WE WERE LINED UP IN a single row, one behind the other. The gym teacher handed the basketball to the first boy, telling him to take a shot at the hoop. I looked up at the basketball hoop, with its netting that looked like something a fisherman had dragged through the ocean; it was ragged and gray as it lifelessly hung down. The first boy missed the hoop so he had to hand over the basketball to the next student standing in line. The 2nd boy made a basket which meant he got to take another turn. It was a simple game; for every basket a student made they could take another turn, otherwise hand off the ball to the next boy in line. My only experience playing with a basketball before was with my friends for a game called Horse. I had no desire to get involved with any type of competition that involved a ball at school; because, I had seen just how competitive and mean students were when they competed with each other. The student who was not as skilled as his teammates would be ridiculed and abused outside of the eyes and ears of the gym teacher. LIVING IN A CITY THAT HAD a famous, winning basketball team you would think I would have gotten into the sport; you would be incorrect. I enjoyed watching the game but have never gone out of my way to devote time to sitting and watching it on TV. The players’ athletic abilities astound me, as well as their showmanship; that was about it for me. I may have mentioned this before but I have a hard time accepting the fact that athletes get paid millions of dollars for playing with a ball, while school teachers barely get by on their salaries and they are molding the minds of children. Now I am aware how team sports activities lend themselves to the bonds players form with each other. In high school the guys on the football or baseball team were inseparable; that was not necessarily the case for those on the debate or chess teams. It was rare to see a single football player walking down the school’s hallway without a buddy alongside of him. I am not judging this by the way; I think it is great when a student feels like they belong to something because I am aware of those who did not feel like they belonged. Let me tell you it is a whole different experience for the outsider. The proof can be found in this sport comedy film. DRIVEN BY THE NEED TO SUCCEED due to a childhood basketball game incident Dax, played by Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, The Carmichael Show-TV) is determined to win the neighborhood basketball tournament. However when Mookie, played by Nick Kroll (Adult Beginners, My Blind Brother), steals Dax’ star basketball player; Dax is forced to seek out the basketball legend Uncle Drew, played by Kyrie Irving. Upon meeting him Dax has no idea how an old, white haired man could possibly play the game. With Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip, Meet the Spartans) as Jess, Erica Ash (Scary Movie 5, Survivor’s Remorse-TV) as Maya and Shaquille O’Neal (Steel, Kazaam) as Big Fella; it has been established I am not a big fan of basketball. The script started out slow for me, along with its easy predictability. What kept my interest through this picture, believe it or not, was the basketball playing. I was amazed by the “senior” basketball players’ skills; they were fun to watch. The jokes and humor were nothing special; but for this light fare it was fine. And because of the basketball playing on display in this film I have a new appreciation for the game of basketball.
2 ½ stars
IT WAS THE FIRST time I was invited to such an event and it would be my last. I was invited to an ice skating birthday party many years ago. The party was being held at an indoor ice skating rink that had a party room that my friend’s parents decorated with balloons and signs. I had never gone ice skating before so I was excited to try it out. After lacing up the skates, on wobbly legs I made my way to the rink, grabbing any solid object for balance on my way. Stepping on the ice I remained at the side with my hand on the short wall that surrounded the rink. I had seen ice skaters on TV and thought it was easy to stand on a thin steel blade but I was wrong. Every time I let go of the wall and tried to skate I fell down. I do not think I ever made it around the rink once without my skates slipping out from underneath me, either falling face first on the ice or on my backside. THOUGH THERE WAS STILL time to skate before we were having cake, I got off the ice and sat on a bench where there was carpeting. I would not say I was sad, maybe frustrated; since there were people on the ice who made it look effortless. There were a few individuals who would skate face forward then suddenly do a hop so they could skate going backwards. I still remember one girl who was given a wide space around her because she was doing these incredible fast spins, where she simply looked like a blur or did spinning jumps in the air that captivated me. These few people almost looked like the skaters I would watch at the Olympics and other ice skating competitions. Sitting there looking at my discarded skates, I wondered if it was possible to get a second blade on each boot. I just felt if I had more blades to balance on I could make my way around the rink. And do you know what the funny part is to this story? I remember seeing Tonya Harding on television when she did something that no other female skater had done before and no one I saw at that rink was like her. FROM A YOUNG AGE Tonya, played by Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, The Wolf of Wall Street), stood out from the other ice skaters; her mother LaVona Golden, played by Allison Janney (Hairspray, The Hours), stood out even more. Based on true events this film festival winning, biographical drama has to be seen to be believed. Allison was totally outrageous in the role and I see award nominations piling up for her. Margot was a perfect fit for this character; it was a smart choice on her part that will make her even more bankable as they say. With Sebastian Stan (Captain America franchise, The Covenant) as Jeff Gillooly, Paul Walter Hauser (Kingdom-TV, Super Troopers 2) as Shawn and Julianne Nicholson (Black Mass, August: Osage County) as Diane Rawlinson; I cannot remember how long it has been since I sat in a movie theater laughing out loud. The script beautifully blended outrageous moments with tragic undertones. The story when it happened was so bizarre to begin with, I enjoyed seeing the behind the scenes stuff in this movie even if it was not true. One thing I knew for certain was the judgmental views officials had about Tonya. No matter which way one chooses to view Tonya in this picture, the fact remains she did something astounding. You will have to decide what it was she did.
3 ½ stars
YOU HAVE NO IDEA how good it feels to be writing this review. I apologize for being away so long but I experienced something that has never happened to me before. For the 1st time in my adult life I found myself being admitted into the hospital. After being home a few days with these weird non-painful symptoms such as zero energy, my daily banana now tasting like rotten flesh; I drove to one of those clinics inside a retail establishment. I think people refer to them as “doc in the box.” They could not have been nicer and immediately called the ER to let them know I was on my way. Once there I walked through the front door, gave my name at registration and I was ushered immediately into a room. The next hours became a blur as I was hooked up to IV solutions, getting a chest X-ray and some other stuff; at that point all my defenses were down and I did not care. However, they did offer me the opportunity to watch movies on the monitor hanging up in the corner of the room. I wondered how they knew I love films. MY TIME IN THE HOSPITAL was an experience I will never forget. The bed with all the whistles and lights, though sleek and obvious hi-tech, had to have been based on torture racks from medieval times. The mattress on its own would move in spots, so at first I thought I must have been hungover because it made it feel like the room was spinning at times. Through the ups and downs during my days there the one thing that stood out way above everything else was this group of strangers involved with me. I felt I must have woken up from a dream because there were females, males, people from different religious backgrounds, from different countries, old and young, different races, different sexual identity; it was the most utopian place I had ever seen. These people were working side by side; the only drama in the room ironically was me. During those times where my temperature would spike up in a matter of minutes, there were women and men on either side of me placing heated blankets and heat packs around my body. Even one particular nurse I scared after she tried to draw blood from my hand twice at 1 in the morning, looked at me and said she was scared to touch me. I told her she should be; she still came back the next day to see how I was doing. I am telling you it was such an incredible sight, these people who were focused on me but were not just doing their job; they were listening and hearing each other and me. Why couldn’t the real world outside be like this; each of these individuals set a prime example of what it means to be human. I will never forget them and tell the stories they shared with me; I will honor them by trying to be a better human being and I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart. There was no battle between the sexes, everyone was equal and all were just doing the right thing in the true sense of what it means to be human. Sadly this is not the case yet in many places in the world currently and it sure did not take place back in the 1970s where this famous event between one man and one woman took place. THIS FILM FESTIVAL nominated biographical comedy based on a true event succeeded with 2 special actors: Emma Stone (La La Land, Magic in the Moonlight) and Steve Carell (The Big Short, Foxcatcher) as Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. They were outstanding with the look and mannerisms of the actual celebrities. Steve was truly Bobby, it was mind-blowing. Also cast in this sports film was Andrea Riseborough (Nocturnal Animals, Happy-Go-Lucky) as Marilyn Barnett, Sarah Silverman (The Book of Henry, I Smile Back) as Gladys Heldman and Bill Pullman (The Equalizer, While you Were Sleeping) as Jack Kramer. It is hard to believe that it was only 40 years ago, but there was this wedge between the sexes. As I just wrote that I realize we are living it now with that football quarterback’s comments to the female reporter’s question. Though the acting was this picture’s biggest strength, the script was not strong enough for such a big event. It was obvious Billie Jean and Bobby were the main topic but the way the script was written did not give enough to the rest of the cast to keep up. I wanted more consistent levels of intensity; some scenes were brilliant, but others were drab. It did not make this movie go bad, it just dulled the shine it deserved. On the one hand it seems ludicrous that this event needed to take place; but on the other hand, the event caused an important shift to take place in the way people thought about females and males. I certainly wish no harm to anyone but I wish you could experience the staff I had the honor to be part of in a perilous situation and trust me, there is no such thing as one man being better than one female or 1 woman being better than 1 male.
THE wait was not too long before the waitress brought us our orders. Similar sized plates were placed in front of us; mine had the food beautifully laid out with a row of shiny green vegetables stacked at one end and the main entrée sectioned apart to form a pinwheel effect. I am a visual eater which means if something does not look good to me I am not going to touch it. Keeping that in mind this is what I saw when I looked at my friend’s dinner plate. There was a mound of food in the middle that looked like it had partially melted. Globs of a white protein substance dotted the surface like oozing pustules. There were thin stringy noodles hanging down around the mound that reminded me of greasy hair. My friend took his fork and stabbed one of the white globs; I expected it to burst open like a pimple. I could not look at him putting it into his mouth. Instead I focused on my dinner, but was immediately told by him that I had to taste his dish. Explaining I did not like the look of it, he insisted and placed a spoonful of his food on my plate. Because I did not want it to contaminate my food and could not push it off, with his continued insistence I just tried it to shut him up; I closed my eyes and put it in my mouth. The flavor and taste was nothing I imagined; it actually tasted good. SURELY I cannot be the only one who looks at something and makes a decision based solely on its looks. If someone thinks sauerkraut looks disgusting, who is it hurting? But when this type of thought process is used to judge an individual, it takes on a whole different set of circumstances. Need I point out how many news reports have been showing violence against someone based solely on their looks? I may have an issue with how my food appears but it doesn’t affect anyone else. Seeing the amount of violence and hatred people have for other people is sickening to me. Having survived the taunts and abuse from individuals who did not like the way I looked has made me extra sensitive to being a witness to such things. This is why I had a challenging time watching this sports drama based on a true story. SMUGGLED out of his home in Iran Ali, played by George Kosturos (Caged No More, Christmas with the Karountzoses), found himself in a small California town just as the Iranian hostage crisis took center stage in the 1980s. How much safer would he be here? This film festival winning movie also starred Jon Voight (Heat, Deliverance) as Principal Skinner and William Fichtner (Black Hawk Down, Contact) as Coach Plyler. I found the story pretty incredible and started to believe George was the real Ali. As for the script I was disappointed at its predictability. It was written in a paint by number fashion where one could easily figure out what would happen next. As I mentioned earlier I had a hard time watching some of the action taking place around Ali; however, it kept me connected to the story since I could relate to it. Despite the predictability the message one could take away from this story is an important one. So much is done these days based on looks without taking the time to look inside.
2 ½ stars
“YOU should write a book about it,” is a comment that has been directed to me numerous times. The reason has less to do with my writing ability and more with the incredible to outrageous stories I have been involved in or told. I will avoid using pronouns to protect the individuals. There was one person I was involved with whose family history played out like an evening soap opera, television show. One family member was going to be elected to a high political position until their views deviated from the people in power. The person I knew was sent out of the country to avoid any fallout, but to also get a better education. Spending many years traveling the world instead of coming back home, they told me about some of their experiences in foreign lands that I have not even seen done in a movie. One of these stories involved a stalker and a secret intelligence agency; that is all I can say about this individual. RECENTLY I was involved with someone who had a story to tell me every time we got together. One of the stories was accompanied with photographs; however, they could only show me a select few because they were brought in to oversee a secret government operation. The first photo they showed me was of them standing in front of a posted sign out in the jungle. I immediately knew why they had to be secretive about their whereabouts. Another photo showed how they were transported to this secret location; essentially it was a cargo bay with portable toilets and folding chairs nailed to the floor. It was so not part of my little corner of the world that I did not even know how to respond to any of it. I could go on with so many other encounters I have had that I could actually fill up a whole book. However if I do that then I cannot tell you whether it was worth seeing this biographical drama about a man who was the real boxer behind the famous film character Rocky Balboa. KNOWN as the “Bleeder of Bayonne” boxer Chuck Wepner, played by Liev Schreiber (Spotlight, Ray Donovan-TV), was a hometown hero even before there was a movie called Rocky. With Elizabeth Moss (The One I Love, Mad Men-TV) as Phyliss, Naomi Watts (St. Vincent, Diana) as Linda, Jim Gaffigan (17 Again, It’s Kind of a Funny Story) as John and Ron Perlman (Poker Night, Hellboy franchise) as Al Braverman; I had never heard about this boxer. Everyone in the cast did a wonderful job of acting. Liev however stood out for me because he was so good in his role, but be prepared there was a lot of blood shown. Not being a big fan of boxing, I was glad that the actual act was secondary to the story. As for the story it was engaging with surprise. The sets, costumes and dialog captured the era; it was interesting to watch the arc of Chuck’s story line. If I had to choose one particular thing that increased my interest in this film it would have to be the connection to Sylvester Stallone and the Rocky movie. I think it helped that this was included into the script because it produced deeper emotional intensity to the story. There are so many people in the world that need to have their story told; I was satisfied that this one came to the big screen.
AFTER so many years teaching in the health industry you would think there is nothing left to surprise me these days. It is not often I encounter a long distance runner but when I do I still am fascinated by the person’s dedication/determination. Personally there is no way I would let my feet pound pavement that long. And if that is not enough reason to avoid running, the individuals who run outside in winter simply baffle me. There was one person I spoke with who ran every day no matter what the weather was outside. They had to get new running shoes every three months. I asked one time what they got out of running every day and they said it was peace of mind. If there was one day they could not run, they felt oft-kilter the entire day. On a certain level I had to admire the person’s drive. DO you know how you can see traits in other people that you do not recognize in yourself? Regarding my film reviews, everyone who knows me knows I have to be at the movies over the weekend. When talking to a friend about getting together I cannot tell you how many times I have said I need to see a movie first. The response I get from them is this, “You do know you do not HAVE to go; you choose to go.” I usually say it is my job because that is how I look at writing reviews; the best job by the way. The way my mind is wired this is something that I have to do. Some of you might remember when I first started posting reviews my goal was to write one review a day for 365 days and I achieved that goal. Afterwards I posted comments that going forward there would be times where I would miss posting a review; there was no need to worry. I dialed back to find balance once again in my life. It is funny how I realized I am no different than a marathon runner; we both have the drive and determination. It has given me a whole new appreciation for anyone who single mindedly has a need to achieve something. BASED on a true story world champion boxer Vinny Pazienza, played by Miles Teller (War Dogs, Fantastic Four), did something no one believed he could every do. Evidently no one knew the drive Vinny had to achieve his goal. This dramatic sport story worked because of its amazing cast. Besides Miles there was Aaron Eckhart (Sully, My All American) as Rooney and Katey Sagal (Married with Children-TV, Sons of Anarchy-TV) as Louise who were both on par with Miles. I was not familiar with this biographical story but I have to say it truly was incredible. What was missing for me was more detail in the script. We all have seen boxing movies and this one had a basic floor plan that was a bit predictable. I would have appreciated more details into Vinny’s life and family life. As it stood, the movie was interesting though there were scenes that had blood and violence in them. As I mentioned earlier it was the acting that made this film and with seeing this story, one has to admire this boxer’s determination.
2 ¾ stars
One of the big mysteries I still struggle to understand is how people gain confidence. The answer is so elusive to me because I see some people who exude confidence; not in a bragging or boastful way, they just seem to have a strong sense of self and more importantly they believe in themselves. The ones who have the skills and knowledge to back up their confidence deserve it in my opinion. But the individuals who do not have the talent or masterfulness in the field they claim make me curious to know why that person feels that way. At the other end of the equation there are people who have the skill or artistry but do not believe they perform it well. I fall into this category. Since I feel that way I have always looked to see if my lack of belief is due to the environment I grew up in or were there other factors that made me feel like I am never good enough for the task at hand. Was it negative comments I received, people’s perceptions about overweight individuals or being forced to blend in with the majority; I just do not know? What I do know however, is the strength inside of me is partially fueled by my desire to prove people wrong or more precisely prove myself wrong. How twisted does that sound? With everything I have just said I am aware that I have been fortunate with the opportunities that were available to me. There is just one other factor that needs to be part of this conversation and that is acknowledging those individuals who were born with a particular gift like being genetically predisposed for a certain set of skills. It does not matter what their environment is like or their circumstances; they simply have the aptitude. But do you want to know something? A person still needs to believe they can do it. SPENDING her days selling maize Phiona Mutesi, played by newcomer Madina Nalwanga, happened to see a game of chess being played. It was a game that came with a multitude of possibilities. This film festival winning movie was based on a true story. With David Oyelowo (Selma, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) as Robert Katende and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave, Non-Stop) as Nakku Harriet, the acting was incredible. Lupita had such power in her expressions that I thought I saw fire coming out of her eyes; that is how good she was with her character. This biographical story could have fallen into oversweet sappiness, but due to the script and directing the story came across with a solid sense of realness. I have to tell you the story was amazing. I enjoyed the setting and contrasts shown in this picture. Chess is something that is considered refined almost stately in some circles and I loved the fact that it was being played by poor villagers in a town of Uganda. After watching this film all I can say is I wish I had some of Phiona’s strength. Stay for the beginning of the great ending credits.
3 1/3 stars
I wonder if the playground half covered with gravel had anything to do with it. Growing up not only did I never think about soccer, it was never part of anyone’s conversation. Now granted I attended a small elementary and high school, but even if someone wanted to play soccer it would have been challenging. The public schools I attended were in the city; they were plopped down in the middle of a city block with houses all around. There were no grassy fields, no baseball diamonds; heck, we were lucky if had a few bushes pushed up to the side of the building. As I mentioned before my elementary school’s playground was part blacktop and part gravel. There were no team sports and the majority of our physical activity was done in the gymnasium with its over excessive, varnished wood floor. The floor would creak so much when we were playing any type of game that it sounded like a backyard of chirping crickets. I think we may have played some kind of indoor version of soccer that we called Dodgeball, but the rules were different and I tried to avoid playing it because of the bullies in class. They used the opportunity to pretend they were kicking at the ball but really were going for someone’s leg, causing usually a bruise to form later in the day. So you see I never thought or cared about soccer all the way through into my adult life. If the games in this dramatic biography are typical of the average soccer game then sign me up for season tickets. FROM an earlier review this week where I talked about not needing money to being a success, if ever an example was needed to show this was true then this film about soccer legend Pele, played by newcomer Kevin de Paula, would have been the perfect choice. His story totally surprised me as this film covered his years growing up in the poor slums of Sao Paulo, Brazil; where he did not even play with a real soccer ball. I had never heard of the style of soccer associated with Pele. It was amazing to see; I felt like I was watching a performance artist up on the screen. Also starring Vincent D’Onofrio (Jurassic World, Full Metal Jacket) as Feola, Diego Boneta (Scream Queens-TV, Summer Camp) as Jose and Colm Meaney (Law Abiding Citizen, Stand Off) as George Raynor; the acting was almost secondary in my opinion. I do not think this sport film covered anything new; so if one is already familiar with Pele they may become bored with this story. Since I had no knowledge of the man or his sport, I was fascinated watching everything. I will say there were scenes that I thought were poorly filmed making the action look cartoonish and the dramatic ones seemed typical and predictable. So here is my bottom line: I do not think this was a well-made film; but here is the thing, the story kept me engrossed and provided entertainment for me. Isn’t that what a soccer match is supposed to do?
2 ¾ stars
For some people when they hear these words they expect to have a fun time; others do not share the same feelings. “Start picking sides for your team,” are words I have always found to be twinged with cruelness. Let me show why I think this way. You have a group of people let us say who want to play a game of basketball. Two individuals have been picked as the team captains and they start taking turns picking people for their team. They are certainly going to pick those individuals they think can play well. So as player after player gets picked, imagine how the ones left standing must feel. It is not a real confidence booster, let me tell you. I know how it feels and it takes all the fun out of playing the game, knowing you really were not wanted for the team. There was one PE teacher I had in school who never had teams chosen in this fashion. He would have everyone line up side by side and starting at one end he would assign a number to each student. Usually it was in a series like 1, 2, 3 and 4; other times he would keep assigning numbers in numerical order. Once done he would say all the 1s and 4s will be one team and the 2s and 3s will be the other team. I always found this to be a fairer and kinder way in choosing sides. Ironically, I rose in the pecking order when the other students discovered I threw a hard, fast ball with bull’s-eye accuracy. Little did I know I would have more in common with this sports documentary. CONFUSION and frustration would be felt by both players and coaches who had or faced pitchers who threw knuckleball pitches. It was a baseball pitch that seemed to have a mind of its own. I was utterly surprised by this documentary DVD. The movie played more like a drama as it showed the highs and lows in a knuckleball pitcher’s life. The main focus of the story centered on Tim Wakefield from the Boston Red Sox and R. A. Dickey of the New York Mets. Each of their stories was so compelling to me; especially Tim who was one of the oldest pitchers in the league. As for the pitch itself, I had no idea what it took to throw such an unpredictable ball; I felt like I was getting a mini-class in physics. There were so many touching parts in this film, aided by the interviews of former pitchers Phil Niekro and Jim Bouton. I am not a team sports fan per se, but I have to tell you I thought this documentary was extra special as it focused on what some consider the underdogs of the baseball world.
3 1/3 stars – DVD
At the time no one had heard the term politically correct. I grew to dislike team sports from my physical education classes in elementary and high school. Those classes had nothing to do with health I discovered once I was in college. Except for twice a year where we were tested to see how many sit-ups and chin-ups we could do, the majority of the time was spent being picked for a team and being told we had to try and crush the other team. There were a couple of gym teachers who could have been on the “before” posters regarding the benefits of exercising. One in particular always had the stench of cigarette smoke wafting out of his pores. He was the most inappropriate person to be a teacher. When teams were formed he would give us a pep talk, telling us we had to slaughter and beat our opponents. There could only be one winner and one loser; he would verbally abuse the players during the game. I did not want to be a part of those classes, so I focused on individual sports activities outside of school. COMPLETELY opposite from my high school instructor was the teacher in this dramatic sports film inspired by a true story. Jim Caviezel (The Thin Red Line, Person of Interest-TV) played the inspirational teacher and football coach Bob Ladouceur. Working with his team, the De La Salle High School Spartons, Coach Ladouceur along with his assistant Coach Terry Eidson, played by Michael Chiklis (Fantastic Four franchise, The Shield-TV), led the players to an unheard of record-breaking streak of 151 wins. This movie had the perfect story to tell for both the sports and non-sports minded viewer. For someone who does not follow football, I knew their winning streak was unheard of with any professional sports team. The game scenes were actually exciting throughout the film. What was a total disservice to the story was the horrible script; it was dull, lifeless and filled with cliches that were meant to move the viewer. The cast which also included Laura Dern (The Fault in Our Stars, The Master) as Bev Ladouceur, Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games, Lone Survivor) as Chris Ryan and Clancy Brown (The Shawshank Redemption, Starship Trooper) as Chris Ryan all did a decent job of acting with their characters. How the writers took what was an incredible story and put out this poor version was beyond me; especially when they showed clips of the actual people at the end of the film. Even I wanted to be part of that team, not the one depicted in this film.
1 3/4 stars