THERE WERE THESE BLACK AND yellow booklets/study guides I remember you could buy at a bookstore, which some folk a/k/a students used in lieu of reading an entire book. For example if a student was assigned the novel Moby Dick or Great Expectations, they could buy the study guide of the book. I have to say these booklets were an interesting idea because they did help in one’s ability to understand what they had read in the actual book. This would be beneficial if one had to write a book report or do an oral presentation of a novel. However to only read the bumblebee colored study guide would not give you the full richness of the story. Taking Moby Dick as an example, the description of the story in the booklet would be something like, “A fisherman is determined to catch a big fish.” The study guide would not give one the depth of each character with all the nuances and mannerisms of them. I believe they were only supposed to enhance the reading experience, not be a substitute for the novel. NOW PERSONALLY I HAD SEVERAL of these study guides and not to sound like a “goody two shoes,” but I needed them to help me comprehend some of the passages I had read in several assigned books. Being a slow reader there were times I barely could finish a book before my book report was due. When I read a novel the imagery the author is creating appears right before my eyes. I feel as if I am right there with the characters. For me this is what I feel the reading experience should provide the reader. If an image cannot form I have a hard time connecting to the story; something every author wants to avoid. Another way of describing these study guides is to say they are the same meal as the original novel less the spices and condiments. As I was watching this action drama film based on a true story, I felt like I was missing some of the ingredients. SOON AFTER THE ATTACK ON the World Trade Center an elite group of soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan for a secret operation. All of their military training did not prepare them for riding into a battle on horseback. Starring Chris Hemsworth (In the Heart of the Sea, Rush) as Captain Mitch Nelson, Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water, Take Shelter) as Hal Spencer, Michael Pena (End of Watch, American Hustle) as Sam Diller, Navid Negahban (Charlie Wilson’s War, Homeland-TV) as General Dostum and Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight, Lady Luck) as Ben Milo; the actors needed a better script. The story itself was pretty unbelievable I have to say; from that aspect I was in step with this film. The fight scenes were intense and honestly the outcomes were somewhat shocking to me. However the script went from one battle to another to the point I felt I was just watching several videos of the soldiers’ battles. I never really knew the men’s motivations let alone their connections to each other. There were only a couple of scenes where I felt an emotional connection. In a way this picture reminded me of another war film that was shown in the past year or so, that was mostly tension with little story. Now I do not want to downplay the historical aspect of this story, but the script could not lift it to the level it needed to be in urgent importance. Based on this movie I would have rather seen a documentary about the unbelievable feat these soldiers endured.
2 ¼ stars
ONLY FOR A MOMENT did I catch a glimpse of a shadow against the wall before it retreated. I quickly changed directions and walked away from the alleyway. Purposely I tried keeping my footsteps quiet by taking little steps with the soles of my shoes rolling from heel to toe against the pavement. It did not help as I heard a rustling sound behind me. Darting into a gangway between two apartment buildings, I saw each of them had wrought iron fire escapes that mirrored each other. They looked like origami figurines with a limb reaching out to grab me. Walking up to one of the fire escapes I grabbed a hold of the bottom rung of a ladder that easily gave way for me to pull it far down enough for me to hoist myself onto it. Quickly I made my way up to the first floor and cowered against the building in a crevice of a black area the nearby street lamp could not reach. The dark shadow I had seen lengthened down the alley towards my location. A looming figure attached to the shadow came into view… WHAT YOU JUST READ was something out of my imagination. I apologize if you wanted to find out what happened next, but that scenario never took place. However I will tell you as I was writing it I was looking at it as if it really did take place. You see whenever I write a piece of fiction I see everything in my mind first and then it appears before my eyes. My own version of virtual reality I guess you can call it. In fact I have been accused of not paying attention in class or when someone is speaking directly to me because I do not maintain constant eye contact; I actually am listening to them and picturing what they are telling me. When I think about it I have always had this capability, even before I found my fondness for writing; all that was needed was an imagination. Being a visual learner I certainly can attest to the benefits of visualization. What a surprise it was to see Charles Dickens did the same thing in this comedic drama. DISAPPOINTED WITH HIS RECENT works Charles Dickens, played by Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, Downton Abbey-TV), was desperate to overcome his writer’s block and produce a successful story for the holidays. All he needed to do was look at the people around him. This film festival winning movie based on a true story also starred Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, A Beautiful Mind) as Ebenezer Scrooge, Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Game of Thrones-TV) as John Dickens, Simon Callow (Amadeus, Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Leech and Miriam Gargoyles (The Age of Innocence, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) as Mrs. Fisk. The idea for this story was a new twist on the Christmas Carol story. I enjoyed watching the process Charles Dickens went through to create his iconic story. The acting was a mixed bag for me; I thought Christopher Plummer far outshined Dan in this biographical film. At times I thought the humor was a bit much, inching the Charles Dickens character closer to buffoonery. I may have felt this way because Dan was not totally believable to me. I would have preferred added focus on creating more drama in the script. Despite these issues there still was a certain charm to this picture and fans of Charles Dickens or at least his novel “A Christmas Carol” will get a kick out of the imagination used to bring the novel’s characters to life.
2 ½ stars
REVENGE CAN BE THE perfect balm for scorned, hurt feelings. Before I grew up, give or take a decade or two, I was a master of revenge. Not having the insight to acknowledge my feelings or at least look unemotionally at the troubling event that initiated feelings of anger and hurt, I would immediately go on the attack; my goal was to inflict pain as quickly as possible on the person who “hurt” me, so they would feel as much pain as I was feeling. The beauty of revenge is that it floods the mind like a dam bursting open to wash away all of the brain’s thoughts. What replaces those thoughts is darkness and anger. It consumes the person, numbing their sadness. Plotting a way to hurt back the person who harmed you becomes a twisted pastime. Please keep in mind I am not referring to physically abusing another individual, nor am I promoting any form of physical pain on a person. My revenge experiences were more of a verbal and mind games nature. FROM FILM AND REAL life experiences I have seen a variety of ways people show their revenge. How many movies have we seen where two people in a car are fighting and one of them gets kicked out; at least I have seen this type of scene many times. There was a wedding I attended where during the reception a couple got into this huge shouting match. One of the combatants was making all of these derogatory remarks of a personal nature that made everyone around extremely uncomfortable. The two had to be escorted out of the ballroom. Another example of a person getting revenge can take place with couples in troubled love relationships. Let us say the issue is one of the partners took money out of their joint savings account to buy an extravagant item for themselves. To make up for the loss of funds the other partner may make an outrageous demand that would inflict some type of hardship on the “big spender.” I have always said if communication is not cemented into the foundation of a relationship, the life ahead will always be filled with landmines where feelings will get hurt and people may want to take revenge. The demand made in this biographical drama took everyone involved by surprise. WITH THEIR MARRIAGE IN trouble Deborah and Ron Hall, played by Renee Zellweger (My Own Love Song, My One and Only) and Greg Kinnear (Thin Ice, Flash of Genius), were at a crossroads until Deborah made an unusual demand on her husband. She not only wanted Ron to volunteer at the local food pantry, she wanted him to make friends with a violent, homeless man. Based on a true story this film also starred Djimon Hounsou (Guardians of the Galaxy, Gladiator) as Denver and Jon Voight (Woodlawn, Heat) as Earl Hall. The story was unique enough to keep me intrigued throughout the movie. I thought the cast did a good job, adding a certain chemistry of belief to the scenes. What bogged down the story however; was the heavy handedness used to force scenes to their emotional limit. The actual story was amazing, but what the writers and director did with the script was to make this syrupy, cloying emotional heaviness that did not sit well with me. I was not left with angry feelings by the end of the picture; it was more of sadness that such a good story, with a competent cast, was not treated well.
GOING THROUGH LIFE FEELING invincible, if you can pull it off, must be an incredible experience. Looking at people who dedicate a good portion of their time to working out and exercising, makes me curious as to what their motivation might be. I think if the fitness centers where I teach only had a young clientele, I would not have been able to experience the bigger picture when it comes to health. To this day I admire those people who are advanced in age, who might have limited physical capacity and yet I see them working out at the club consistently. There are even some members who need a cane or walker, but they still come and push themselves to get a complete workout. Seeing an elderly person hunched over, dependent on their walker, shuffling their way around the running track is nothing short of glorious to me. I AM NOWHERE NEAR thinking I am an invincible being; on the contrary, my recent medical scare showed me how vulnerable I actually am. The whole experience showed me a new side to life; I have a deeper appreciation for anyone who struggles with an ailment, yet keeps moving on. From what I have seen, I have determined the mind plays a crucial part in how a person handles their affliction. Having a positive attitude makes a world of difference, yet it is something I still have a hard time with because I am wired to seek out the negative thoughts first. There is a friend of mine who needed surgery; an operation that would leave them incapacitated for several weeks. If it was me I would have asked the doctor to keep me sedated or put me in a comatose state. My friend had the most positive of attitudes and came out of surgery beautifully; keeping their positivity going, they even reduced their rehabilitation time. I do not know if I can train myself to be as optimistic as they were with their surgery. Maybe I could find someone similar to the main character’s wife in this film based on a true story. ROBIN CAVENDISH, PLAYED BY Andrew Garfield (Silence, 99 Homes), only saw a body that did not work anymore. His wife Diana, played by Claire Foy (Season of the Witch, The Crown-TV), saw something else. This film festival nominated, romantic drama was filmed in such a way to bring out the beauty of the story. Andrew and Claire were perfectly matched with their acting skills and chemistry. I would not be surprised if Andrew is nominated again for an Oscar, he was that good. Along with Tom Hollander (About Time, Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) as Bloggs and David Blacker, Hugh Bonneville (The Monuments Men, Downton Abbey-TV) as Teddy Hall and Ed Speleers (Alice Through the Looking Glass, Downton Abbey-TV) as Colin Campbell; the whole cast did a wonderful job in bringing life and joy into this unbelievable story. Now I will say the script was a bit predictable but I did not care because I could not get over Andrew’s acting and the fact that I was learning something about a true life changing event. The mixture of humor into the script, which I believe was part of the Cavendishs’ makeup, kept the story from sinking into a maudlin state. It would have been interesting to get more of the characters’ thoughts and feelings out onto the script but the writers I can only assume wanted to keep things on the lighter side. I try to avoid doing any type of health comparisons; but after seeing this film, I have a whole new appreciation for having a positive outlook.
IDEALLY IT SHOULD BE in balance within one’s life, but that is not always the case. And truthfully sometimes the circumstances are out of the person’s control. Trying to find the balance between one’s work and personal life takes determined strength with a bit of finesse. I have mentioned before how my work load dominates my personal life; from the day job to teaching to writing film reviews, there is a part of me that feels like I have missed out on many things. However, I do realize I am fortunate in the circle of friends around me who understand my crazy schedule as I try to negotiate time to get together with each of them. Others may not be as fortunate. There is an acquaintance of mine that is in sales. It is difficult to get a hold of him because day and night he is usually with clients; making plans to get together is almost impossible. NOW IT OCCURS TO me that I might have been prejudiced against certain occupations. I noticed when a “workaholic” was involved with a worthy cause; I would cut them some slack if they were not always available for family and friends. However if the person worked for a large for profit corporation, I was not so forgiving. Honestly from watching this film I have been thinking about this lopsided thinking when it comes to whether I perceive the business is doing something good or not for the planet. Who am I to assume the person who works 60-80 hours a week to help the homeless is a better person, than the state employee who puts in double shifts to help plow the city streets after a snowstorm? They each are important in their own way; no matter what the job entails the employee plays a vital part in the success of the employer. The one thing I am curious about is how people wind up in their jobs. I wonder if they always wanted to be let us say a window washer or actuary; or did the individual follow in a parent’s footsteps or just fell into the job. These were the type of questions I had when I watched this dramatic, biographical movie. IT TAKES A CERTAIN type of person to fight a forest fire and Eric Marsh, played by Josh Brolin (Inherent Vice, Old Boy), believed he knew what was needed. He just had to prove it to the people in charge. Based on a true story the cast also included Miles Teller (War Dogs, That Awkward Moment) as Brendan McDonough, Jeff Bridges (True Grit, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) as Duane Steinbink, Jennifer Connelly (Blood Diamond, A Beautiful Mind) as Amanda Marsh and Taylor Kitsch (Lone Survivor, Battleship) as Christopher MacKenzie. Having not seen or experienced what forest firefighters do, there were aspects of this story that were amazing. The acting was excellent; the standouts for me were Jennifer, Miles and Josh. For such an incredible story I had a challenging time with the script. The story would go from thrilling, nerve wracking scenes to snippets of a personal nature. What was presented regarding the plight of these types of firefighters, I had wished more time was spent on building up the characters’ personal stories. I felt I was only getting a partial piece of the puzzle so to speak. This movie about the Granite Mountain Hotshots deserves stars just on the story alone; as for the entertainment value of this picture it left me slightly cool.
2 ¾ stars
AS A YOUNG ADULT they did not have a typical body shape for their gender. To say they were stout would be a bit of a stretch; let us say they filled out their shape. Their size may have fooled people but make no mistake they were strong; I saw the way they could throw a ball and it was impressive. There was another person I knew who was not the most popular of kids; not the upper echelon status of cheerleaders and football players, but the tier just below it. Good looking in a funky sort of way, they were extremely smart. You would always want them on your team whenever there were debates or science projects. They had a wonderful command of the English language, yet they never used it in a show off type of way. I PURPOSELY DID NOT reveal the sex of the individuals I was talking about. How many of you thought I was talking about boys? How many thought it was girls? Those of you who thought it was girls would be right. You see from a very young age I saw examples where both boys and girls were capable of doing the same thing. Whether it was being super smart or athletic or talented, both sexes were equal in my mind. The idea of one being a “weaker” sex made no sense to me. In my adult life I have had both female and male military people in my classes; they shared that same discipline vibe and were equally capable of lasting the entire class time, no matter how intense were the exercise levels in the class. I have a hard time relating to individuals who see the sexes as not being equal. For example someone who makes a wisecrack about a stay at home Dad needs to be schooled in parenting in my opinion. In light of the recent events of sexual harassment and the #MeToo campaign, I thought this dramatic movie based on a true story might be an enlightening experience. UP UNTIL THE 1940S all comic book heroes were male. Harvard psychologist and inventor William Moulton Marston, played by Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, Dracula Untold), envisioned something different because of what he saw in his marriage. With Rebecca Hall (The Town, The Gift) as Elizabeth Marston, Bella Heathcote (The Neon Demon, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Olive Byrne, Connie Britton (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Nashville-TV) as Josette Frank and Oliver Platt (Love & Other Drugs, The Ticket) as M.C. Gaines; the acting in this film was beautiful to watch, especially from Rebecca and Bella. The story was totally new to me since I was a Batman comic book fan and I have to tell you this story was fascinating on many levels. There were 2 main story lines: the debut of Wonder Woman on the public consciousness and the home life of its author. For me there seemed to be too much being crammed into the script, where I felt I was being cheated out of learning more about specific events or time frames. Somewhere during the picture I started to get bored or more to the point, wished it had delved further into the characters’ development. If nothing else I truly appreciated learning the history behind the Wonder Woman character and how she added something new to society’s beliefs. I only wished this movie would have been just as strong as its comic book hero.
2 ½ stars
I have seen examples that both agree and disagree with the proverb, “blood is thicker than water.” Using the common definition that family relationships are more important than other types of relationships, I know a family with adult children who focus solely on each other; they hardly have any social activities that involve friendships. Everything they do they do together whether it is going to the health club, the movies, shopping or even carpooling; they only carpool with each other siblings’ children. It is obvious to me that friendships/relationships with people outside of their family are not important to them. AS another example, I know a couple who each came from a dysfunctional family. For them their friends became their family, becoming careful with the time they spent with any of their blood family members. I see them as 2 individuals who became family to each other, creating a safe and protected environment. Where their focus has been on each other, I have seen couples where one person still has as their main priority a family member such as a mother or brother, instead of their partner. I have always been fascinated with the dynamics between family members by blood or love. Two brothers who look nothing alike, who people think are so different from each other, still have a bond that allows them to communicate without talking out loud. Or how about twins who live far away from each other yet when one feels sick the other can sense it; can anyone explain this phenomenon? I recall an article in the newspaper about an elderly gentleman who traveled overseas for vacation. While leisurely strolling through a town he stopped at a café to order a drink and rest. He happened to be facing the doorway while seated and when a customer walked in a few minutes later, the man was stunned; the customer who walked in looked identical to himself. It turned out they were twins separated at birth. Each one expressed the sense of unexplained loss they had been carrying all these years. There is such a strong bond that remains with some family members. SEPARATED from his brother 5 year old Saroo, played by newcomer Sunny Pawar, traveled further than the boundaries of India; he wound up in Australia when husband and wife John and Sue Brierley, played by David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings franchise, Van Helsing) and Nicole Kidman (Secret in their Eyes, Paddington) adopted the young boy. As he grew up he began to understand certain feelings he had inside. This film festival winning movie based on a true story was a wonderful picture watching experience. Along with Dev Patel (The Last Airbender, Slumdog Millionaire) as Saroo Brierley and Rooney Mara (Carol, Side Effects) as Lucy; the acting in this picture was outstanding. This was Dev’s best performance in my opinion. The story was simply incredible and more amazing because it really happened. I found the 1st half of the film with the young Saroo, beautifully acted by Sunny, more intense due to the young child’s plight; the direction of the scenes kept me totally engrossed in the events. Because of that intensity the 2nd half of the movie felt a bit less so, but it still came across with subtle power. This could easily be an Oscar contender that showed the type of bonds we form for a family.
3 ½ stars
To physically excel at something does not always mean money is required for success. I do not know when it was decided that someone of wealth is better than someone else. There was a fitness club I used to work at that had a wide range of members coming from different economic backgrounds. They would judge each other based on what town they lived in. You see, some suburbs had higher property taxes and wealthier residents than others next to them; so based on where a person resided was how they were classified into certain groups at the club. This had nothing to do with management or employees; this was a bizarre phenomenon that the members did amongst themselves. It took me a while before I could even pick out the towns members lived in based on their appearances. Trust me, I am not one to judge anyone based on their looks, but it was so strange to see how the people from wealthier places looked down at the members who were not as “rich.” Those who walked into the club with full makeup, designer workout clothes or excess jewelry were most likely from the higher economic status neighborhoods. As an instructor I could not care less about any of this and I have to tell you a secret: when I was teaching a format that included partnering up, I always chose people from different backgrounds to match up for the routine. To do yoga poses or strength training exercises did not take a large wallet; anyone could do it. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I always root for the underdog and enjoy hearing a good story about them, like the one in this true story. PEOPLE in the horsing world scoffed at the idea that the working class residents of a small village could breed and train a racehorse for competition. It could be the reason why the horse was named Dream Alliance. This film festival winning documentary was such a good story to watch on film. I should first tell you I am fond of horses; I think they are beautiful creatures. Now with that being said, I enjoyed learning about the different residents who made up this group that dreamed of having a racehorse. The director Louise Osmond (Deep Water, The Blitz: London’s Longest Night-TV) did an admirable job in showing the camaraderie among the townsfolk who all had a single goal in mind. On the other hand I thought the amount of race footage being shown was excessive. With those film clips there were a couple of scenes that could upset viewers, especially animal lovers. Because of the story this movie could be considered more like a drama than a documentary. There were parts in it however that I felt were going slow. I would have preferred to have heard more about how the idea came about instead of seeing multiple group scenes at the pub or restaurant. Overall I am glad I saw this film; however, if one doesn’t want to spend the money then it would be perfectly fine to wait and see it on DVD or online.
2 2/3 stars
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
We had worked at the same company for several years, just in different departments. They did not see their position as a long-term career because they had something else in mind. Being quite creative, away from the office they went to classes to learn a particular craft that was needed if they wanted to keep their dream moving towards reality. I saw pictures of their work; they showed beautiful images of objects and places that were familiar and easily recognizable. The difference was they created them for consumption by making them with food ingredients. Their dream was to open up a business where they could sell their creations. It took them a few years to master the art of designing everyday objects into edible sweet treats. There were baked chocolate top hats with white chocolate bands and red cherry buttons on the sides besides vanilla cupcakes that looked like a set of major league baseballs. They were as tasty as they looked. After selling these types of baked goods by word of mouth, they took a big step and found an empty storefront to rent. Here they would build shelves, buy coolers and baking equipment so they could open up and sell their wares to the general public. This was their dream; they did not want to grow old and wonder how their life would have turned out if they at least had not followed through on their dream. I believe some people call it, “having no regrets.” This is something I believe in too. I do not want to grow old with wishes I had done things differently. What one needs to achieve this is perseverance. NOT wanting to wind up like the rest of her family Joy, played by Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games franchise, X-Men franchise), had an idea. The problem would be getting people to believe in her. This film festival nominated, dramatic comedy was based on a true story. With some of the actors like Robert De Niro (The Intern, The Deer Hunter) as Rudy and Bradley Cooper (American Sniper, Silver LInings Playbook) as Neil Walker having worked together previously, there was an easy flow between the characters. Jennifer was outstanding in the role; actually, I found her to be the number one reason to see this film. Who else I found exceptional was Isabella Rossellini (Blue Velvet, Death Becomes Her) as Trudy. Sadly the script did not elevate the story or the characters. There were parts of this film that stood out for me, where the acting and action were well done. But then there were segments that dragged down the story. If it was not for Jennifer I would have had a hard time staying with this film. The story was amazing if what was on screen was actually true; Joy was one driven character. For such a person who did what she did, this movie did not sell her story in the best way.
2 1/3 stars