I THOUGHT I HAD TAKEN EVERY precaution. No matter how many times the bank tellers ask me to insert my ATM card, I must always remind them I do not have one. Nor do I have a debit card. This was one of my decisions to protect myself. It is not that I think the bank has poor security protections, it is because I feel the passageway to get into their websites/portals is only protected by asking for my login and password. I chose not to do electronic banking, prefer instead face to face transactions at the bank. But besides banking, I did all the things that experts suggested one should do to protect their personal identity. I only use one specific charge card for any online purchases, and it has a security alert on it. The passwords I use are the ones that experts have suggested we use with upper and lower cases along with characters. I even pay bills the old-fashioned way with a paper check, envelope and stamp. With everything I do, I thought for sure it would be unusual for me to have any of my personal information stolen. Well, I was wrong because just recently I was the victim of identity theft. WHEN I RECEIVED THE OFFICIAL NOTICE that my unemployment benefits were approved, I was flabbergasted because I am still employed. Looking over the document, all the information was correct about my employer and my social security number. I decided to talk to my company’s HR department to find out what was going on. The next day with letter in hand, I happened to mention my situation to an employee who it turned out got the same letter. He told me several employees received the letter from unemployment and it was a scam. Along with the letter there was a debit card that needed to be activated. If I had activated it, the scammers would have known they scored, and I would have lost access to my savings. I could not believe how this happened to me, especially because of the things I denied myself as a layer of protection. The first thing I was instructed to do was to freeze my credit report. Next, I had to file a complaint with the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission. Filling out information on a government website for identity theft, I then filed a police report. When I walked up to the front desk of the police station, all I got to say was I had my identity stolen and the officer asked if it was the unemployment scam. It turns out they were familiar since they received multiple claims on it. Even with everything I did I still feel violated and vulnerable. Now having watched this action thriller, I am even more paranoid about my plight. UNBEKNOWNST TO LAWYER ROBERT CLAYTON DEAN, played by Will Smith (Gemini Man, Collateral Beauty), there was a reason why he was the target of a concentrated effort to attack and destroy his identity. With Gene Hackman (The French Connection, Runaway Jury) as Edward Lyle, Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy, Runaway Train) as Thomas Brian Reynolds, Lisa Bonet (High Fidelity, Angel Heart) as Rachel F. Banks and Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk, Ray) as Carla Dean; this film festival winner was a tense and thrilling film to watch. The action was exciting and intense as it set up a typical good vs bad scenario. The acting was fine for this type of picture; I totally enjoyed Gene and Will in their roles. Though there was nothing too deep in the script and character development was more of a bystander, this thrill ride of a movie was totally entertaining to me. And that is despite the subject being identity theft. I may have to revert to hiding cash in cans at my house.
AS THE LIGHTS WENT DOWN MY irritation subsided only to be replaced with brimming excitement. The first note struck on the electric guitar echoed through the stadium and the crowd started to cheer wildly. The stage was flooded in dazzling lights of several colors as the members of the rock band rose up from underneath the stage. I was in my happy place as the band tore into their first song of the night. All the hassle it took to drive to the stadium while fighting traffic every step of the way, parking in the outrageously expensive parking lot, then pushing through the mass of people to get to our seats was all worth it to hear our favorite band. My buddy and I endured all this work to get to a concert, sometimes on a weekly basis; because there was no greater feeling than sitting with 20,000 fans who were all experiencing the same feelings. It was a rush for me. We had been doing it for several years; so, we had our routine down solid on how to navigate each venue. Rarely did we get disappointed by a group or musician. My proof would be all the T-shirts I acquired throughout the years. AS PRICES ESCALATED FOR THE PARKING, ticket fees and the price of admission; my passion for seeing concerts started to wane. Some popular musical artists were charging prices that were easily 50 to 100% higher than other acts; I found it offensive. Just because they had the #1 hit in the country and were wildly popular did not, I felt, give them the right to gouge their adoring fans. My buddy still wanted to see every musical artist and group, no matter the cost. I started becoming more selective. We had a good run of concerts I felt; but the hassle and cost were chipping into the enjoyment factor. The concerts that took place during the weekdays were the toughest for me. Getting home late and trying to get to sleep while in the euphoric afterglow of a concert was getting harder and harder for me to do. I felt bad for my friend; we were both tight into our concert routine for years and now it was changing because of me. I tried being as supportive as I could; however, I just could not keep it up. There were times my friend would go by himself to see a concert; it used to make me feel bad. With the passing of time, we started settling into our new roles. I saw the same thing playing out in this latest installment of the action, comedic crime franchise. AFTER NEARLY BEING KILLED BY A drive-by shooter; Mike Lowrey, played by Will Smith (Men in Black franchise, I Am Legend) and his partner Marcus Burnett, played by Martin Lawrence (Big Momma’s House, National Security), team up with a newly created team from the Miami police department to try and track down the source of the shooter. With Joe Pantoliana (The Matrix, Wedding Daze) as Captain Howard, Alexander Ludwig (Lone Survivor, The Hunger Games) as Dorn and Vanessa Hudgens (Beastly, Spring Breakers) as Kelly; there were no surprises in this movie. If you are a fan of the series, then you will enjoy this latest one; it is pretty much more of the same. Not that this is a criticism; for the script had the same type of quick bantering jokes and humor while Will and Martin delivered their brand of chemistry to the big screen. Granted, part of the humor was now being based on their advanced ages. The action scenes were exciting and some of them were even fun to watch. I believe this is a film one must be in the mood for to watch. If one delays it for a bargain price, there would be nothing wrong in doing that.
2 ½ stars
HE MAY HAVE THOUGHT WE WERE friends but that was not really the case. I felt I had to for my own self-preservation. We hung around the same group of people. If I remember correctly, he was a friend of a friend who started including him in our get togethers. He had a loud and boisterous personality that was quick with sarcasm; that was the part of him that was fun to be around. However, he also had a quick temper that was the first thing to flare up in any kind of confrontational circumstances. His “go-to” comment was “Do you want to take this outside?” This is the reason why I stayed on good terms with him; I did not want to get pulled into his negative drama. Whenever we would all go out to a club, the chances were better than 50% he would get into some type of altercation with one of the patrons of the place. I found it maddening and ridiculous because before you knew it, he would be asking the person to join him outside. Now granted he made an imposing figure; but still, there was no reason he needed the theatrics. The way I used to deal with him was simply to agree to his extreme pontifications on life and living, by nodding my head or grunting a sound that he could interpret as an affirmative answer. THOUGH IT HAS BEEN YEARS SINCE I have seen him, he is the first person I think of whenever I hear someone saying, “Do you want to take this outside?” Even if I hear it in a movie, he comes to mind. I was never the type of person who willingly confronted someone. Growing up people fell into two categories, aggressive or passive. I was in the passive group during my childhood years. It was not until I was in college before I found my voice. After what I went through during high school, I worked on myself to get to a point where no one would take advantage of me. It was not an easy process by any means; but I acquired the tools necessary to have an argument without including negative or demeaning comments. What I learned that was valuable to me was to remove the emotions from the equation and talk about my feelings instead. There are some people who think if they talk loudly enough, they will win the fight; as you know that does not work in the real world. As I was watching this animated, action adventure I identified more with one of the characters than the other; you probably could guess which one. AFTER INGESTING AN EXPERIMENTAL CONCOCTION WITHOUT it being tested, the only thing super spy Lance, voiced by Will Smith (I Am Legend, Men in Black franchise) had to rely on was his wits and new-found avian abilities to bring down an evil genius bent on destroying the agency. With Tom Holland (Spider-Man franchise, In the Heart of the Sea) voicing Walter, Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Robin Hood) voicing Killian, Reba McEntire (The Little Rascals, One Night at McCool’s) voicing Joyless and Rachel Brosnahan (The Finest Hours, Patriots Day) voicing Wendy; this film festival nominee had wonderful animation work. Including the cast of actors; overall, this was a pleasant, family friendly film to watch. There was nothing extreme about it; I felt it fell in the middle of other animated films. There was more of a focus on fun instead of a series of humorous jokes and pranks. The message however was what grabbed me the most. I connected more with the last half of the film, finding it to be a touching statement. If you choose to see this film, you would easily see why I felt a strong affinity to one of the characters.
2 ½ stars
IF I ONLY KNEW BACK THEN what I know now, I could have avoided so many troubling things. Oscar Wilde had a famous quote, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” This is so true. I am reminded of a friend who would repeat the same pattern when it came to the men she dated. Each relationship ended the same way with the man breaking it off and her heart getting broken. Whatever my 2 cents of advice is worth, she never allowed her relationships to develop; she went from having a few initial dates to acting like they were in a full-blown relationship, as if they were a long time couple. It was odd and uncomfortable to see her place herself repeatedly in these situations; yet, she would do the same thing over and over with each person she started dating. Of course, it is easier for me to give advice to other people than it is for me to take my own advice. I was in several relationships that, I see now, were not healthy. If I had my current level of confidence and knowledge back then, I could have saved myself a whole lot of pain. Yet, I always want to believe we gain something from each person we encounter. I DO NOT KNOW IF I am wiser, but I certainly am aware how differently I react to certain situations these days. In the past, my younger self would always view any type of criticism as a threat, where I would immediately go on the attack. Most of my verbal confrontations with individuals was me yelling “You” statements at them. These are sentences that start with the word “You” followed by a descriptive adjective or action, like “You never said” or “You didn’t care.” My older self can see the difference between saying “you never said” and “I did not hear you” or “You didn’t care” and “I felt you were not interested.” It changes the whole flavor of the situation when one starts out saying I instead of You. When I look back at my younger years, I can honestly say I have few regrets. However, what I can tell you is my life would have been less stressful if my younger self had my current self-awareness. From time to time in fact, I will recall an experience from my past and replay it in my mind to see how things could have been different, if I acted more like my adult self. For me doing this is more of a mental exercise; for the main character in this dramatic, action science fiction film his past was more physical. REACHING A POINT IN HIS LIFE where he could finally retire; elite assassin Henry Brogan, played by Will Smith (Aladdin, Suicide Squad), did not understand why he suddenly became the target of an assassin who was able to anticipate his every move. With Mary Elizabeth Winstead (10 Cloverfield Lane, Scott Pilgrim vs the World) as Danny Zakarweski, Clive Owen (Closer, Inside Man) as Clay Verris, Benedict Wong (The Martian, Doctor Strange) as Baron and Douglas Hodge (Red Sparrow, The Report) as Jack Willis; I was anticipating this film to be an exciting and visual piece of work because of the director, Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Brokeback Mountain). Visually there was a lot to look at; however, the action went to fast for me. I found Will was doing the same type of acting he has done before; so, I was not connecting at all with his character. The real shame here was the script; it was not only generic but gave the viewers clues to what was going to happen further in the story. Overall, there was nothing exciting or fresh about this picture. I hate to say it, but I believe this movie is an example of Oscar Wilde’s quote.
1 ¾ stars
I HAD NOT THOUGHT OF HER for some years. She was a friend of a friend of mine; so, we would occasionally see each other at gatherings. Her appearance was always kept to a high fashion level, from shoes to jackets; she did not come out and say where she shopped, but many of her clothes would tell you by the logo or label that was prominently displayed. My conversations with her were kept to light pleasantries. I never knew until later that she had been conducting research on me. In fact, I found out she would always investigate any new men who came into this circle of friends. And by research, I mean she would find out the men’s occupation, marital status, living situation and several other key factors that would determine if they were worthy of her dating them. The thing that I found the most appalling was her use of her employer’s resources to investigate the credit worthiness of these men. She would pull reports that would show a history of the guy’s finances and FICO scores. I could not believe it when I heard about it; she was not looking for love, she was looking for a large bank account as far as I could tell. SHE WAS A GOOD EXAMPLE OF a greedy person. All she was looking for was someone who could fund her whims and purchases, in my opinion. The reason I thought of her after all this time was due to seeing this movie. The story it is based on is a classic one, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. When I first heard this story, the phrase “open sesame,” became part of my vocabulary. What little boy did not want to have the power to open things just by uttering those two words? However, it was this story where I learned about greed. From reading the story, I later noticed there were several movies that had the same message. The Thief of Bagdad, Arabian Nights and Aladdin’s Magic Lamp to name a few, besides television shows such as Scooby-Doo! In Arabian Nights or the opera Ali Baba; over many decades the public has been exposed to this classic story. Now comes along this live version of the animated film from 1992 and again I get the chance to see what greed can do to people; however, I do not think what I saw was what the movie studio intended to show us. FROM A CHANCE MEETING OUT ON the streets, a poor street urchin gets the chance to make his wishes come true. However, he is not the only one. This adventure comedy presented an updated version of the tale. Starring Will Smith (I Am Legend, Wild Wild West) as Genie, Mena Massed (Run This Town, Let’s Rap) as Aladdin, Naomi Scott (The 33, Power Rangers) as Jasmine, Marwan Kenzari (Ben-Hur, Murder on the Orient Express) as Jafar and Navid Negahban (12 Strong, Charlie Wilson’s War) as Sultan; this now is my 3rd time seeing this version of the story, having seen the original animated film and the live theater production. If you have never seen any of these then you might enjoy this family film more than I did. I knew Will would have a hard time doing a performance that would be as memorable as Robin Williams’ take on the Genie, and sure enough it was just okay overall. Aladdin’s singing voice was not that good to me and I did not find any chemistry between him and Jasmine. The special effects were nothing special; to be perfectly honest, I was underwhelmed by this picture. All I could think of was the movie studio’s greed allowed this film to come to fruition.
2 ¼ stars
DEATH does not owe anyone an answer; it takes what it wants and all we can do is experience grief, relief or believe it or not, happiness. I say happiness because of a funeral I once attended where I knew the deceased but not all of the other people in attendance. Sitting in the chapel I was shocked with some of the comments people were so free to share with those around them. One person said they were there to make sure that bastard was buried deep in the ground; another guest wanted to come to see if there was actually someone who was mourning the death. I could only silently sit in my seat because I was too stunned to say anything. As a side note the funeral service was done quickly with only a couple of eulogies. FROM a previous review I mentioned the hardest deaths involve those where the person was taken early. When a person reaches an old age one can hear comments such as, “he lived a long life” or “she did what she wanted to do,” at the funeral. Sadness could be wrapped up in the sense of loss but rarely have I heard anyone question why the individual perished. If there was a long growing illness I could understand the sense of relief one would feel at the time of death. From my experiences I have learned when a person dies unexpectedly; it is harder for those who are left behind. When the individual has suffered for a long time, finishing their journey here, those remaining do feel a sense of relief. I do not recollect anyone questioning why the person died. Personally I think asking questions that you cannot get answers for only delays the healing process. I know a couple of people who still want to know why a friend of theirs committed suicide. This makes for a hard road to travel, the asking of questions. You can see for yourself in this dramatic movie. DEVASTATED by the death of his young daughter Howard, played by Will Smith (Suicide Squad, Concussion) began writing letters to Death, Youth and Love. It was not long before they started answering him. This film festival winner had an excellent cast that included Edward Norton (The Grand Budapest Hotel, American History) as Whit, Kate Winslet (The Dressmaker, Finding Neverland) as Claire, Michael Pena (End of Watch, The Martian) as Simon, Naomie Harris (Moonlight, Skyfall) as Madeleine and Helen Mirren (Trumbo, Woman in Gold) as Brigitte. For a story line I did not mind the concept and felt the actors were more than capable to do a fine job. Out of the cast the 2 that stood out for me were Naomie and Michael; they were believable and conveyed true emotions. Outside of them I did not feel a connection to anyone else. Whether the rest of the actors knew the script was poorly written or not, they did not provide any substance to their characters. As for the script I found it to be in manipulative in a sappy way. I felt the film was created just to get viewers weepy and use that as their connection to the story. Sitting through this picture was like experiencing a slow death.
1 ¾ stars
Maybe if it was the only thing I had known I would feel different about it. But I have compared items and know the difference. I do not want to come off as being a snob; I have actually matched up name brand products to their generic versions and there are times where the two are not the same. For example I have bought both a name brand and generic version of raisins. Taste wise there was not much difference; however, there was with the size of the generic one. They were smaller and not as plump. Normally this would be no big deal but they don’t look as good when used for baking. Another example is yogurt; now here there was a major contrast. The generic brand I tried never got smooth after stirring it; soft clumps of congealed yogurt remained in the container, yuck. Now there are items that I think are the same whether they are a store’s brand or name brand. I know that many times the same manufacturer is making both kinds. When I look at the nutritional label for both brands of vitamins they are identical; as far as I can tell the only difference is the price. The same results apply to spices; I cannot tell the difference from the ones I have compared. You may be sitting there and wondering why I am talking about this topic for today’s movie review. I was thinking about it right after this film was done playing. You see I was questioning myself to see if I would have the same initial feeling about this film if I had never seen the superhero movies from that other studio that produces them. Read ahead if you wish to see my answer. AMANDA Waller, played by Viola Davis (The Help, Doubt), was the tough boss of a top secret government program. She had to be because her program involved the worst of the worst imprisoned super villains. This action adventure movie was a massive introduction to the characters from the DC comic world. Starring Will Smith (Concussion, Men in Black franchise) as Deadshot, Margot Robbie (The Legend of Tarzan, The Wolf of Wall Street) as Harley Quinn and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club, Mr. Nobody) as the Joker; the 1st half of the film was devoted to us meeting these characters. There were several others but I prefer not wasting space on listing them. The breakout star to this picture was Margot Robbie; as far as I was concerned she had the best lines and the most interesting character. I knew about Jared Leto’s acting style of remaining in character even when he is not being filmed, but the poorly written script turned his performance into a mediocre blandness. This film would satisfy the tween segment with all the fights and destruction. As for creating an entertaining movie experience this movie lacked in key areas like humor, character development and visual effects. The story never felt cohesive to me, which could be attributed to poor editing and directing. I am sad to say compared to other superhero movies this one was a generic one. An extra scene in the middle of the ending credits.
1 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.
I became more aware of my wallet’s whereabouts after my aunt yelled an expletive at a man who had his hand in her purse. She had taken the subway to go downtown. When she got off at her stop and was waiting to step onto the escalator to take her up to street level, she felt a tug on her purse that she had slung on her shoulder. Turning to look down at her purse she saw a man who had his hand in it, looking for her wallet. With no time for thinking, she immediately yelled out in her sternest voice, “What the #%&@ do you think you are doing?” The man was so stunned he withdrew his hand and took off down the station to the exit on the opposite side of the platform. Once I heard what happened to her I started becoming more aware of my surroundings. No matter where I went I would periodically check to make sure my wallet was still in my back pocket. Now granted all I had in my wallet was a couple of pictures and my week’s allowance; but the idea that someone would stick their hand in my pocket to steal my wallet made me angry. After seeing this comedic drama I now am more paranoid. WILL Smith (After Earth, I Am Legend) played lifelong con artist Nicky. Admiring the gutsy moves Jess, played by Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, About Time), tried to pull on him; Nicky agreed to teach her some of his tricks. However, just as one of his biggest jobs was about to play out, could Nicky really trust her. This crime story had a variety of twists in it; some were predictable, others were surprises. I will say the story did not seem that much different from others I had seen before. The clear standouts for me were Margot Robbie and Gerald McRaney (The A-Team, Major Dad-TV) as Owens. Also, Adrian Martinez (American Hustle, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) as Farhad and Rodrigo Santoro (The Last Stand, 300 Franchise) as Garriga gave good performances. I understood this was supposed to be Will’s vehicle back to box office gold after his flop After Earth; but I have to tell you I did not think his performance was anything new. He seemed to be playing himself more than his character to tell you the truth. There were a couple of times where I thought the story dragged. To be fair one of my favorite movies was The Sting, so for me this film did not have any sophisticated nuances in the script. The worst part of this is I now have a bigger fear of getting my pockets picked than I had before.
2 1/4 stars
Since the National Spelling Bee was held last week, I thought we could do a word of the day. Today’s word is “dynasty.” The dictionary defines dynasty as a succession of people from the same family who play a prominent role in business, politics or in this case entertainment. I do not have an issue with actors bringing their children into the business. The only thing that matters to me is whether they are good actors or not. As for their personal lives I am not interested in the news that comes out of the tabloids. At one point while watching this science fiction movie, I felt a psychiatrist’s office would have been a better venue for Will Smith (Hancock, Seven Pounds) and his son Jaden Smith (The Karate Kid, The Day the Earth Stood Still). Playing father and son Cypher Raige and Kitai Raige, the two seemed out of synch. Based on Will’s story, if I had known M. Night Shyamalan (The Last Airbender, The Village) was the director; I would have seriously considered waiting to watch this movie on DVD and not waste my money. The story had nothing special to offer. Encouraged by his wife Faia, played by Sophie Okoedo (The Secret Life of Bees, Skin), Cypher brought his son along on his last space mission. The idea was for them to have some father and son bonding time; but when their spacecraft crash landed on a hostile planet, the inexperienced Kitai had to venture out alone to find the ship’s emergency beacon. The first thing that struck me about this film was the cheap looking props and poor CGI effects. Some of the items looked as if they were purchased from a home and bath decor discount store. After being mesmerized by the tiger in the film LIfe of Pi, all the animals in this movie looked phony. For a science fiction movie there was little science fiction in it. The nearly two hours were filled with stiff performances and corny lines. The problem with this film I believe is when someone is trying to build a dynasty; they do not want anyone around to question them or their motives. If Will wanted to have quality time with his son he should have taken him camping or on a road trip to check out potential colleges. Throw Mr. Shyamalan into the mix and you wind up with a science fiction movie this is stranger than fiction. A couple of brief scenes that showed blood.
1 2/3 stars