that one word. I have always been in awe of the power words have to paint frescoes along the infinite walls of my mind; to spur me on to learn, to question, to react to image after image as the words I read continuously move the paintbrush in my head with bold strokes. When I first meet a person and find out they enjoy reading, I feel an immediate kinship to them. Because words can teach us in so many ways, I find it puzzling when I hear about school programs being cut or when a person argues over a subject they have little knowledge of due to their lack of investigating it or checking out the facts from the rumors. To me educators are one of the essential backbones of society. There are many instructors who truly are unsung heroes. The one portrayed in this dramatic film based on a true story was very special indeed. In a small village in Kenya there was a school where teacher Jane Obinchu, played by Naomie Harris (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Skyfall), had limited resources to teach all the children that were being enrolled, due to a new law that proclaimed free education for everyone. One day an 84 year old man named Kimani Ng’Ang”A Maruge, played by Oliver Litondo (The Lion of Africa-TV movie, Ivory Hunters-TV movie), stood at the front gate of the school, looking to be taught how to read. The headmaster turned him away but Maruge would return again and again since the law did not list an age limit. I found the story and message in this film festival winning movie absolutely charming and inspirational. Naomie Harris and Oliver Litondo were totally convincing with their roles and I found myself becoming more and more empathetic toward their characters as the story progressed. The directing was too choppy for me but as the story continued, the scenes started to make better sense and the back story came to light. What an amazing movie with individuals who understood the power of words.
3 stars — DVD
There are some movies where the story carries the characters, while others have the characters carry the story. Films such as The Wizard of Oz or Sink the Bismarck are story driven. Movies where the character makes the story would be something like The King’s Speech or Captain Phillips. I am especially fond of cinema where the character was an actual person. Though he was before my time, I was fascinated with the film The King’s Speech about King George VI. Learning about the character’s life in visual form created an extra layer of understanding from what I already learned in history books. Now when the main character is someone of my time, I feel like I am witnessing history, that I am part of it. For some reason the idea of future generations reading about a noteworthy individual from my lifetime gives me a charge. I do not really know why; I just like the idea of being able to tell someone about events on a personal level. In regards to this biographical movie, the main character was the driving force. Luckily the main character of Nelson Mandela was impressively played by Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, RocknRolla). This dramatic picture covers Nelson’s life from childhood through his 27 years of prison to becoming President of South Africa. After my first initial recognition of Idris as a current movie and television star, I quickly forgot it and believed I was watching Nelson Mandela; that is how good Idris was in the role. My knowledge about Nelson’s 1st wife Winnie Madikizela was limited; but not only did I think the actress Naomie Harris (Skyfall, 28 Days Later) did a wonderful job portraying her, but I felt I gained an understanding of what happened to the relationship of the two. With the wonderful acting I felt the story suffered here; there was so much history to cover that some parts of it went by too quickly. Here was a case where I think making two movies would have been better. I found myself not being engaged as much when Nelson was not in the scene. It was a disappointment because I saw this film soon after Nelson’s death. With all the newscasts and special reports that came out, I was already invested in his life story. This Golden Globe nominated movie covered a lot of ground; it just did not dig deep enough for me. Several scenes included the Afrikaans and Xhosa languages with English subtitles.
2 1/2 stars