I HAD NOT NOTICED BUT MY friend was the one who did. We had gotten together for dinner, meeting at the restaurant. After giving his name to the host, he returned, and we settled into a couple of empty chairs in the waiting area. I was not focused on the time since we were busy talking, catching up on the things we had been doing since we last had seen each other. The restaurant was popular so there were a lot of people coming and going. I do not know how long we had been waiting, but my friend motioned to a couple who had been sitting near us, that were now walking to their table. He told me they had walked in after we did. I asked him if he was sure and he said yes. Maybe they had called ahead to make a reservation, I told him. He was not convinced and as we continued with our conversation, he kept looking at the different groups around us, to see who was being called by the host that walked in after he gave his name. When another couple got called my friend pointed out they also had come in after we were seated. The perplexed look on my face told my friend that I was not seeing what he saw; we were being skipped over because he was Black. WHEN HE SAID THIS TO ME, I looked around and noticed there were very few people who were not Caucasian. I normally do not focus on a person’s skin color or ethnic origins since I consider everyone human. The only differential I consider is whether a person is human or animal, nothing else. It does not matter to me if a person is rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, short or tall; for me, it is whether a person is good or bad. So, instead of my friend going up to the host I told him I would go and see what was going on. When the host looked up as I approached him, I asked him how much longer he thought the wait would be, giving him my friend’s name. The host looked at his list and apologized for the wait and said the table was just being cleaned off now and to wait a minute. He was gone for less than a minute and asked me to follow him; I motioned to my friend to join me. Nothing the host did indicated his dislike for my friend; however, I had to wonder if there was something more here that I was not seeing. I want to believe people look beyond a person’s skin color, but I know prejudices have been part of our culture for centuries. This Oscar nominated movie will show you it from a time long gone. HOPES WERE HIGH FOR HENRY McALLAN, played by Jason Clarke (Pet Seminary, Zero Dark Thirty), when he moved his family to Mississippi. What he was not expecting was to share the land with a black family. With Carey Mulligan (The Dig, Promising Young Woman) as Laura McAllan, Mary J. Blige (Black Nativity, The Wiz Live!-TV movie) as Florence Jackson, Rob Morgan (Monsters and Men, Stranger Things-TV) as Hap Jackson and Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton, Kong: Skull Island) as Rondel Jackson; this film festival winning war drama had an outstanding cast of actors. I found their acting to be authentic with depth, which made the story come alive. The directing was on point to create multiple levels of intensity and drama, which captured me and drew me into the story. I have not read the book this movie is based on; but I felt the script provided me a complete, well-rounded story. This was a powerful picture that had a couple of violent scenes.
3 ½ stars
THE LAST TWELVE MONTHS HAVE BEEN something I thought I would never experience, as I am sure most of you have thought. When my state passed stay at home orders, I thought the only time I would be told to stay indoors was during a tornado or the threat of nuclear fallout. The only crisis I have lived through of this magnitude was during the AIDS epidemic. Though the transmission method was different, there still was a fear early on of getting to close to people. Back then the fear was unfounded; now it is real and could be the difference between life and death. I have known healthy individuals who caught this virus and succumbed to it. The suffering of being alone in a hospital bed as one’s lungs are slowly being squeezed of their last breath is a brutal experience. What makes this virus extra scary for me is how random it is in who will experience its affects. Some people don’t even know they are infected while others can get severe headaches, high fevers or death. I remember during my time at home, looking out the window and seeing the streets void of any human life. Pigeons scanning the sidewalks for a morsel of food, squirrels crisscrossing streets with less hesitancy and noticeable to me, less debris. WITH THE LOCKDOWN IN PLACE, THAT also meant I could not go to the health club to work out, to restaurants, to theaters and so on. Suddenly Saturdays took on extra meaning because that was the day, I would order carryout, to help the nearby local restaurants. Food took on a different importance; instead of eating for sustenance, I was eating for comfort. There was a manmade lake close to my house that I had never seen. I drove to it so I could get my steps in by walking the circumference of it. Seeing the ducks take off and land on the water was something I had never seen except on television. When the weather got too cold outside, I started walking/jogging in an underground parking garage. Little did I know that the space would become by sanctuary of peaceful calm. Staying in touch with friends/relatives took on a new meaning. In the past, there usually was an activity attached to getting together; but now, just being able to open a window and talk to a friend who was outside on the front lawn was a joy. Sitting outside to watch the sun set felt more monumental than during pre-COVID. Hearing silence except for the birds in the trees was a new experience. Little did I think that living a temporary restricted lifestyle would allow me to appreciate the little things that can go unnoticed on a typical day. This Oscar nominated and film festival winner can explain things better than me. JUST WHEN A SCHOOL BAND TEACHER feels things are looking up, he finds himself in an unfamiliar place where passion comes into question. With Jamie Foxx (Just Mercy, Robin Hood) voicing Joe, Tina Fey (Date Night, Sisters) voicing 22, Graham Norton (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Another Gay Movie) voicing Moonwind, Rachel House (Thor: Ragnarok, Baby Done) voicing Terry and Phylicia Rashad (Creed franchise, This is Us-TV) voicing Libba; this animated, adventure comedy had a lot going on with it. As to be expected from a Pixar movie, the animation was inventive and fun. There were some scenes that were rich with details, but others I found to be somewhat average. The script was different to me; I found it to be esoteric in nature. Young viewers may not understand the meaning of some scenes and might ask for an explanation. From an entertainment standpoint, I did not feel the sense of joy I normally do with a Pixar film. I did however appreciate the message; I only wished there had been more musical interludes.
AS WE WERE COMING IN FOR a landing at the airport, the passenger in the next seat reminded me to make sure I don’t put my wallet in my pants pocket. I thanked him as I wondered what kind of city I would find in this foreign land. The flight was several hours and this passenger, upon hearing this was my first trip to the city, had updated me on a variety of places where I had to be careful because of pickpockets and con artists. I had heard similar stuff from friends back home who had visited this place before. My plan once we landed was to get my luggage then find the transportation terminal to take a bus to my hotel. The walk from luggage claim to transportation was short; once there, I stopped to put my luggage down to double check my paperwork on which bus I needed. About 25 feet away from me was a woman standing and talking to 2 guys. At first, I thought they were a group; but soon realized the two guys were native as they were talking about their cab that was parked outside. The way they stood next to the woman; she could not see that one of the guys was trying to slip his hand into her purse, that was hanging down from her shoulder. Before I had time to think, I yelled out, “HEY!” It was enough for the guy to move his hand away as the woman turned to look at me. The 2 men quickly walked away. What kind of city was I getting into? GRATEFULLY, DESPITE THAT INTRODUCTION TO A new city, I fell in love with the place. My time there reminded me of another trip I took to an international city. On that trip, I had planned to incorporate a lot of walking into my daily sightseeing attractions. Of course, I had to try their public transportation at least once, which was surreal for me because I was able to imagine what it must have been like to be underground decades ago, while bombs were exploding above. On one of my daily excursions, I wound up getting lost and could not figure out how to get to my intended destination. With the tourist map in hand, I glanced at the pedestrians who were coming and going and chose a middle-aged looking man to stop and ask for help. He was friendly and unbelievably helpful to the point where he insisted walking with me, to make sure I got to the correct train stop. That chance encounter only enhanced the great time I had visiting that city. A moment of kindness can make all the difference; you can see it for yourself in this animated adventure comedy. THE SIGHTING OF A UFO NEARBY makes the Farmer, voiced by John Sparkes (Calendar Girls, Peppa Pig-TV), see a new source of income; while Shaun the sheep, voiced by Justin Fletcher (Chicken Run, Justin’s House-TV), makes a new friend. With Amalia Vitale (Making It, Christmas Eve) voicing Lu-La/Me-Ma, Kate Harbour (Bob the Builder-TV, Timmy Time-TV) voicing Agent Red/Timmy’s Mum and David Holt (Angry Kid-TV, The Jungle Book-TV) voicing Mugg-1NS; this Oscar nominated and film festival winner was a joy to watch. Besides enjoying the style of animation in this film, I loved the fact there was no discernible dialog. Emotions and intentions were all conveyed with the face and body; it was incredible. The story was simple and there were no surprises per se; however, there was such a charm and fun element to this film that I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. The humor/sight gags were sly and amusing on multiple levels; some geared to younger kids and others to more mature, including adults. If this sequel is any indication of what to expect going forward, I will always enjoy visiting this farm where Shaun lives. Extra scene during the credits.
3 ¼ stars
FROM MY EXPERIENCES IN SCHOOL, BOYS were more likely to retaliate against someone who did them wrong than the girls. I cannot tell you how many times I heard the phrase, “I will be waiting for you outside after school,” which meant two students would be having a fight after school hours. Sadly, that phrase was directed at me a couple of times. With different grades entering and leaving from specific doors, it was easy to figure out where a person would be leaving the school building. I remember bolting out of class when the ending bell rang and running down the hallway to a different exit door. Once outside, I immediately ran across the street and made my way between two apartment buildings; so, I could cut into the alley behind them and make my way home unseen from the streets. The rest of the school week, I kept an eye out for the student who threatened me. Other students were not as lucky as me. I remember two fights that took place in front of the school; one was fought by two boys until a schoolteacher ran over to break it up and drag them both back to the principal’s office. The other fight had 2 girls whose viciousness surprised me as they slapped, scratched, punched and kicked each other until one of them ran off after her blouse was torn open. THERE WAS ONLY TWO TIMES I can recall, where a female student plotted retribution against a fellow student. The one girl may have been short, but she was tough. She never backed down from anyone, whether it was a girl or a boy. I did not actually see the encounter but was told she cornered a female student in the girl’s bathroom and threatened her with a pocketknife. She felt the girl was flirting with her boyfriend. The other incident happened in my classroom. A female classmate wanted to get back at a boy who called her names. When the male student was not looking, she placed a pack of cigarettes next to the schoolbooks he had piled under his chair. When the teacher was walking in front of her desk, she noticed the cigarette pack on the floor under the student and sent him down to the principal’s office, despite his pleas that the cigarettes were not his. The female student remained silent, looking innocent in her seat. These were the only incidents I could remember from my days back in school. You will see they pale in comparison to what took place in this dramatic Oscar nominated crime thriller. APPEARING TO LACK MOTIVATION AND DESIRE, there was only one thing Cassandra, played by Carey Mulligan (Mudbound, The Dig), had on her mind. It was something she had been thinking about for a long time. With Bo Burnham (The Big Sick, Rough Night) as Ryan, Alison Brie (Sleeping with Other People, The Post) as Madison, Jennifer Coolidge (A Mighty Wind, Like a Boss) as Susan and Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption, Starship Troopers) as Stanley; this film festival winner grabbed my attention early on because of Carey’s performance. She gave life to the character and was riveting in the process. The directing and story were both in synch to deliver a perfectly paced story that took me on a hesitant journey into Cassandra’s world. I will say I felt let down from the ending, finding it a bit too convenient. The idea behind the story was sound and relevant, especially for the times we are presently living in. After watching this movie, I have been sitting and wondering if several or so of the scenes shown in this picture have been happening for a long time or not. This film really makes one think and that is a good thing.
3 ½ stars
EVERY YEAR AT THIS TIME ME and a variety of family members would make our pilgrimage to the wealthy suburb where all the fancy holiday decorations lived. We were a caravan of cars that traveled close to each other as we made our way along the city streets, always staying in the right lane. Nothing I saw compared to the decorations that were on display in this neighborhood. There was one house we drove by, where we would roll down our windows, because they had a full mechanical chorus singing on the front lawn. The house next door had life sized wooden soldiers that reminded me of the Laurel and Hardy movie, “March of the Wooden Soldiers.” The soldiers were lined up all along the walkway leading up to the house’s double front doors, besides protecting the edges of the front lawn. One of my favorite houses had a group of elf puppets dancing and twirling across the front porch while a waving Santa and his reindeer were parked on top of the roof. As a little kid it seemed as if we were riding up and down the neighborhood’s streets for hours because of so many decorated houses. Some houses displayed the same decorations year after year; but others always had something new each holiday season. Though there were not many, I always felt bad for the houses that only had a couple of decorations or a single string of lights. AT SOME POINT AS I WAS getting older, I began to question the purpose for someone to have so many elaborate decorations; what did these items represent to the owners? Did having more decorations mean that one was more religious? I wondered if all the displays were due to that “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome. For someone to celebrate the holiday, they had to have decorations? I took it a step further; how did it come to pass that putting up decorations was part of the holiday. And what about having a tree in the house; what was the reason for getting ornaments and hanging them on the tree? I started looking at everything and wanted to know where and how did all these customs come into being. Even Santa Claus, what took place centuries ago that people began to talk about a man with flying reindeer, who was able to leave a present in every single decorated house around the world? There are times when I hear someone talk about the amount of presents they have to buy and how much stress this places on them, where I wonder why do they have to buy so much stuff; what does all this stuff have to do with celebrating the holiday? Well, I finally can get some answers because of this Oscar nominated animated movie. SENT TO A REMOTE TOWN TO open a post office, the postmaster’s son Jesper, voiced by Jason Schwartzman (Moonrise Kingdom, Listen Up Philip), finds a place where all the citizens are fighting each other. The last thing they want to do is mail a letter. If he wants to get back home, he will need to find a way to get people to use the mail. With J.K. Simmons (21 Bridges, Whiplash) voicing Klaus, Rashida Jones (The Social Network, Celeste & Jesse Forever) voicing Alva, Will Sasso (The Three Stooges, Southland Tales) voicing Mr. Ellingboe and Joan Cusack (In & Out, Working Girl) voicing Mrs. Krum; this film festival winning adventure comedy was a pure treat to watch. The story was laid out beautifully, which goes the same for the old-fashioned animation. It may be possible that younger viewers may not get the wonderful message embedded into the script, but it would be okay because there were so many entertaining scenes throughout the picture. I could absolutely see this film becoming a holiday classic; it was so well done on every level.
3 ½ stars
THE FIRST THING THAT CAME TO mind when I saw him at a party, was remembering how greedy he was when he was a little kid. Now before you say a lot of small children did greedy things, let me tell you what I thought about this one. When I was small there was not one candy dish, I passed up without taking a piece or two of candy. This kid was different. He would take a piece of candy; but when no one was looking, he would go back and load up his pockets with several pieces. Have I convinced you about him yet? I remember there was a dinner and we were all sitting around the dining room table. There was one roll left in a basket on the table; an adult was reaching for the basket when this greedy kid quickly made a grab for the bread. It did not matter that he had not finished the roll on his plate; he had to make sure he could get another one. He got scolded for being so rude, but he did not care because when he grabbed the roll, he made sure to take a bite out of it before putting it down on his plate, next to his other half eaten roll. I am telling you; he was not a nice little boy. NOW YEARS LATER HERE I WAS having a meal with him being present. We were all eating at a restaurant and it was determined that we would be splitting the bill. It was easier to divide it by the amount of people instead of breaking down what each person ordered. As the waitress took our orders, I noticed pretty much everyone was ordering similar things. When it came time for him to tell the waitress what he wanted, he ordered the most expensive thing on the menu. I was still looking at the menu at the time, so I saw the price. He also ordered an alcoholic drink. Because people were talking no one noticed or if they did, it probably did not register with them that he was ordering an expensive dish. Part of me wanted to say something, but I decided to keep my mouth shut. And if I needed any more proof to validate my belief about him, when the breadbasket on the table had only one item left in it, he grabbed the last piece despite not finishing the bread he still had on his dinner plate. Some people, like him, are born greedy; others learn it. Feel free to see what you think about the main characters in this dramatic, crime thriller. WHEN THREE MEN DISCOVERED A CRASHED plane in the woods, they found two things inside: a dead pilot and millions in cash. Each of them had an idea on what to do next. With Bill Paxton (Twister, Apollo 13) as Hank, Bridget Fonda (Single White Female, Lake Placid) as Sarah, Billy Bob Thornton (Bad Santa franchise, The Man Who Wasn’t There) as Jacob, Brent Briscoe (The Green Mile, Sling Blade) as Lou and Chelcie Ross (Basic Instinct, Grey’s Anatomy-TV) as Carl; this film festival winning, Oscar nominated movie was a solid production. It was refreshing to watch a character driven story that was well acted and direct. I found myself getting hooked into the plot early and enjoyed all the twists and turns along the way. The cast truly looked connected and in rhythm with each other as their emotions went on full display. Being an “older” film, I enjoyed seeing the sets and outdoor scenes that depicted a different period of time. Lastly, it always amazes me what greed can do to a person and because of that, I was especially curious watching how it would play a part in this thought-provoking drama.
3 ¼ stars
THOUGH HER EYES WERE COVERED WITH OVERSIZED sunglasses, the sun was reflected in each lens to make it look like she had stars in her eyes. I stared at the photograph for some time, wondering if the photographer realized that when they captured the image. Hanging next to this photograph was one that depicted something completely different. It was done in black and white and at first glance I thought it was a photo of a closed toilet seat. The camera had shot it from the front at eye level to the seat. I assumed the photographer was attracted to the dark splotches on the seat’s rims; personally, I thought it looked nasty. As I read the information card next to the photograph it turned out the subject of the photo was actually a small bunch of ripe bananas, done in closeup. I was surprised and had to look back at the photo hanging on the wall. Now that I knew what it was I could make out the three bananas stacked on each other; what a hoot! In photography I have always gotten a kick out of taking photos of ordinary things in such a way as to play with the viewer’s perceptions of it, turning the subject into something extraordinary. AS I WALKED AROUND THE GALLERY I saw some gorgeous photographs. When the subject was human, I spent more time in front of it wondering why the person was photographed; what was their back story? One photo had an elderly woman sitting on a park bench. She was knitting a scarf while wearing it. The finished end was draped around her neck then rolled down her chest to her hands that held two large knitting needles. The needles looked like they were pointing to one spot. I wondered why the woman was sitting outside with her knitting; was she waiting for someone, did she like sitting outdoors because of the lighting and temperature? Did the photographer even know her, I wondered? Usually I have seen people knitting in waiting rooms; this photo piqued my curiosity. There were other photographs that showed individuals in a variety of emotional states. Coming out of one of the photos was an anguished looking woman who looked like her skin was melting; she looked deflated and sad. I came up with a few scenarios that all ended in some type of tragedy. But isn’t that what art is supposed to do; make one think and react to its content? That is exactly what was taking place in this film festival winning drama; the subject’s story came to life right before my eyes. CLEO, PLAYED BY NEWCOMER YALTA APARICIO, was the maid for a middle-class family that had some issues behind its façade. Set in Mexico City during the 1970s, this movie also starred Marina de Tavira (The Skies-TV; Love, Pain and Vice Versa) as Sra. Sofia, newcomer Diego Cortina Autrey as Tono, newcomer Carlos Peralta as Paco and newcomer Jorge Antonio Guerrero as Fermin. Directed and written by Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Children of Men), this film was visually stunning. Shot in black and white, Alfonso took his time with each scene. There was always something else going on besides the main subject in the scenes, filling up each frame with feelings and emotions. The story essentially was basic; there was very little action to speak of until the last half of the film. In fact, I found the script somewhat slow at times and felt Alfonso was spending too much time on some shots. For newcomers I was surprised to see how well the cast did with the script. I only wished there was more to the story. This was one of the most beautifully filmed pictures I have ever seen; however, I found out the back story of some subjects may not always be so exciting.
3 ½ stars
BEING A WITNESS TO an employer degrading an employee, yelling for all to hear, then immediately turn around and become this kind, solicitous salesperson for a consumer is enough to turn my stomach. The transformation seemed effortless, nothing like what I saw Dr. Jekyll go through to become Mr. Hyde from the movie. There are different labels like “two-faced, backstabbing and double-dealer” to describe a person who acts one way to one person then a different way to someone else. I worked at a company where the owner loved to be out in front with the shoppers. If you were able to hear him you would think he was the warmest, most helpful man you ever met. It was a façade because as soon as he returned to his office in the back he acted like he was king of the world; I am not exaggerating when I tell you he would have an employee from the warehouse clean his hairbrush. I know, it was totally disgusting and believe me he had the employees doing a lot more things for him. NOTHING HAS CHANGED SINCE I worked there many years ago. Presently what is going on in the world is no better with people in power harassing those with lesser power. I know I mentioned the historian and moralist Lord Acton before, but what he said is just as relevant now as it was in 1887: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Maybe the last sentence is not as true today or maybe it is me with wishful thinking. Yet there have been so many instances where the head of some company or organization is the perfect figurehead for their place but in their personal life they are different or even opposite. Can you imagine the president of let us say a shelter for abused victims being caught abusing their spouse? Experiencing that sense of power tends to make a person feel infallible; it turns out that is not always the case. AS THE MUSEUM IS ABOUT to launch a new exhibit its chief art curator Christian’s, played by Claes Bang (The Bridge-TV, Rule No. 1), personal life begins to fall apart. This Oscar nominated and film festival winning comedic drama also starred Elizabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale-TV, The One I Love) as Anne, Dominic West (Chicago, The Forgotten) as Julian, Terry Notary (Planet of the Apes franchise, Kong: Skull Island) as Oleg and Christopher Laesso (The Bridge, Darkland) as Michael. The thing that impressed me about this film was the script; there were several themes taking place at the same time, yet they were not confusing. I will say however the script was too long; it needed some editing to bring down the running time of this DVD. There were also some scenes that I found foolish, where I felt they would not have happened like that in real life. It was interesting how the writers were able to incorporate some topical themes into the story, where I was still thinking about this movie for some time after. With the competent actors, interesting story and thought provoking scenes; I found this movie to be an interesting choice for Sweden to have submitted to the Oscar committee. English, Swedish and Danish were spoken in this picture with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD
I was a witness to it though I did not know I was watching something significant taking place. Visiting a friend at her house, we were sitting and talking while her kids were playing on the floor. I was not aware something was brewing but her daughter got upset over her sibling grabbing a toy from out of her hands. The little girl slapped her brother and he began to cry. My friend verbally disciplined them, saying something I thought most parents would say to an unruly child; I did not pay much mind to it. But right after my friend said it she stopped cold, turned to me and said, “Oh no, I just turned into my mother!” My puzzled look was her cue to tell me what she just told her kids was the same line her mother used to say to her when she was young. Now I understood; she reached that point in time, whether she wanted to believe it or not, when she discovered she was turning into her mother. Haven’t many of us gone through the same thing? It does not have to be a verbal thing; it could be some particular action that you find yourself doing that one of your parents used to do. WHAT I find just as impactful if not more is the time when you first objectively see yourself in someone else. For me it happened at a birthday party for a friend. There was a guy there who must have been angry about something. We were sitting around playing a game and this person would get upset if someone on his team did not succeed in the task. His competiveness was not relatable to me but his expressed anger is what connected to me. I have to tell you it startled me when I realized I probably make the people in my life just as uncomfortable with the anger I carried inside of me. This happened years ago but wouldn’t you know it, there was something about the main character in this comedic drama that struck a chord in me. THOUGH no longer president of the association Ove, played by Rolf Lassgard (Under the Sun, The Hunters), made his daily rounds to make sure everything was in order. Trouble was all he saw when his new neighbor Parvaneh, played by Bahar Pars (When Darkness Falls, Dreams), and her family drove into his mailbox. This film festival winner is Sweden’s entry into the Best Foreign Film category at the 2017 Academy Awards. It totally deserves to be there because I thought the story and the acting were excellent. With Filip Berg (Eternal Summer, Deano and Nige’s Best Last Day Ever) as Ove som ung and Sofie Gallerspang (Monica Z, Innocent Mara-TV Movie) as Brud; I felt the writers did a beautiful job of intertwining the 2 story lines of past and present. The directing was a little heavy where one would almost feel they were being manipulated but Rolf was outstanding enough to make everything real in this picture. This was a well done picture now please excuse me as I go take a good look at myself in the mirror. Swedish and Persian was spoken with English subtitles.
3 ½ stars