EVERYWHERE I LOOKED I WAS SEEING someone I had seen on videos or television. Though the general population may not have recognized them, I certainly did because I wanted to be one of them. My assignment was manning the entrance to the hospitality suite, where guest presenters could come to relax or grab something to eat. I had to check the ID badges of everyone coming in; though honestly, I wasn’t expecting anyone crashing the suite since it was not near the convention hall. When I could, I would help the volunteer staff keep the food tables filled and clean. For the most part everyone who walked in was pleasant; they at least acknowledged me when I greeted them. Of course, there were always a few negative people or “stuck up” ones that moved right past without a glance or nod towards me. And that was ok; I understood that after being up on stage or in the middle of a crowd, one needs to decompress with some down time. Just from the little that I did in the field, I knew the amount of energy it took to get people motivated and interested in what I was trying to achieve. I was perfectly fine to be in the background and simply observe them while they were in the suite. ONE OF THE INTERESTING THINGS I discovered early on was how some of the presenters preferred being alone in the suite. There were some who moved a chair away from others to sit and look at their electronic devices. Others would spend their time going from one presenter to another as they came in and out of the rooms. As a fan, I enjoyed seeing how they all interacted amongst themselves. To me it looked like a few were collaborating on a project together. One presenter, who I was familiar with, was a lawyer who was instrumental in changing the safety protocols in the industry. She was sought out by many and I only wished I could hear what they were talking about. There was another presenter who was a researcher who I saw multiple times on different videos. He was well respected and known for debunking many false claims that others were trying to promote. Looking at the amount of talent and knowledge in the room, I had to wonder what each could create from a chance meeting, that would have a lasting affect on the profession. It was exciting to see, just as it was for me watching this film festival winning and Golden Globe nominated drama. AFTER A STUNNING WIN IN THE boxing ring, the night’s celebration for Cassius Clay, played by Eli Goree (Race, Godzilla), was waiting for him at a motel room with a small group of friends. With Kingsley Ben-Adir (Peaky Blinders-TV, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword) as Malcom X, Aldis Hodge (Straight Outta Compton, Hidden Figures) as Jim Brown, Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton, Red Tails) as Sam Cooke and Lance Reddick (John Wick franchise, White House Down) as Kareem X; the story in this film was brilliant. Having 4 people, accomplished in their fields, dealing with the prejudices of the times in the 60s was near genius. I thought the acting was tremendous as the actors formed a bond that was real and believable. And as a bonus for me was having Leslie Odom Jr.’s character sing. The direction of this movie kept things on an even playing field; I never lost interest as the night progressed. After I was done watching this picture, I had to confirm that this was not an actual event because it seemed so natural, as if the writers were simply retelling a historic event. This was a well-done film that felt as current now as it was back then.
3 ½ stars
I WAS IN THE MIDDLE OF PICKING out songs for a playlist to give to a close friend. There was one song I remembered from a movie I saw many, many years ago. The song has always stuck with me, though I never knew the title. Searching online I sought out the movie first to see if I could get a list of its song titles. I remembered an older woman in the film sang the song as she stood still in place. It did not take me too long to find the song I remembered and see its title. Once I had it, I typed the title into my computer’s search engine to see what would come up. Little did I realize this was a popular song, because the choice of artists who sang this song went on for pages. Besides having a list of artists, there were also music videos of artists performing the song. I found myself going from one video to another to see what the musical artist would do with the song. It was interesting to hear the multitude of variations; every artist was trying to put their own spin on the song. I was enjoying this musical journey despite it causing me confusion in not being able to decide which performance I wanted to include in my playlist. TIME WAS SLIPPING AWAY AND I was no closer to completing my project. I had no idea how many renditions of the song I had seen or heard; but somewhere in the list of artists I saw this name that I had heard, but I had never heard her perform. I clicked on the link and out of my computer speakers came this rich, earthy, passionate voice. At times it delved into the alto range but would veer right into a tenor level; I think her voice would be considered a contralto. Her voice captivated me because I could not recall hearing a female voice with such a strong lower register. It was as if I was listening to this song for the very first time; it was something fresh and new as the notes hung in the air around me like Spanish moss. Who was this woman who could take a song from the past, from a film musical, and make me feel as if our hearts were beating in synch? As soon as the song ended, I replayed it several times. And once I had my fill, I sought out other songs this musical artist performed. Having this as my introduction, there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to learn more about Nina Simone. WITH PLANS ON BECOMING A CLASSICALLY trained concert pianist, one night performing at a nightclub would change the course of Eunice Kathleen Waymon’s life. Directed by Liz Garbus (Girlhood, Bobby Fischer Against the World), this film festival winning documentary delved into the life of Nina Simone. With archival footage, interviews and performances; I found myself yearning for more musical performances as the movie went on. This biography touched on many aspects of Nina’s life, from childhood to adulthood to political activism; all of it was interesting, but part of me wished there would have been more details offered in the non-musical scenes. The interviews with her daughter, I found to be telling. I read somewhere the daughter was upset about a film that came out about her mother, so she got involved in the creation of this documentary. I am glad she did because not having any knowledge per se of Nina’s life, this film was a beautiful way to learn about her. And I have that playlist I made for a friend to thank.
IT TOOK ME A LONG TIME to realize dreams are not written in stone. They are more like clouds; they do not necessarily have definitive edges and they are never static. Part of living my life is having dreams hanging ahead of me. Think of it like a carrot hanging in front of a horse. I am always trying to make my way towards my dreams. Having lived in rental apartments for most of my life, my dream of home ownership was a large one that had a hold on me. Working two jobs for extra income was tolerable, because I knew there would be more money to devote to building a hefty down payment for a house. It took me some years to reach this dream, but I finally did it. Another dream of mine was to have a brand-new car. The only cars I had to drive were used ones. One of my earliest cars cost $500; it had over 90,000 miles and a houndstooth interior. So, after driving many hand me down autos, I was able to buy a new car. Seven weeks later while parked in front of the post office, a man backed into my car while trying to get out of his parking spot in front of mine. My front bumper was dented and my thrill of having reached my new car dream evaporated in front of me. FROM MY SUCCESSES AND FAILURES IN achieving my dreams, I never judge someone else’s dreams. I may feel the person will have a tough challenge to get to their dreams, but I would not discourage them from trying at least. An acquaintance of mine contacted me about fitness. They wanted to change careers from finance to fitness. Partially based on their comments to my questions, I felt they were not completely aware of the work needed to become successful and earn a decent living. All of their questions I answered to the best of my ability without any judgement. I, also, did not gloss over anything; expressing the work it took to meet club members’ and clients’ needs. When I reached my dream of being a fitness instructor, I had no idea of the amount of preparation and planning it took to conduct a safe, fun class. The training and studying were nearly overwhelming for me. Learning about all the safety protocols alone was a monumental task. However, from a kid who flunked PE class twice to becoming a fitness instructor; I never let the naysayers discourage me and that is why I was rooting for the main character in this musical drama. THOUGH SHE HAD A GOOD VOICE, the idea of Rose-Lynn, played by Jessie Buckley (Beast, The Tempest), moving from her home in Glasgow to Nashville to become a country singer sounded crazy to most; but, that wasn’t going to stop Rose-Lynn from fighting for her dream. With Julie Walters (Harry Potter franchise, Mama Mia!) as Marion, Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda, Martian Child) as Susannah, Jamie Sives (Let Him Talk to the Greek, Valhalla Rising) as Sam and Craig Parkinson (Four Lions, Control) as Alan; this film festival winner took me by surprise. Not spending much time listening to country music, I was moved by the songs and vocals, which were provided by Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves. The acting from Jessie and Julie came across with depth and emotion; I was brought into their world. I will say there were periods of time where I had a tough time understanding the dialog when the Scottish brogue got thick. Yet, it did not distract me enough to lose my connection with the story. There have been previous films about a nobody becoming a somebody; however, there was a freshness to this picture that made me smile and tap my toes to the beat.
3 ½ stars
As I sat in the large banquet room, my confusion quickly melted away from the hot anger welling up inside of me. You see a couple of friends asked me to join them for an evening of dinner and entertainment. They said it was being funded by one of their business groups; free food and I would be there. After we walked in and were given name tags, I followed them into a room that was filled with rows of chairs, no tables. I thought maybe we were having entertainment first then moving to another room where we would be served dinner. It had better be a served meal because I avoid all buffets and salad bars. A speaker walked up to the podium where he introduced himself and thanked all of us for being there. He started talking about the past year’s accomplishments before venturing into the exciting products that would be coming out later in the year. From that point on I became suspicious that something was not right about the whole scene. With the surrounding audience eager to applaud at the speaker’s every word; his speech smoothly evolved into a sales pitch on how everyone in the audience could make more money by recruiting new associates. It was only a matter of seconds before I realized this whole event was a sales meeting for what people call a pyramid or ponzi scheme. For every new person you bring into the group you get a commission on their sales. To say I was livid would be an understatement as I glared towards my friends who were just realizing I was the wrong person to bring to this kind of event. DECEPTION would only lead one down a wrong path in life. Trying to come out from under his famous father’s shadow; singer/songwriter Jed King, played by Alan Powell (Charlie & Boots, Produce: Where Hope Grows), worked hard to show people he was not like his father. However, the more famous he became the more challenging it was to maintain his values. This movie was the last straw for me; I no longer can give money for this faith based films. If I wanted to be preached to I would have gone to a house of worship. This dramatic romance hammered its message at the viewers without any thought to making a decent film. Utterly predictable and ridiculous, I do not need to be told I have to have faith. Maybe it is me but I find faith and religion to be a private matter for each individual. With no original thought, no decent acting, only a couple of good songs; I felt just as deceived by this preachy propaganda pretending to be a movie as I had about that sales meeting. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
1 1/2 stars
If one is fortunate enough they can spend years on an intimate journey with one of their favorite musical artists. The path, lined with stepping stones of shared memories, sings of the joyful times as well as the moments of grief. I have been lucky to have witnessed the “birth” of a few musical stars. Spotting them first as a warm-up act or in a small nightclub, there was something about their voice and the songs they sang that resonated inside of me. As I followed their careers they would have songs that reminded me of particular times in my life. We shared many a night as I played certain songs over and over, depending on my mood. The history I share with my favorite artists made watching this musical documentary extra special. It was between the late 1960’s to early 1970’s when musicians who were singer/songwriters came to prominence. Doug Weston ran a Los Angeles nightclub called the Troubadour, where he would show new talent. He certainly had an ear for music since early performers at the club were Joni Mitchell, Jackson Brown, David Crosby, Steve Martin and Elton John, to name a few. The main engine driving this film’s story was following the special bond between Carole King and James Taylor through their long musical careers. It was awesome to see early film clips of them performing, besides the other clips of various artists. The variety of people interviewed for this project helped to provide a larger perspective for the events discussed. Looking at this from a historical perspective, this documentary provided more of a light overview than an in depth look into the creation of the singer/songwriter genre. However, it did not take away any of my enjoyment in watching this Sundance Film Festival selection. Granted I am a huge music lover, but I think anyone would enjoy seeing or should I say hearing this fun retrospective.
3 stars — DVD