I HAVE LEARNED NOT TO THINK I have heard all the comments and thoughts about a particular subject. After hearing and reading all the different comments about vaccines that inject microchips into our bloodstreams and medical tests that only use lemmings for test subjects, very little can surprise me these days. I do not know if this a good or bad thing to tell you the truth. In my work position, I have heard so many excuses from customers that owe the company money, that I never react to what they say to me. Maybe it is true, maybe not; it does not phase me anymore. Not to delve into any political discussion, but hearing someone actually say members of a political party are buying and selling babies for some demonic ritual; how does someone carry on a discussion with a person who believes this to be true. In yesterday’s review, I mentioned the appalling behavior of individuals who believe the school shootings at Parkland and Sandy Hook were a hoax; it just does not stop does it with these extreme thoughts/comments. WHEN I WAS MUCH YOUNGER, I knew a couple of people who were survivors of a German concentration camp. They both had a series of numbers tattooed on their forearms. I remember talking to one of them about her time in the camps and could not believe what she was telling me was true; it was so horrific; I was too young to take in the scope of the situation she was living in. She remembered always being cold and shivering to the point where captives would huddle together to try and share any type of warmth in a brutal environment. Looking at this tiny, weakened woman, I recall thinking to myself how in the world did she survive such a place and, how could people be so evil to set up a systematic way of eliminating a large group of humans. Her stories stayed with me and when I finally went off to college, one of my professors was one of the foremost experts on Nazi Germany. He was a German man with a thick accent. He was the author of the textbook assigned to us for the class. I remember he always tried to shock us during his lectures, providing us with personal insights into the Nazi culture, to the point I wondered if he had been a German solider. His stories about all the atrocities and actions that took place during the war made me think I was getting a firsthand look at everything that took place back then. That is until I watched this movie based on a true story. KNOWING HIS STORY ABOUT HIS TIME in a concentration camp would produce negative reactions, a survivor decides to tell it anyway in the hopes of finding his true love. With Ben Foster (Leave No Trace, Hell or High Water) as Harry Haft, Billy Magnussen (Into the Woods, Game Night) as Schneider, Vicky Krieps (Phantom Thread, The Last Vermeer) as Miriam Woesoniker, Peter Sarsgaard (The Lost Daughter, Loving Pablo) as Emory Anderson and Danny DeVito (Batman Returns, The Comedian) as Charley Goldman; this drama was an intense and riveting viewing experience. Ben’s acting was mind blowing, including the 62-pound loss for part of the story. As for the story, I was stunned upon discovering what he had to do to survive. My only negative comment is I wish the script had not jumped back and forth as much. I felt the emotional tension would have benefitted with more time spent in each era for a longer duration. The current story paled compared to the older era, in my opinion. Despite this and the fact this is based on a true story, I was locked into this biographical sports story and Ben’s performance. There were multiple scenes with blood and violence.
3 ½ stars
WHEN THE MIND DESPERATELY WANTS TO do something, it does its best to avoid listening to the body. Images of the task at hand briefly pop up in the brain like bubbles, keeping you distracted from reality. I cannot tell you how many times I have found myself in this situation. Through the past years I have taught a fitness or yoga class, knowing in the back of my mind I might not be able to finish all the way through it. There was the time I was inflicted with a rotator cuff impingement, which in plain language is a pain in my shoulder. I knew there were several yoga poses in class that I would not be able to handle without causing more pain to myself. The only way I was able to get through the class was to do a quick demo of the completed pose and when I had the class join in, I did a modified version that took pressure off my shoulder. To the class, I explained what I was doing, but framed it as an option for those who might be feeling pressure/discomfort in their shoulders. No one had to know I was partially incapacitated, which I know is silly; however, I have it in my brain that I need to always appear 100% healthy to the members in my class. I have this fear that a member might assume any infliction I might have was due to exercising, causing them to stop. I know, it is ridiculous on my part to think of such a thing. ONE OF THE HARDEST CLASSES I HAD to teach was my first cycle class after suffering a bout of E coli. My doctor had recommended I take more time off from work and teaching to recover, but my mind was telling me I needed to get back to work and teaching. The members in my cycle class knew I had been hospitalized; there was no way to pretend I was perfectly fine. Getting onto the cycle bike took more effort than I had ever needed. My thoughts of “will I be able to get through class” were clashing with my brain telling me I had to teach. The music started and off I went into the warm-up phase of our ride. I got through it okay but when I told the class to pick up speed and come off their saddles, I immediately could tell I was going to be out of breath in no time. With sweat building up and my breathing becoming labored, I had to dial down the tension on the bike’s flywheel. Almost every challenge the class and I went through on our ride; I had to modify or simply sit down and take a breather. It was the hardest class I ever taught; but the members were so supportive and appreciative, I felt good for the first time since contracting the E coli. Because of what I had gone through, I understood why the main character in this dramatic sports romance kept going. HAVING PUSHED HIMSELF TO THE LIMITS to get to the level of competition he needed to be at, there was no way a pain in his body was going to stop Tyler, played by Kevin Harrison Jr. (It Comes at Night, Monsters and Men), from playing the sport he loved. He also did not want to disappoint his father. With Lucas Hedges (Boy Erased, Ben is Back) as Luke, Taylor Russell (Escape Room, Lost in Space-TV) as Emily, Sterling K. Brown (The Predator, Black Panther) as Ronald and Alexa Demie (Mid90s, Brigsby Bear) as Alexis; this film festival winner provided an absorbing viewing experience for me. I thought the acting was excellent from the whole cast because with a story we have seen before, they took the words in the script and turned them into something new and fresh. Also, the directing and filming made a difference for me in this movie. There was such authentic meaning ringing out in all the scenes, that I found myself experiencing some of the emotions that were taking place with the characters. This was a moving and emotional experience about family, pain, honesty, grief and forgiveness.
3 ½ stars
MAYBE IT IS PAYBACK OR simply karma from all those years doing nothing when we had a substitute teacher. Not that I did anything disrespectful, but allegedly I instigated a couple of disruptions. My thing back then was to shoot “spitballs” out of a hollow pen. I know that was not right; however, compared to some of the other stunts students did when we had a substitute teacher, my act was almost benign. There was one student who glued the teacher’s handbook to the desk. When the substitute came in and tried to lift the book up the back cover would not budge. The teacher had to spend time slowly trying to scrap the cover off the desk without ripping it too much. Another time we had a substitute who went to write something on the chalkboard but all the chalk and erasers were hidden by a couple of students. It was not easy for a substitute teacher to come in and take over the class for a day or two. For us students a sub meant it was going to be an easy day, at least in theory. FAST FORWARD TO WHEN I BECAME a fitness instructor full time. In the beginning I had my schedule of classes but also would help the other instructors by being a substitute for their classes. Because I am one, I totally get members who want the same thing they are used to with an instructor. Here I walk in and have my own style of teaching; you should have seen some of the faces the members would make to show their displeasure with me. I subbed for a yoga instructor and as I began my introduction a member asked if I could turn off the lights. When I explained I could do it later in the class, after I see how everyone moves in the poses; the member harrumphed, rolled up her mat and stormed out of the room. This was before I even did one pose. It is challenging to fill in for a teacher who is popular with a strong following. When members find someone they enjoy they only want to work out with that particular instructor. If a substitute comes in they must perform at their best and try to win the participants over or at least not lose them 5 minutes into the class. Therefore, I understood and felt bad for the main character in this dramatic sports film. AFTER A TRAGIC ACCIDENT THAT LEFT their volleyball team without a captain it was decided to move Kelley Fliehler, played by Erin Moriarty (Captain Fantastic, The Kings of Summer), into that position. She would not only have to win points but even harder, win over her teammates. This film based on a true story also starred Helen Hunt (The Sessions, As Good as it Gets) as Kathy Bresnahan, Tiera Skovbye (Midnight Sun, Supernatural-TV) as Brie, William Hurt (A History of Violence, Days and Nights) as Ernie Found and Danika Yarosh (Heroes Reborn-TV, Shameless-TV) as Caroline “Line” Found. The story in this picture was inspiring; however, I felt it was not executed to its best advantage. Pretty much this was a straightforward telling of the events and here is where I think the script does not do the story justice. There was nothing different about this film compared to others I have seen with this type of story. Without delving much into the characters, I never felt fully connected to any of them. The parts I enjoyed were the actual volleyball matches. Outside of that there was nothing horrible or great about this movie, which in sports talk I guess would translate it to not being a win or loss but only a tie.
One of my mantras in life is no one has the right to tell someone how they should feel. Everyone has the right to feel the way they wish without judgment. I feel all emotions are valid; there are no good or bad ones. There was a portion of my life where this was not the case and it had to do with the emotion of sadness. There were many reasons for this but there was a time where I would never cry. Hearing taunts such as “crying is for sissies” or “you’re such a crybaby” affected me and taught me I better hide my emotions if I did not want to become a target. Seeing a baby bird fall out of its nest and die is sad to me. I have always found it curious why people would comment by telling you not to cry. At one point in time (I hope no one still believes this) it was assumed girls were more emotional, so that is why they cry. Boys were perceived to be tougher if they did not cry. Can I ask you; where did this idea come from? Why was it important that boys be tougher than girls? I could get into a lengthy debate about stereotyping but I prefer not going down that path at this time. I feel it is healthy to express one’s emotions. In fact, when I see someone laughing, crying or feeling depressed I feel a kinship with them. I felt this on such a strong level while sitting in the movie theater watching this incredible documentary. FORMER New Orleans Saints football player Steve Gleason found out he and his wife Michel were going to be parents a week after he was diagnosed with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis a/k/a Lou Gehrig’s disease. He wanted his child to know what type of man was its father. Written and directed by Clay Tweel (Print the Legend, Finders Keepers), this film festival winner was extremely hard to watch; but it was so worth it. Not being a team sports fan, I have to tell you the way the director interspersed sports footage with current reality was the ideal way to blend the two aspects of Steve and I was quickly sold early into it. On one side there was the hero Steve who sparked a city into healing civic pride after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation and the other side was Steve watching his body shutting down. It was such a stark contrast, but what the movie audience saw was this thoughtful, insightful, inspirational human being. As I mentioned earlier this was a tough picture to sit through; not only was I crying, there was out loud sobbing from audience members. Everyone was experiencing the same emotions at the same time. By the way sadness was only one of many emotions; I do not want to paint a picture of us sitting and crying the whole time as if we were at a funeral of a loved one. Though this film may be challenging to watch it is worth seeing, just bring a handkerchief with you.
If it was in the textbook then it had to be true; this is what I grew up believing. I was convinced newspapers and books only contained the truth. In fact it was not until college before I learned I was wrong. In classes we learned newspaper editors could put their personal slant on a story, giving it a whole different meaning. Book publishers may have wanted to only publish the truth, but there could have been outside circumstances like government agencies that did not want the truth to come out. I remember a history class where the instructor showed the class the difference between 2 history books, one printed in the US and the other from a foreign country. The professor read about a specific wartime battle out of both books. It was startling to me because according to the US book American forces won the battle, but per the other book they lost the fight. How was that possible I wondered as I sat in my seat in total disbelief. As far as I knew history was like a science class, it dealt in exact facts; there was no margin of error or acceptable fabrication. So there I sat re-evaluating my entire belief system in what history meant to me. One of the aspects I soon realized about history that could not change was its ability to teach humans to become better by showing them where they came from. I do not mean logistically but by recording mankind’s transgressions and feats. I could show you no better example than the true story depicted in this sports drama. Germany’s 1936 Olympics was supposed to show the world that Adolf Hitler’s creation of an Arian nation was going to be the best in the world. American athlete Jesse Owens, played by Stephan James (Selma, Home Again), wanted the chance to prove them wrong. With a cast that included Jason Sudeikis (We’re the Millers, Sleeping with Other People) as Larry Snyder, Shanice Banton (Degrassi: The Next Generation, A Day Late and a Dollar Short-TV movie) as Ruth Solomon and Jeremy Irons (Margin Call, Dead Ringers) as Avery Brundage; the story was a remarkable one. Stephan James was wonderful in the role as Jesse; there was no denying this was an incredible story that is just as relevant today. This just makes it harder to say the script did not live up to this American hero. I found most of the script let its drama come from the historical events without going deeper into the characters; the scenes appeared almost cut and dried, nothing extra to offer. However even with everything I have said, I still was entertained watching this biographical picture. Just seeing such a humble man from humble beginnings reach the world stage and remain true to himself was beyond refreshing. I would say it is a feel good story but if I do I feel it does not acknowledge what Jesse continued to experience after the Olympics. Nothing could change the fact that this was an important chapter in our history.
2 3/4 stars
It still can have disastrous effects and doesn’t make things better, but at least there were no ill intentions associated with it. As part of my banter during my classes I do public service announcements, a portion of it is listing any product recalls. There have been some that were not due to human error; for example, a bad circuit board installed into a motor vehicle or a food item that did not receive all of its ingredients due to a glitch during the automated manufacturing process. I understand things can happen. The issue I have is when individuals willingly keep the status quo though they know it could be dangerous for the consumer. Listen to these product recalls I have previously announced in class: a paper lantern that could catch on fire because the votive candle holders were too close to the lamp’s sides or how about the children’s swing set where the seats hung too low, causing kids to scrape their legs on the ground when swinging. You are telling me no one bothered to inspect the product before selling it? It has been drummed into all of our heads that time is money; no one wants to spend a lot of time on something if it affects the bottom line. I find it sad and miss the old days (listen to me) when people cared about their products and even other people. This is why I was so taken aback by this drama. FORENSIC neuropathologist Dr. Bennett Omalu, played by Will Smith (I Am Legend, Hancock), worked at the coroner’s office in Pittsburgh. When the corpse of one of the Pittsburgh Steeler’s star football players arrived, Dr. Omalu could not understand why such a relatively young person had suffered such ailments and was now dead. It was a mystery he was determined to solve. This film festival winning sports film played partially like a thriller. Based on a true story I have to give credit to Will Smith. The character Will portrayed was such a gentle, down to earth man that one just wanted to root for him. Maybe the accent was weak but Will made this role one of his best performances I have ever seen. With Alec Baldwin (The Departed, 30 Rock-TV) as Dr. Julian Bailes and Albert Brooks (Drive, Defending Your Life) as Dr. Cyril Wecht, the supporting cast did a fine job with their characters even though they were not written with much depth to them. There were a couple of scenes that felt forced, where the writers wanted to inject an element of suspense; they were only a distraction for me. On the other hand I will say as the pieces of this mystery were being discovered there was one particular scene that was powerful and put everything into place for me. After seeing this picture I honestly cannot imagine a parent, who has children playing in some type of sports activity, not questioning their decision to allow their children’s participation.
For those of you fortunate enough never to have experienced a broken heart let me describe how it feels. The area around where the heart is located reacts just as if a physical punch was administered to the body; it hurts like a bad bruise, echoing dull pain over and over. Your center of gravity weighs more where it takes added effort to lift your feet off the ground to even walk across a room. With water making up a majority of the body’s composition, it gets redirected to spill out of your tear ducts at a moment’s notice. Hearing the beginning notes of a song could trigger this outpouring as easily as seeing a newly ownerless toothbrush sitting in your medicine cabinet. Some individuals experience the sense of losing control. I know for myself when I am feeling out of control I tend to focus on one single aspect of my life and hold onto it with a near death grip. My default option is usually my diet. Since no one has a say in what I can or cannot eat, my daily food intake is totally under my domain. In the past when I felt I was out of control my eating would take off as I tried filling the void that formed when control became unharnessed, free to do what it wanted to do. Now it is opposite, the more out of control I feel the more I control what I eat. The main character in this dramatic sports film had a different method. BOXING champion Billy Hope, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler, End of Watch), had the money, the fame and the big house; however, it did not matter when he lost the one thing money could not buy. I need to start with Jake for this review because he deserved extra credit for the grueling workout he put himself through to give extra meat to this role, so to speak. He did 2,000 sit-ups a day and was told by the director, Atoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Equalizer), they would continue filming even if his nose got broken in the fight scenes. Now the fight scenes, they were so intense at times I almost had to look away. The cast, which included Rachel McAdams (Aloha, About Time) as Maureen Hope and Oona Laurence (A Little Game, Lamb) as Leila Hope, was especially strong in their own right. Though Jake could snag a nomination for this role, the script was filled with cliches that kept the story from matching his acting abilities. I thought the scenes he had with Forest Whitaker (Taken 3, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) as Tick Wills could have been even more powerful if the script was better. In spite of this big flaw I was so drawn to the character that it carried me through the entire film. Several scenes had blood in them.
Sometimes it takes a different set of eyes to show you what you are capable of doing. Imagine you were born on a farm where you grew into the capability of throwing 50 pound bales of hay onto a flatbed truck. Since it had always been part of your life it would never occur to you that you were strong. However if you compared it to someone who did not have early strength training, you would be considered strong. The key fact in the equation has to do with the comparison aspect and it is something that I find very few people use when commenting on themselves. When someone tells me something about themselves such as they are overweight or too tall let us say, I ask them compared to what? Most of the time I find such statements to be very subjective. Though I have lost a great deal of weight I do not consider myself a thin person because I’m using a warped comparison of what I believe thin looks like. This is one of the reasons it is beneficial to have someone else show you what you are or what you can achieve. If my first aerobic instructor did not nurture and encourage me to choreograph routines, I do not know if I would have ever become a group fitness instructor since I previously flunked high school gym classes. OUT of a job as high school football coach due to anger issues Jim White, played by Kevin Costner (Black or White, Man of Steel), was forced to leave and take an assistant coaching position at a small high school with a dismal football record. Looking at the students, it was obvious to Coach White the kids were not cut out to play football; however, he did think they could do something that had never been done at the small high school before. Based on a true story, the script to this sports drama was written in such a way that allowed the viewers to tear up. There were parts of this movie where I had to wipe the tears from my eyes. I thought Kevin and Maria Bello (A History of Violence, Prisoners) who played his wife Cheryl were well suited for each other, coming across in a believable way. The actors like Carlos Pratts (Coyote, Counterpunch) as Thomas Valles and newcomers Sergio Avelar and Ramiro Rodriguez as Victor Puentes and Danny Diaz were quite good. The issue I had with this film concerned the script; it was contrived and written like a fairy tale. It needed more details and less manipulation. I found it upsetting because I really liked the story. Whoever was in charge should have shown the writers the true story would have been enough to tell.
2 1/3 stars
It would be hard for some to understand the challenge if they did not know the burden. Living under the weight of expectations or in the shadow of an older sibling can add an unnecessary strain to one’s daily life. There have been studies that looked at siblings’ birth order as a means to understand the psychology behind each one’s actions. Quick examples would be the oldest one could become the caretaker or dominant one while the youngest had the least parental restrictions placed on them, becoming spoiled. I remember a college course where we dissected case studies of actual family dynamics. A couple had 2 sons where the oldest was their pride and joy; the other one was always being told to act more like his older brother. After the two boys reached their teen years, the first born was given a gun for hunting. Sadly a year or so later the boy killed himself with the very rifle his parents had given him. The parents were devastated as they plunged into despair and sadness. The living sibling was barely acknowledged at times. However, the following Christmas the parents presented him with a large gift wrapped present. When he opened it up he found the same rifle that his brother had used to kill himself. Think about the message the parents were sending their second child. SUCCESS was hard to acknowledge when trouble was brewing underneath in this biographical drama. Based on a true story, winning the gold medal did not translate into financial success for wrestler Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum (White House Down, Side Effects). Living under the shadow of his older brother David, played by Mark Ruffalo (Now You See Me, Begin Again); David felt he was going nowhere until he received a strange phone call from financial heir John du Pont, played by Steve Carell (Get Smart, Dan in Real Life). David was offered the chance to train and lead an elite group of wrestlers towards gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The acting was incredible in this film festival winning movie. Steve Carell was utterly creepy in this dramatic role. Vaguely remembering the story about John du Pont I found this movie to be more of a psychological sports drama. Though it was directed by winning director Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote); I thought the film dragged, especially in the first half of the story. There were times the screen went dark without sound where I thought something was wrong with the movie projector; it did not help in the entertainment department in my opinion. This film had a thoughtful dark story that did not come up to the same level as the acting.
2 3/4 stars
For years I had heard people heap praise on all the great things they experienced when riding a motorcycle. I heard how the wind blew through their hair as they barreled down a road, with the early morning sunlight stretching out from the horizon. I have been told there was no greater sense of power than wrapping one’s legs around a rumbling, roaring rocket of pure horsepower. From all the accolades expressed, I became curious to find out what all the hoopla was about. What pushed me into committing to a motorcycle ride was seeing a group of motorcyclists when I was vacationing in the Dakotas. They looked like a flock of ravens swooping down the road with the tails of their bandanas flapping in the wind. When I returned home I called my friend up and we arranged to go out riding the following weekend. He arrived with spare helmet in hand, explained the route we would be taking and then told me how to sit behind him with my arms wrapped around his waist. Going down the side streets by my house did not seem like anything special. It was weird not having anything around me, like the interior of my car as we headed onto the main road. From that point on everything was a blur to me. My soft cheeks were rippling back towards my ears as my eyelids struggled to stay open from the force of the wind smacking me. The scariest thing was the variety of bumps and cracks in the road. Every time we rode over one of them I would bounce off the seat; this literally freaked me out. My arms with their now death grip around his waist and my legs locked into a tight vice over his; by the time we got back, I was completely exhausted. Any curiosity I had about motorcycles was left out on the highway and the final blow came the next day when my friend called to tell me he woke up to find bruises on his torso and legs, where I had locked down on him. THRILLS and excitement flew across the movie screen in this documentary from writer/director Dana Brown (Dust to Glory, Step into Liquid). Inspired from the 1971 documentary by Bruce Brown, this adventure sports film used sharp footage and a variety of riders to give the viewer a close-up look at how motorcycles affect people’s lives. Considering my one and only experience; I actually found myself enjoying this documentary, especially the Pike’s Peak run and Bonneville Salt Flats segments. I may not have had the wind in my hair or open wide spaces in the theater; but at least no one around me got bruised.
2 2/3 stars