HAVE YOU EVER HEARD A STORY, that if you had not known the person involved in it, you would have never believed it was true? I do not know about you, but it has happened to me many times. A man was telling me about his childhood, growing up in a country that was dealing with strife and conflict. He said whenever soldiers were spotted coming towards the town, many of the families would take their babies and hide them in the forest; so, they would not be taken and raised to become soldiers when they became grown. Or they could just as easily have been killed if the soldiers did not like something about them. What a horrifying way of life, I thought. He said one time the soldiers surprised the town by showing up at nighttime. Whoever was closest to the infant grabbed them and raced out the back to get them into the forest. The soldiers went through the town then left; everyone waited a long time before going out to retrieve their babies. Because of the mad rush to get the baby into the forest, this family member did not pay close attention to where he was placing them. This family member came back to get another family member to join in the search. After a long time, they did come back with a baby they thought was the right one. I stared at him in disbelief. He said it was not until he got older before family members were sure they had taken the right baby; he turned into the perfect likeness to his older brother. IF YOU ARE ANYTHING LIKE ME, you hear something on the news that is so far-fetched that you cannot believe it is a real news story. Not that I want to get into any political discussion, but there is a candidate who is from a state that verified the past presidential election results multiple times. This candidate does not agree with the results and their reason is because they have never talked to someone who said they voted for the current president. I had to sit there and process what this candidate was saying, “they have never talked to anyone who voted for the president. When told the number of votes that were counted, this candidate said anything is possible in a fantasy world. I could not make such a story up even if I had wanted to; it is so hard to believe. Their argument would be like me saying I have never talked to anyone who had visited the Artic, so it must not exist. I had never heard of the event that inspired this dramatic, comedy mystery story; and based on what I saw, I cannot discern what might have been real or fake. THREE FRIENDS FRAMED FOR A MURDER find something more sinister than the circumstances of the death they witnessed, while trying to clear their names. With Christian Bale (The Big Short, Out of the Furnace) as Burt Berendsen, Margot Robbie (Bombshell, Mary Queen of Scots) as Valerie Voze, John David Washington (Tenet, Malcolm & Marie) as Harold Woodman, Alessandro Nivola (American Hustle, The Many Saints of Newark) as Detective Hiltz and Anya Taylor-Joy (Last Night in Soho, The Northman) as Libby Voze; this film had a stellar cast of characters. Too bad, they were not given the tools to help create an engaging film. I did not find anything funny in the script which only added to the quickness of me becoming bored. There was a cartoonish style to the acting, due to the script, that never allowed the story to reach a healthy level of suspense and drama. I wondered if the writers intended to shine a spotlight on the parallels between the political environment in this story with the current times, we have been living in. When I left the theater, I had the feeling that I had wasted my time going to this viewing. If I had not gone and seen this, would that have meant that it had never been made?
1 ¾ stars
GRATEFULLY A RELATIVE OF MINE WAS okay after being at a public gathering where there was an active shooter. I never thought I would ever have to write about such a thing, but it has become part of our world. The gathering was a celebration for a national holiday; there were people who came from all areas around where the event was being staged. Horrifically there were fatalities and injuries. This tragic event was televised multiple times; the newspapers covered the story for many days. As one would expect, the news focused on the victims. All of it was so sad to see; the scenes showing the aftermath were especially hard to view. However, there was something out of this tragedy that struck me after hearing about it on a personal level, besides from the news. I was in awe of all the people who came together to help the survivors. Living at a time where there is so much divisiveness and polarization, where everything is turning into an extreme, it was heartwarming to see people from all levels of society coming together to help one another. The word that comes to mind is “hopeful.” Seeing such an act of kindness gives me hope that people can live a judgment free life together. I HAVE BEEN A WITNESS TO other acts of kindness like the fitness presenter I was assigned to drive around during our yearly convention. We were driving to a dinner event when we spotted a car crash. She had me pull over so she could run out and see if anyone needed any help. As it turned out, the driver was dazed and going into shock. She took her jacket off, wrapped it around him while checking his pulse as she had me dial #911 to report it. It was comforting to see how she dealt with the situation, unconcerned about getting her outfit dirty and bloody. Being in the fitness industry, I have seen other acts of kindness. For example, I had a friend who worked at a health center where he personally had saved five members because of his quick actions to start CPR on them. We used to joke about why members were only getting ill when he was on duty. I do not know what it is about my focus on finding/hearing about acts of kindness. Maybe because of all this anger and hatred I see on the news and that includes these political ads that mention nothing about policy, instead showing explosions and crime; it makes me sad. Having said this will help you understand why I found this dramatic, action adventure so inspiring. WHEN AN UNEXPECTED STORM TRAPS A boys soccer team inside of a cave, it would take more than a village to help keep the boys alive. With Viggo Mortensen (Green Book, A Dangerous Method) as Rick Stanton, Colin Farrell (The Batman, The Gentleman) as John Volanthen, Joel Edgerton (Boy Erased, The Gift) as Harry Harris, Tom Bateman (Death on the Nile, Cold Pursuit) as Chris Jewell and Paul Gleeson (The Thin Red Line, Home and Away) as Jason Mallinson; this film based on a true story was directed by Ron Howard, who created the perfect balance between tensions and emotions. I remember when this event happened and yet watching it play out in this movie felt like a new experience for me. The cast did a terrific job conveying the dangers, exhaustion, mental anguishes, and hopefulness from the script. Ron’s direction kept the story on a steady pace that allowed for the touching moments to shine in between the harrowing ones. I do not think it would make a difference whether you remember this event or not, that took place in Thailand; this was an exciting movie watching experience for me and I believe it could be for you as well.
3 ½ stars
I LOOK AT A PARENT AND wonder sometimes, why they ever had children. From the variety of news stories I have seen, I know there is good and bad in every type of group. I am aware of mothers and fathers doing extraordinary things and downright dumb ones. Just recently there was a news report about a father carrying his 2-year-old daughter over barriers to take a selfie in an elephant enclosure. Can you believe it?!?! As you might guess, the elephant charged at them, where the father at one point dropped his child as he was trying to make his escape. I was glad to hear the man was arrested for trespassing and child endangerment. In my opinion, this would be an example of bad parenting. I am reminded of an episode that took place at a movie theater a couple of years ago. A child in the row behind me was kicking the seat in front where a theater goer was sitting a few seats down from me. The movie patron nicely asked the child a couple of times to stop kicking; the child did for several minutes before starting up again. Finally, the person turned around and firmly said to stop it or they would tell the manager. You should have seen the mother; you would have thought the movie goer said they were going to kill the child because the mother went off, yelling and calling the person names until the person got up and went to the manager. The manager told the mother and child they could change seats or leave. ENOUGH WITH THOSE EXAMPLES, I WANT to balance things out by telling you about a couple of friends who I think have amazing parenting skills. One mother picked up her family and moved out of state so her challenged child could attend a special school with a sterling reputation. With the schooling and parenting her child not only graduated high school but is attending college while working a part time job. The growth the child has shown has been remarkable. I have another friend whose child is now 12 or 13 years old. Besides being well mannered, they have such a well-rounded assortment of interests that go way beyond their years. Hearing some of the things that come out of their mouth; you would think you are talking to an adult. There is no denying that many parents sacrifice for the sake of their children. What I witnessed in this film festival winning mystery thriller was a strong example of a mother who never took “No” for an answer; it was a sight to see. WHEN HER DAUGHTER WENT MISSING MARI Gilbert, played by Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone, Strange but True), refused to accept what the police were telling her. In her mind it just was not right. With Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit, Leave No Trace) as Sherre Gilbert, Gabriel Byrne (Louder Than Bombs, The Usual Suspects) as Richard Dormer, Lola Kirke (Gone Girl, Mistress America) as Kim and Oona Laurence (Pete’s Dragon, The Beguiled) as Sarra Gilbert; this movie inspired by true events squarely rested its success on Amy Ryan. Her performance was something to see. Despite what I felt was some choppiness between scenes, I found myself drawn into Amy’s character’s plight. The story has an ick factor and there were a couple of rough scenes to watch; however, I thought overall the directing was good and it tried to keep the story moving forward. As for the script, I appreciated the way it did not sugarcoat things; this was especially noticed during the final scenes. There was a realness that came through that did not seem manufactured. Based on this film, I can only imagine what the real details of the events must have been like. Either way, what an example of a mother fighting for their child.
2 2/3 stars
TELLING STRANGERS TO TRY HARDER WAS not something that came easy to me, at first. My biggest fear was someone becoming ill or injured in my fitness classes. Honestly, I had simple goals when I started out teaching at health clubs and fitness centers; I wanted people to be safe, have fun and feel good about themselves. If they lost weight or inches or gained muscle mass, I considered it “icing on the cake” so to speak. The goals I set out were easy to achieve despite the wide diversity of people who came to my classes. There were some members who considered class their social hour, where they preferred to catch up with their friends and neighbors. I had members who were so serious about working out they made it known they did not want any distractions from anyone, including me. I remember trying to find a tactful way to encourage some members from using perfume and cologne as part of their workout attire because other members were gagging over the smell of it combined with sweat. No matter who walked into the class, all I wanted was for them to try their best and from my experiences I knew barking orders was not the way I wanted to conduct my classes. WHAT WAS ONE OF MY BIGGEST assets when motivating class participants was my humor; I truly believe this. When I would get the class in position to tackle a challenging movement, I would change my voice to make comments as if I were someone who disliked working out. Along with humor, I would always show a variety of options members could do to achieve the same results. In a yoga class I had a member who could not do a plank pose. I had her start the pose with both of her knees on the mat, explaining she would still gain the benefit of the pose without the struggle. As the weeks passed, I encouraged her to try the same pose with only one knee on the mat. The look on her face when she did it was priceless. Over the course of several months she went from doing the pose on both knees to achieving the traditional pose with only her forearms and toes on the mat. No matter what fitness level a member was at, I tried to get each member to push themselves to go an extra 10 seconds or do the movement two more times; it is all about providing a space where everyone feels safe, accepted and part of a group/team. Under these circumstances, I can push myself to take on harder tasks; however, from watching this dramatic action thriller, I do not know how the men were motivated to do what they had to do. IN 1969 VIET NAM US FORCES WERE ordered to capture a hill from enemy forces. The hill was called Hamburger Hill which the servicemen knew was not meant to be a good name. With Anthony Barrile (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning; Kiss Me, Guido) as Pvt. Vincent “Alphabet” Languilli, Michael Boatman (The Peacemaker, The Good Wife-TV) as Pvt. Ray Motown, Don Cheadle (The Guard, Traitor) as Pvt. Johnny Washburn, Dylan McDermott (Survivor, Reign Over Me) as Sgt. Adam Frantz and Courtney B. Vance (Ben is Back, Dangerous Minds) as Spc. Abraham “Doc” Johnson; this story that was based on true events was intense, with graphic scenes. As far as war films go, I found this one to be close to authentic. It was hard for me to imagine that type of action taking place; however, what I was watching made sense. The acting from the cast was good but this film was all about the action, despite some of it looking a bit dated. Based on the script, I cannot believe how much the men had to endure. Even after the film was over, I still had a hard time imagining what the motivation was that pushed these men on.
TO ALL THAT KNEW HER SHE was a successful businesswoman. She had owned through her life a few businesses; there was never an exact number because she was modest. With a good heart and kindness, she believed these two attributes would always set her apart from other business owners. Her companies were never staffed with many people; honestly, maybe a handful at the most. There was one company that operated over state lines, but for the most part her businesses were kept locally. I agree kindness and a good heart are wonderful attributes to have; however, I feel one also must have a head for business. All businesses involve making tough decisions that might not appear to be kind. The question is if you can remain honest and true then you can accentuate your success. In her case, she was too kind. Some of her employees took advantage of it. Oh, who am I kidding; they stole from her. As time went on, though sales remained steady, there was less money coming in then going out for bills. There was a problem here, especially when most of the company’s transactions were done in cash. You see, her employees would write up fake invoices that were lower in prices; so, they could pocket the extra money they officially charged the customer. A BUSINESS CAN ONLY LAST SO long with losses before it must close its doors. In her case, this pattern of thievery would follow her from business to business. I am sad to say she never learned from her mistakes until it was too late. The method she would use time and time again to try and keep her various companies open would be to tap into her personal savings. This would also include funds that were set aside for retirement purposes. By the time she was close to reaching retirement age she had no funds left. All those years of trying to be successful at her different companies through the years left her penniless in the end. It was a horrible situation and what made matters worse was the fact she did not have the skill to keep accurate records. The result of this was the reason she never won a court case, for those times she even brought an employee to court. Do you want to know what she is doing now? In her advanced years she is cleaning an apartment building to get a discount on her rent, while living on a small government subsidy. The main character in this crime drama chose a different route when he had to close his business. WITH HIS HOUSE IN FORECLOSURE AND his once thriving horticultural business decimated; the opportunity to make some easy cash was the reason Earl Stone, played by Clint Eastwood (Trouble with the Curve, Million Dollar Baby), decided to be a driver for an unknown company. All he had to do was not ask questions. With Bradley Cooper (A Star is Born, Joy) as Colin Bates, Michael Pena (12 Strong, Ant-Man franchise) as DEA Agent, Taissa Farmiga (The Bling Ring, The Nun) as Ginny and Dianne Wiest (The Birdcage, Rabbit Hole) as Mary; I liked this film more than I had expected. The pacing was steady and Clint, who also directed, created a character that one could easily see him being in real life. The story inspired by a true event was interesting, but I found the script was heavy-handed with its messages. It seemed as if the writers wanted to make sure we knew what we were supposed to be feeling for the scenes. Also, a bit more mystery and tension would have livened up this picture. Though predictable at times, I did not mind watching this film; I just hope I am never put into such a predicament in my “golden” years.
2 ½ stars
THE HARDER AND LOUDER the weights are dropped on the floor, the more the weightlifter wants you to be aware of their “incredible” strength. Whether they use barbells, dumbbells or just weight plates; I find the releasing of weights in midair perplexing. It is not like they are at the Olympics and lifting massive amounts or metal. They are at a fitness center and sure it might be a large amount of weight they are lifting; but seriously, if you cannot safely bring the weights down to the floor then in my opinion it is too much weight for you. These are my own observations; please do not consider this the standard. From what I have witnessed, when a person makes a loud sound from letting go of the weight load they want attention drawn to them. I have seen them looking into the mirror to see how their muscles look after a big lift, but they also are seeing if anyone else is noticing them. THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES of strength. Some people focus only on increasing their physical strength. To me this is the easiest one because all that is required are some forms of weight bearing exercises. Doing a pushup, walk while carrying a bag of groceries, bicep curls using canned vegetables from the pantry even; all of these will help. The harder strength to me is the mental one. I find if a person cannot muster the mental strength to take on a task there is a good chance of not completing the task or total failure. Mental strength did not come easy for me. Years of believing the things I was being called detoured my personal growth. I think what helped me was my natural stubbornness. If there was something I wanted I would not give up until I was completely exhausted. Nothing overt necessarily but a slow and steady determination was how I started handling the tasks presented to me. Whether it is an item off of one’s “to do” list or preparing for major surgery, the mind needs to be nourished and focused in a positive way to make gains in one’s life. A perfect example of this can be seen in this drama inspired by true events. TRYING TO WIN OVER his on and off girlfriend Jeff Bauman, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals, Southpaw), chose to wait for her at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, just before the bombs went off. This biographical real life story succeeded on many levels. Topmost was the cast which also included Tatiana Maslany (Eastern Promises, Woman in Gold) as Erin Hurley, Miranda Richardson (Empire of the Sun, Churchill) as Patty Bauman and Lenny Clarke (Fever Pitch, Rescue Me-TV) as Uncle Bob. I have to tell you Jake was superhuman; that is the only thing I can say. Trying to figure out what it took to portray survivor Jeff Bauman had to be something short of a miracle; he was outstanding. The movie was hard to watch since it was reenacting the events of the 2013 bombing; there may have been actual footage used in parts. It was and continues to be an amazing story; there was never a moment where I felt the writers were trying to manipulate the viewer or fall into dramatic clichés. After sitting through this picture I have a whole new appreciation for the term, “Boston Strong.”
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.