THIS HAPPENED A LONG TIME AGO, but I had a relative who was caught in the middle of a riot. He was a hands-on business owner, working at his store nearly seven days a week. I cannot remember the details if he knew there was going to be some type of trouble in the neighborhood or he simply got caught in the middle of the protesters, but he was working at the time the riots broke out. The protesters were throwing debris at storefront windows, overturning vehicles and setting fire to trash piles. He was afraid his store was going to get looted or worse, destroyed because he stocked alcoholic products. The store meant everything to him since it was his livelihood and the only thing he knew how to do. He made up his mind he would lock and barricade the doors, staying in the place until things calmed down. His family was distraught with the news when he called them; pleading with him to get out, but he refused. As far as he could see there was no one coming to calm the crowds down and he could not ask any of his employees to put themselves in danger by staying with him. He did not leave the store for three days. ALL DURING THAT TIME THE ENTIRE family feared for his life. As far as any of us were concerned the people rioting were all bad and our relative was an innocent victim. I was too young to understand the reasons behind the crowds taking to the streets and damaging property. Looking back at that incident I realize two things: there had to be some legitimate reasons why people were angry and secondly, there were some individuals who saw an opportunity to wreak havoc in the neighborhood. When a violent act or tragedy takes place, people witnessing it may only see things at face value. They may not be interested with someone else’s concerns. Maybe that is part of the problem; it certainly seems more so these days from what I have seen and heard on the news. This may sound trite, but I find it so true; “You don’t know someone until you walk in their shoes.” Or what is that other saying that goes, “There are two sides to every story and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.” With more and more people responding to disagreements/conflicts with anger, thinking the louder they shout the more they will be heard, it is no wonder the world seems more like a scary place. This dramatic, film festival winner reminded me there is more to a story than what one sees for themselves. THE KILLING OF A BLACK MAN by a Brooklyn police officer affected more than those who knew the two men. Starring Anthony Ramos (A Star is Born, White Girl) as Manny, John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman, Love Beats Rhymes) as Dennis, Kelvin Harrison Jr (The Birth of a Nation, It Comes at Night) as Zyric, Jasmine Cephas Jones (Blindspotting, Mistress America) as Marisol and Giuseppe Ardizzone (Boardwalk Empire-TV, Gotham-TV) as Officer Jim Gambini; I found the story gripping throughout the movie. This was writer and director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s first full length feature film and I found his script and direction new and fresh, considering the subject matter has been done before and is a current issue in society. I found the acting to be this raw realness that added to the tension I felt throughout the picture. This movie has the ability to allow the viewer to look at the bigger picture, pushing the boundaries beyond face value. Living near a city where violence occurs on a weekly basis, this story could have easily taken place here.
3 ½ stars
THROUGHOUT THE PAST DECADES WE have been witnesses to some of the greatest animal and human relationships. There was Lassie and Timothy, where Lassie was the only one who knew Timothy was in the well. Though Charlie Brown had no idea that his dog Snoopy was an ace pilot, they were the best of friends. Shaggy could not have solved all those mysteries without Scooby, who some of you might not know was named Scoobert “Scooby” Doo. Do you know who discovered the true identity of the Wizard of Oz? It was Dorothy’s dog Toto. Without Hooch’s help Turner would not have been able to find a murderer. Based on a true story I learned about the bond between Parker Wilson and Hachi; his faithful dog who waited years for his owner to return. And how could I not mention one of the longest friendships between characters; of course, I am talking about Mickey Mouse and Pluto. I am not going to limit it to just dogs; the bond between an owner and their pet is truly special. Growing up I had a parakeet. One of my best friends had fish which used to creep me out because they were always dying so quickly. THROUGH MY STUDIES I HAVE BEEN fortunate enough to have been exposed to a variety of animals. Nothing quite exotic in my opinion; I guess bats would be the most for me. However, I did meet a dairy cow who had a screwcap affixed to the side of her belly. You could unscrew it and peer inside one of the compartments of the cow’s stomach. In college I spent a semester tending to a horse. From cleaning her stall to washing her to getting riding lessons; I was with her on a weekly basis. I overcame my uncomfortableness with reptiles after having a professor who was a big fan of them. He would lecture with a snake draped around his neck. Having a relationship with an animal is such a nurturing experience; look at what happened between Ken and Flicka. There is an unconditional love that forms in these relationships. From my personal experience looking into a dog’s eyes says it all in my opinion. Now I know some people go a step further by transferring human emotions onto their pets. They imagine their animal will have similar reactions to an event as they do. And sometimes they will even dress up their animal with human clothing. Somehow, I do not see that happening with the police dog in this adventure comedy. THERE WAS ONLY ONE WAY TO discover the identity of a global animal smuggler; police dog Max, voiced by Ludacris (Fast & Furious franchise, No Strings Attached), would have to go undercover at a dog show to help Detective Frank, played by Will Arnett (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Arrested Development-TV), find the culprit. It was a whole different world from where Max came from. This family film also had Alan Cumming (The Tempest, The Good Wife-TV) voicing Dante, Natasha Lyonne (The Rambler, Orange is the New Black-TV) voicing Mattie and Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games franchise, Big Night) voicing Philippe. The story was simple in this picture and the script was even lower. Except for small children (ALERT: there is an inappropriate scene that last I heard was going to be re-edited, please check before going) there is no reason to sit through this film I am sad to say. I was bored beyond belief as the lame jokes fell flat, which pretty much summed up the acting—flat. Every time Will spoke all I thought about was Batman. There was nothing fun being offered to the older viewers; in other words, anyone above 8 years old. I am an animal lover but I have had more fun sitting at home watching the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on television.
1 ½ stars
ONCE upon a time employees took pride in their work. Whether it was an office clerk, salesperson, mechanic or repair person; doing a good job used to mean something. Maybe because the business climate changed over the decades from an employees matter mentality to workers now being considered just a disposable statistic, it is not only sad but can be frustrating for the public. Presently I have friends who have been dealing with a large phone carrier for over 2 months, to get them to transfer their business phone lines to another party. Every single time my friends call customer service they get a different answer to the same question. Right now they have received 8 different responses where one representative says they need the new party’s permission to change the phone line to that party, but another rep says they can do it without any permission. Yet nothing ever gets done. WHAT I have found these days are employees who take their pride to cockiness. They really are not feeling good about doing decent work; they are doing it so they can boast and make themselves feel better than the people around them. I do not know about you but it takes a lot of energy for me to keep a straight face while a worker talks down to me in a condescending way. When I encounter someone bragging about something they did at work, that they think was extraordinary, all I want to ask them is, “Isn’t that part of your job responsibilities?” And companies want to know why consumers are switching to online shopping. It only takes one bad employee to color a person’s perception of that company or organization. This crime thriller will show you what I mean. POLICE officer Vincent Downs, played by Jamie Foxx (White House Down, Law Abiding Citizen) found himself being hunted down after he stole a drug shipment from a crime family. His problems got worse when he discovered the family kidnapped his son Thomas, played by Octavius J. Johnson (Coldwater, Ray Donovan-TV). Set in Las Vegas this action film told a story that has been done repeatedly before. The problem was this picture did not offer anything different with this genre. With Michelle Monaghan (Patriots Day, Due Date) as Jennifer Bryant, Dermot Mulroney (The Grey, My Best Friend’s Wedding) as Stanley Rubino and Scoot McNairy (12 Years a Slave, Non=Stop) as Novak; the only actor I thought did anything well was Michelle. In fact I wish the script had been written more around her character for she was the only one where I felt I had a connection. Jamie brought nothing to his role and the script only made things worse for him. C’mon, he has a bleeding wound that seems to only hurt when he needs to take a pause to catch his breath between stunts. Otherwise he is fighting and dodging bullets all over the place. Plus I find it ridiculous to have the bad guys shooting so many bullets but none of them have good aim. This movie was a tedious one to get through; I really would like to know if the people behind this film felt pride in what they created for the moviegoer.
1 ½ stars
One would think we have gone beyond stereotypes; but I still get “that look” in people’s faces when in conversation, if it comes up, I mention my primary doctor is a woman. That look could be made up by a furled brow, downturned lips, maybe one side of the upper lip rising up in a sneer or even rolling eyes; it is so strange to me. When did it become the norm for someone to foist their prejudices onto someone else? Through my life I have been the victim from a variety of biases. There was a person who wanted to know if I celebrated Thanksgiving. When I said yes and asked why they asked, the person told me she did not know if people from my religion celebrated the holiday. I had to tell her Thanksgiving was an American holiday not a religious one. Possibly I mentioned before how one of my elementary teachers told me I would not amount to anything if I decided to pursue writing as a career. Discrimination was and still is a cancerous attribute in humankind. The thing that scares me the most is seeing those individuals who are proud of their prejudices. Granted you tend to know exactly what to expect from someone who does not cover up their biases. However, there is a completely different level that has more subtly to it. Now it occurs to me if you are starting to wonder if this animated movie is as serious as tonight’s topic the answer is yes; but it is mixed inside of a fun, action adventure film. JUDY Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin (Walk the Line, Once Upon a Time-TV), was the first bunny on Zootopia’s police force. Her boss Chief Bogo, voiced by Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, Thor franchise), took one look at her and decided she could only issue parking tickets. The only way Judy could prove herself was to take on a dangerous case that she had to solve in 2 days time or lose her job. I was so surprised by this picture; it took me a short time to realize there was an intelligent, inclusive script that still provided fun and excitement. If one expects singing and dancing in this animated movie they will be disappointed since there was none. However, all ages will find enjoyment in watching this film. As for the actors chosen to voice the characters, it was brilliant casting by the movie studio. With Jenny Slate (Obvious Child, Bob’s Burgers-TV) as Bellwether and Jason Bateman (The Gift, This is Where I Leave You) as Nick Wilde, I have to say Jason was outstanding. He and his character were literally the same, that is how good he was in the role. So to finish up, this movie has an important message that everyone should take the opportunity to see and have fun doing it. Do not be surprised if you come out being more diligent in celebrating the differences in all of us.
3 1/2 stars
Bombs were splattering their contents all around me. Luckily I had scoped out the area so I had my escape route planned out before settling into my current hiding spot. The rest of my team was spread out but we had a plan to regroup in case the enemy overpowered us. I fell back and raced to the rope bridge that would get me to higher ground. Making my way across it I glanced down to see the gaping valley below was barren; there was no place for anyone to take cover. As I reached the top I bounded across these odd wooden slats, trying to keep the soles of my shoes from announcing my location. Up ahead my fellow warriors were huddled together near a cold fire pit. We decided to fan out in two groups to circle around our aggressors and capture them from behind. There was a cave down to the north, but it was actually a tunnel that would take us all the way to the back of the mountain. The problem was to get down, we would have to scale down the side of the mountain with our backs exposed; it was a dangerous undertaking but it was the only way. It was a treacherous climb but we did it, creeped around and captured the enemy. Since it was already late in the day we all decided we better get home and get ready for dinner; our parents would be worrying about us. What I just described took place around a large apartment building from the neighborhood where I grew up. My friends and I had hours of fun with our imaginations. WHILE 10 year old friends Travis and Harrison, played by relative newcomers James Freedson and Hays Welford, were working on their escape they came across an abandoned police car. They now had a getaway car but their escape would turn into a chase when Sheriff Kretzer, played by Kevin Bacon (My One and Only, Mystic River), came back to find his squad car was missing. This film festival nominated thriller had a simple, bare bones story; I felt I was watching an old “B” movie. I enjoyed the way the writers let the audience know right upfront what the characters were like, so as the film progressed we felt we knew the true character of the players. I rather relished the tenseness I was experiencing as I wanted to warn the kids to watch out. With Shea Whigham (Take Shelter, Silver Linings Playbook) as the man, I thought the acting was real good in this slower paced type of thriller. The way the kids were playacting connected me to some of my memories when I was a child with a vivid imagination. It is funny because I never imagined I would have enjoyed this film as much as I did. There were several scenes with blood in them.
2 2/3 stars