I WAS ATTENDING A DINNER EVENT where I knew everyone, for some years. Essentially, we had all grown up together. The dining room table was a long oval due to the 2 extra leaves that were added to it. On one end, pushed up to the edge of the table, was an aluminum folding table. Not that one would notice the metal; it was just because I usually was the one to bring it up from the basement and unfold it before the host would put a tablecloth over it. With both tables there was just enough room for all the guests to sit together for dinner. I was always grateful for it since I detested sitting on the sofa while balancing a dinner plate on my lap. The conversation at these dinner parties was always lively and fun. Everyone had an opinion and all of us respected each one’s opinion, even if there was a bit of ribbing and teasing involved with it. There was one guest, I have to say, who would get on my nerves. Maybe a better way to say it would be to say I found them exasperating. Everything was a joke to them, and they said the same jokes over and over. Literally, I have heard those same jokes for several years and can no longer try to laugh at them; there is nothing left that is funny to me. I find them more irritating to tell you the truth. IT IS DIFFICULT TO REACT TO repetitive jokes and stories. I used to be better about it because I did not want to appear rude or indifferent. However, for example when a news story gets repeated over and over it begins to lose its impact on me. The same holds true when a person shares their same opinions constantly. I believe everything in moderation. It is not easy being around someone who is always telling you what they hate, or on the flip side, who constantly talks about something they love. I find it hard to carry on a conversation under these terms. Now, there are things I go overboard with myself, where I want to hear and see everything available about the subject. Loving our national parks, I will watch or listen to various stories about them. There is a legendary actor I am fond of who I have seen various telecasts about them; recently a documentary that surprised me because it shared things that I had never known about the movie star. It was a pleasant surprise for me. When I saw the movie poster for this musical drama, I wondered if I was going to find out something that had not been mentioned before about the famous musical artist. FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS ROSE A YOUNG girl who would become a musical superstar. All within a short time. With Naomi Ackie (The Score, Star Wars: Episode IX-The Rise of Skywalker) as Whitney Houston, Stanley Tucci (Spotlight, Julie & Julia) as Clive Davis, Ashton Sanders (Moonlight, The Equalizer 2) as Bobby Brown, Tamara Tunie (Flight, A Journal for Jordan) as Cissy Houston and Nafessa Williams (Black and Blue, A Holiday Chance) as Robyn Crawford; this biographical picture was perplexing. Naomi did an admirable job of acting and lip synching as well as Stanley Tucci did with his acting; however, I did not learn anything new about Whitney. The movie for the most part was a highlights reel, showing both high and low lights from Whitney’s life. There was little character development or for that matter, emotional depth. I sat in my seat wondering what was the point of making this movie. This story was just a repeat of things the general public had been told before. If you are a fan of Whitney, then you might enjoy this film, if for nothing else the musical numbers. For me, I was bored part of the time, wishing I was home seeing actual video clips of Whitney doing some of her monumental moments
THE PUSTULES ON HIS FACE WERE fiery red which I took to mean it was going to be a bad day. The days they were deeper in color were the days he usually went on a rampage. It was hard to look at him which truthfully was not a problem for me. You never wanted to make eye contact with him, trust me. I was lucky because I was never a direct target of his; I usually was on the peripheral edges of his outbursts. In other words, I was near the student he was attacking at the time. There were times when I could not get away fast enough and wound up getting knocked down to the floor from the victim being pushed into the scattering students. I never understood why the school did not kick him out at some point because through my years at the school, he was always trouble. One of my biggest fears was having my seat assigned next to him. I do not know if it was because he had flunked a grade or not; but no one ever tried to fight back against him. He was a bully, though I felt he was a maniacal, insane, crazy person. Putting aside his horrible complexion, I never understood why he was so angry all the time. You would have thought at some point he would have used up all his energy for staying angry; but I could not remember a time when he was calm, or at least less angry. DURING MY TIME IN SCHOOL WITH him, it never occurred to me that his actions could be fueled by hatred. Hate was a feeling to me, not a cause for action. I hated cooked spinach and football, but I would never throw my dinner plate with spinach against the wall. But something happened that caused hate and anger to blend inside of me. That bully’s friends (I know, it is hard to believe he had friends) became emboldened and they started looking for their own victims. One of them started to focus on me. We had a gym class in common which was the worst place to become a victim. Through half of the semester, I dreaded walking into the locker room because I knew it would be difficult to stay hidden from him. It always stunned me; no matter where in the school I would get ambushed, there always were students who joined in on the abuse. This is where my hatred and anger fused together to the point, I was plotting diabolical revenge against all of them. Of course, it was only in my mind, but my anger was at such a high level, I could have used the device the main character had in this action thriller. AFTER LIVING YEARS IN LONELINESS, A woman with anger issues finds comfort from a first-time date. Unfortunately, it was short lived when he was found murdered soon after. With Kate Beckinsale (Underworld franchise, Love & Friendship) as Lindy, Jai Courtney (Suicide Squad, A Good Day to Die Hard) as Justin, Stanley Tucci (Supernova, Night Hunter) as Dr. Munchin, Bobby Cannavale (Thunder Force, The Irishman) as Detective Vicars and Laverne Cox (Promising Young Woman, Orange is the New Black-TV) as Detective Nevin; this picture had a comedic element through the story. Kate was fun in the role, being able to balance the tougher aspects of herself with the softer things the character was aspiring to become. The script, though it was mostly a basic story we have all seen before, had some leeway to let the actors try to elevate the story. I found this film to be a light, female centric version of the John Wick movies; there was more action than story. And I was okay with it; I was not angry in the least. In fact, there were times I chuckled while cringing. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
THE MEMORY IS JUST AS VIVID now as when it was created decades ago. An amusement park that was in the heart of the city. I was there with a large group of relatives. Everyone was in line to go on a water ride; where a long boat would take you through a tunnel, where at the end there was something like a big freight elevator, that lifted the boat several stories high to the top of a water slide. I was not even in school yet; but I remember I was afraid to get into the boat. At some point a relative lifted me up and placed me in a seat on the edge side of the boat; I cried because I was afraid, I thought I was going to tip the boat over. The boat rocked from side to side which only made me more terrified. By the time we got to the freight elevator contraption, I was nearly uncontrollable. There was a loud clicking sound being made while the boat was rising in the air. Through the metal bars of the scaffolding, I could see the park guests walking around, looking like worker ants to me. When the boat reached the top, it paused. The only sound was of me wailing. Slowly the front of the boat started to tip down and before I realized what was taking place, the boat rushed down the water slide, where it made a huge splash hitting the water. My cries immediately turned to gleeful laughter; I absolutely loved it and wanted to ride the boat again. THE MEMORY OF THAT INITIAL RIDE has stayed with me all these years. I was with family, we spent the whole day at the park, I had an ice cream that had a hard chocolate coating on the outside; it was a beautiful and fun filled day. Imagine if one day I no longer could recall this memory? Would it be floating somewhere in my brain where it would randomly flash itself one day into my consciousness for a moment? I think about this from time to time and have been for many years. Maybe that is one of the reasons why I always want to document with a photograph a noteworthy activity I am participating in so that I will never forget it. When I was little, I thought our brains could only hold a finite amount of memories. I wanted to somehow purge myself of the sad ones. After many years and seeing those I know deal with forgetfulness, I am even more determined to continue to create new, happy memories. I have seen what happens when the brain becomes engulfed with the diseases of dementia or Alzheimer’s. In seeing this romantic drama, I only have admiration for what the main couple had to deal with in their lives. AFTER RECEIVING A TROUBLING DIAGNOSIS, A long term couple embark on a road trip to visit those from their past. With Colin Firth (A Single Man, The King’s Speech) as Sam, Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones, Spotlight) as Tusker, Pippa Haywood (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Scott & Bailey-TV) as Lilly, newcomer Nina Marlin and Ian Drysdale (Tulip Fever, Genius) as Paul, this film festival winner won me over with the acting skills of Colin and Stanley. They were able to take a script filled with simple, daily life occurrences and create a quiet powerful piece. The story was touching and for those viewers who know individuals suffering from memory loss, this picture will affect you deeper; though, those unaware will still feel the emotion rising off the script. If it was not for the powerful acting, several scenes in this movie would have gone slowly. Gratefully, I appreciated all the work the actors and crew put into this beautiful film. I believe I will remember this movie for a long time.
THOUGH I INITIATED THE CONVERSATION, I now was trying to gracefully remove myself from it. I had been selling raffle tickets at a charity event and was on my hour dinner break. Standing over by the buffet table that nearly stretched out the length of the ballroom, a gentleman next to me commented on one of the platters of food. We both agreed it might taste good but it looked nasty. A man behind be seconded our comments. As we made our way down the table we started up a light conversation between the three of us. It turned out the 2 men were doctors. With my background in fitness, I thought I could hold my own in the conversation. However, when they started delving into different maladies and surgeries; I not only had nothing to contribute, but I did not even want to hear what they were saying. They were talking in detail about unusual surgeries they had performed, life threatening situations where time was of the essence. The ease of their dialog, to the point of almost being bantering, surprised me while at the same time giving me the heebie-jeebies. I was hearing such details about body organs, unusual tumors, spurting blood; I quickly lost my appetite. If you didn’t know the conversation you would have thought they were talking about a sporting event; they were so nonchalant about it. I MAY HAVE FOUND THEIR CONVERSATION icky but I am sure this type of thing is commonplace for so many people. If you take the emotion out of the conversation and are conversing with a like minded individual(s), then whatever the topic is being discussed might not be startling or out of the ordinary. I guess if I was having a conversation with other yoga instructors about poses and practices, to the layman it might sound odd/bizarre to that person. When I am in such a position the thing that surprises me is the juxtaposition between the average dialog and the amazing topic. There is just something about it that can both amuse or horrify me. I am reminded of a CPR class I attended that was being led by a paramedic; his stories about his work were incredible to listen to yet he was so blasé about it. Just because this was recently in the news, I am also reminded of our past primary election where one of the candidates was a Holocaust denier. His matter of fact manner when discussing such a thing was mind blowing to me. The memory of him was in the back of my mind as I sat and watched this unbelievable, biographical drama. DURING WORLD WAR II HITLER’S TOP LIEUTENANTS convened in a remote place to discuss how to proceed on Hitler’s final solution. The meeting for all appearances looked like a lively dinner party. This film festival winning movie based on true events starred Kenneth Branagh (Murder on the Orient Express, My Week with Marilyn) as Reinhard Heydrich, Stanley Tucci (Night Hunter, Spotlight) as Adolf Eichmann, Barnaby Kay (Red Tails, The Man Who Knew too Little) as Rudolf Lange, Peter Sullivan (The Limehouse Golem, The Bill-TV) as S.S. Col Eberhard “Karl” Schongartin and Colin Firth (The King’s Speech, A Single Man) as Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart. Seeing such a young cast of actors was my first surprise; my second was the horror I was witnessing in their conversations. Most of the film takes place in one room, but do not think you will get claustrophobic; the acting was stellar and the script was intense. These were two things that kept me glued to the screen. At times, I felt I was attending a history lesson and at other times I felt I was a “fly on the wall” listening to such world altering conversations. This film seemed like a classic to me.
3 ½ stars
THE WAY MY FRIEND TOLD THE STORY, she was sitting on the sofa watching television when she suddenly heard a loud bang. She muted the TV as she tried to figure out the origin of the sound. Getting up, she walked over to her living room window and saw a couple of neighbors standing by her car. A feeling of dread settled upon her as she walked out the front door to join the small group. As she walked towards her car one of the neighbors told her not to worry; she had caught the whole thing on her phone. My friend told me one of the neighbors was outside when she heard a car driving faster than it should down their street. The car was swerving, nearly going up on the curb a couple of times. The neighbor took out her phone as she moved towards the street and started recording the speeding car in hopes of getting the license plate’s number. As the driver approached they seemed to momentarily lose control and bounced into my friend’s car. The whole thing was caught on video as the driver kept going as if sideswiping a car was a natural thing to do. My friend was stunned; not only by the accident, but by the neighbor going out into the street to capture everything on her phone. BESIDES FEELING SAD FOR MY FRIEND, I had to admire the neighbor who willing went into the street to capture the erratic driver on her phone. With the way the car was going side to side, she was lucky she did not get hurt. That instinct to run towards an incident is admirable. As a matter of fact, in my city the news recently reported on an off-duty police officer who heard gun shots and immediately ran towards them. The same can be said for firemen who race towards danger to put out a fire. I don’t know if that feeling to go towards danger is something that is taught or is instinctive. And let me make the distinction between danger from outside forces as compared to danger that a person encounters due to their passion, examples would be mountain climbing or auto racing. I always knew reporters assigned to areas of conflict would be put into dangerous positions; but I, maybe mistakenly, assumed it wasn’t their choice. My thinking on this has changed now because of this biographical war drama. Never have I encountered a person with such a large capacity for danger; it has totally changed my views on war correspondents. BECAUSE OF HER PASSION TO GIVE A voice to the voiceless, American journalist Marie Colvin, played by Rosamund Pike (Hostiles, Gone Girl), would willingly go to some of the most dangerous places in the world just to get the true story. With Jamie Dornan (Robin Hood, Fifty Shades of Grey franchise) as Paul Conroy, Tom Hollander (In the Loop, Pride & Prejudice) as Sean Ryan, Stanley Tucci (Patient Zero, Spotlight) as Tony Shaw and Faye Marsay (Pride, Darkest Hour) as Kate Richardson; this movie allowed Rosamund to give her best performance. Her acting was incredible throughout the story. As for the story I was stunned by several of the dangerous scenes that Marie placed herself in. Regarding the script, I would have appreciated it more if the writers spent extra time on Marie’s backstory. There came a point where I felt the areas of conflict were included at times for Rosamund to shine; instead of delving deeper into the things that made up Marie. Jamie, by the way, did an excellent job of acting as her photographer. When I left the theater I still did not know all the reasons why Marie did what she did, but I was totally in awe of her.
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
One possibility may be the amount of bright lights that never turn off. When you look at them then close your eyes, you can still see their shadows on the inside of your eyelids. I do not know, but is it possible the fact the lights stay on all the time represent never giving up hope to some individuals? There is something about the city of Las Vegas that takes a person’s dreams and inflates them to gigantic proportions. I tell everyone they need to see the city once because it is so over the top, not of earth. You see every form of humanity, some of them sitting at the slot machines and gaming tables with a hungry look on their faces and in their eyes. They are committed to the belief they will win. Their dreams will not let them stop until they have exhausted all available avenues. Though I do not gamble I can understand that momentary intoxication from taking a chance. It is like buying a lottery ticket; until they draw the winning numbers, you get to fantasize about what you would do with all that money. I am all for keeping dreams alive; but they have to be weighed against the cost, since money is not the only factor used in determining if a dream is a success. NICK Wild, played by Jason Statham (Killer Elite, Homefront), had a dream he was in Corsica quietly sailing across the sea. After an incident involving a mob boss’ son named Danny DeMarco, played by Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes-TV, Rocky Balboa), there was a good chance NIck would never see his dream or any other one come true. The fact this action drama starred Jason meant there was going to be some fight scenes in the story and there certainly were a few. I have to say they had a fun quality due to the way they were filmed. They were almost like a cartoon with their use of a variety of props and filming parts in slow motion for crisper detail. Directed by Simon West (The Expendables 2, Con Air) this crime story got off to a fine start with a good lead in. The cast choices were interesting with Michael Angarano (Red State, The Forbidden Kingdom) as Cyrus Kinnick, Hope Davis (Disconnect, About Schmidt) as Cassandra and Stanley Tucci (The Terminal, The Hunger Games franchise) as Baby. However, their characters were all odd to me. I never understood their motivation or why they were even there. The script had nothing going for it which only made it generic and a poor cousin to better films I have seen in this genre. I am afraid the movie studio took a gamble on this picture and lost. There were a few scenes with blood and violence in them.
1 3/4 stars
If it is not broke then do not fix it is a well known phrase. It means if there is no evidence of a problem, do not waste time or energy on it unless it provides a significant improvement. The different products that claim they are new and improved are things I tend to cast a skeptical eye towards these days. I do a running commentary during my classes; offering my take on current news, movies and the local scene. Recently I have added a weekly update on the latest product recalls and now have new items to mention every week. Some of the reasons for the recalls totally baffle me. For example there was the playground set whose swings hung too low, injuring children’s legs by scraping across the ground. A hanging glass star votive candleholder would break apart from the heat of the flame, possibly injuring people standing nearby. The variety of baby products that are being recalled is staggering. I am floored by the baby monitors with batteries that overheat and explode, causing possible injury (you think?) besides being a fire hazard. The only explosions I want to see are in a movie and this science fiction adventure directed and written by Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys franchise) was saturated with them. It made sense since some of the Transformers were new and improved. Mark Wahlberg (Boogie Nights, The Fighter) played Cade Yeager, a mechanic and tinkering inventor. With a recent purchase of a broken down truck, Cade felt he may have made a discovery that could change his life and the life of his daughter Tessa, played by Nicola Peltz (The Airbender, Deck the Halls). Little did he know his life was about to change in a very dramatic way. This action film was all about the battles, crashes and explosions. There was very little story; let me re-phrase that, there was very little good story to keep one’s interest. If you only want to see things being blown up then this movie fits the bill. I will say the special effects were spectacular and my favorite part was the final battle. The only 2 actors who showed actual acting ability were Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games franchise, The Terminal) as Joshua Joyce and Kelsey Grammer (Swing Vote, X-Men: The Last Stand) as Harold Attinger. The script was written with a low level of humor that bordered on ridiculous. I found very little suspense; in fact, it occurred to me I did not get excited by much in this picture. If this is what is in store for us with future sequels, I would prefer watching the original movie again.
1 3/4 stars
Even before I knew what dreams meant, music has always been around me. Once I learned how to walk I was immediately placed on any tabletop or chair seat where I instinctively would begin to move to any music that was playing in the house. From those basic dance moves, as I got older, a dream was born inside of me to become a dancer. Visions of me dancing on Soul Train, being a go-go boy or becoming a part of the Solid Gold Dancers lingered at the front of my mind until I realized I was not disciplined enough to forge through the actual work of becoming a dancer. However, my dream did not totally deflate because it still played a part when I became an aerobic and group fitness instructor. My aerobic classes were not your usual type of class. Being a long time member of the licensing agencies ASCAP and BMI (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; Broadcast Music, Inc.), I would choreograph every move to music from the actual artists. The members felt they were dancing at a concert. That dream of me being a dancer morphed into a career that has brought me unlimited joy, even to this day. Dreams are the fuel that ignites willful desire and in this English speaking version of the Oscar nominated film for best animation, there was a man whose entire life revolved around one simple dream. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt (Don Jon, Looper) voiced Jiro Horikosai, who only dreamt of flying. Due to his nearsightedness preventing him from flying, Jiro kept his dream alive by becoming an aeronautical designer like his idol Count Caproni, voiced by Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games franchise, The Terminal). Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle), this dramatic movie was utterly beautiful to watch. The way the colors and scenes would move and evolve were stunning to me. I did not realize the film was a tribute to a real person; if I had known this I might have felt a stronger connection to the story. As it was, I thought the story was slow in parts. If it was not for the flawless animation I would have been less entertained. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of all the events shown in Jiro’s life, but I could easily relate to a man living out his dream.
3 1/3 stars
With a single word or phrase a story can take on a different meaning. The same holds true for a newscast or written article. When I watch or read the news I know I am getting a fragment of the whole story. It is understandable due to time constraints or limited space. Being a naturally curious person, I enjoy finding out the backstory to what was reported to the public. It could be almost anything from entertainment to science to government; hearing the details on an individual’s thought process behind what they did or created is something that has always fascinated me. In regards to this movie, I was looking forward to discovering something new on the how and why Julian Assange created the site WikiLeaks. As some of you already know, I am not here to judge if something is right or wrong, legal or not, ethical, etc.; I am reviewing the movie on its entertainment value. Benedict Cumberbatch (12 Years a Slave, Star Trek into Darkness) played the role of Julian. Daniel Bruhl (Rush, Winning Streak) played Julian’s collaborator Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Both actors did the best they could with what was given to them. For a movie that claimed it was a dramatic thriller based on real events, the script was a real mess. I was bored through a major portion, finally becoming engaged in the last third of the film. It really was a shame considering the cast also included Laura Linney (Mystic River, Hyde Park on Hudson) as Sarah Shaw and Stanley Tucci (Margin Call, The Terminal) as James Boswell. All of them were good but the way the story played out with short scenes that did not go anywhere; there was not a cohesive trail to follow. With all the controversy regarding WikiLeaks and the way it received anonymous covert data; I wished the writers would, if not enhanced, at least have allowed more time to look at an event from multiple points of view. I did not gain anything new regarding Julian, the site and more importantly I was not entertained. A story so current needed an exciting script and offer something extra to grab the attention of the viewer. If not then one should just watch the news.
1 3/4 stars