Pandemic Summer: “The Heights”

I saw the musical The Heights last week. I enjoyed it. I think people that enjoy musicals will enjoy it but it’s not the greatest musical ever. Hamilton was better and I can name five musicals off the top of my head that are better than The Heights. It’s not great. It’s OK yet entertaining.

The Heights takes place in a working class, Latin, immigrant community in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. The film focuses the hopes for the future and struggles of the characters. The actors are nice looking, there are movie romances that follow the arc many movie romances do, there are a few laughs and dancing in the streets. The film also addresses modern concerns such as gentrification and The Dreamers.

There was some controversy about the film. Many thought the cast was whitewashed and did not accurately reflect Washington Heights New York. When I saw the commercial for The Heights I questioned the casting too. I’ve never been to Washington Heights but I would guess there are a lot more visibly Black people in that community than what is portrayed in this film based on what I’ve seen of NYC. The film itself is more diverse than the commercials promoting it.

Here is a clip from my favorite part of the movie. The woman that describes herself as Chile Dominican Rican performs my favorite minute of the movie. She’s a hoot.

The movie has a Hollywood happy ending and is very pro American and patriotic from an immigrant’s perspective. It’s lighthearted if you approach it with a light heart. If you enjoy musicals I suggest you give it a try. It not in my top five musicals but The Heights was very popular on Broadway and it made Lin Manuel Miranda famous so it may become one of your favorites.

Summer 2021 Book Review: Outwitting the Devil

I finished reading Outwitting the Devil by Napolean Hill this week. It’s not something I typically read but it was recommended to me so I gave it a chance. Outwitting the Devil kind of falls under the umbrella of self help which I don’t care for but the fictional narrative made the story enjoyable. It’s interesting and it offers a compelling perspective. The book is written from the perspective of Satan.

The book is about an interview with the devil himself. A man who goes by Mr. Earthbound, asks the devil about his tactics and strategies for deceiving mankind. To make a long story short, the Devil seeks to distract humanity by any means available. He uses our universal human weaknesses and learns our personal vulnerabilities.

Primarily he seeks to control the minds of human beings. He says that’s what we have complete control over and that’s what he wants to control. Everything else in the universe follows natural order. Human minds are the only things that can be manipulated.

Once a person’s mind is controlled by Satan it is called being in drift which is being distracted and filled with fear. He achieves further submission through hypnotic rhythm which means you an individual is stuck in a rut and has accepted their circumstances. The devil says there are only two kinds of people in the world, drifters and non drifters. The vast majority are drifters. That’s it in a nutshell.

Outwitting the Devil was written in 1938. It reminds me of the popular book and documentary The Secret from the early 2000s. I’m glad this book was recommended to me even though it borders on self help. The narrative was creative and made the book entertaining. I would recommend it.

Spring Book Review: Let Love Rule – Lenny Kravitz

I recently finished reading the autobiography of rock start Lenny Kravitz, Let Love Rule. I enjoyed reading the book and I would recommend the book but there are conditions. I’m biased because I’ve been a Lenny Kravitz fan since the 90s. People that aren’t fans of Lenny Kravitz may find the book to be a bit dull.

Lenny Kravitz has a charmed life. He spent his early childhood in New York City in the 70s and early 80s. I’m grateful to have grown up in the 80s because children had more independence and a sense of safety. At the same time there were not as many children only spaces so children had the opportunity to observe adults more. They just had to stay out of adult business.

Lenny grew up playing on NYC streets with friends and when he was a bit older riding the subway himself to museums like The Met and exploring art. Lenny’s parents were a sophisticated couple and exposed Lenny to fine restaurants and theater as a child. Lenny crossed paths and even had close relationships with entertainment legends. One night while out with his dad Lenny met Frank Sinatra. His godmother was Cicely Tyson and her husband was Miles Davis. Lenny’s stylish parents enjoyed entertaining and he described himself as having numerous glamorous aunts. That is great for character building.

When Lenny was in middle school his mother was cast as Mrs. Willis on The Jeffersons. He was disappointed in having to leave New York but he resettled in sunny southern California and his parents bought a home in the hills overlooking Los Angeles. LA is where Lenny discovered his love of music and developed his talent.

Lenny had a contentious relationship with his father. Their personalities clashed. Lenny’s father spent time in the military and he didn’t mesh well with his free spirited son. Lenny and his dad fell out so badly during his teen years that Lenny got kicked out of the family home and was homeless for a while. But Lenny’s father was key to his success and prosperity in many ways.

Lenny Kravitz married Lisa Bonet in Las Vegas in his early twenties and had a baby shortly after. Lisa and being a young dad were also key to his success. Lisa helped him become more comfortable with who he was as a young man and being a father grounded him. The book ends after the release of his album Let Love Rule. I hope Lenny writes another autobiography because I want to know more about his career, his marriage, his divorce, fatherhood and acting career.

Lenny’s life is pretty wholesome so his story is not one with a lot of action, trauma or tragedy which is what propels most stories these days. Some people may find it a bit dull. But I’m a Lenny fan so I enjoyed the book. Lenny has a very blessed and glamorous life even with the pit falls and false starts. I would recommend this book.

Pandemic Winter Review: Vikings

Over the winter I started watching the TV show Vikings. Vikings ran on the History Channel from 2013 to 2020 for six seasons. The show is loosely based on the history of the Vikings of northern Europe. I would recommend the show if you like historical dramas. However the show is super violent. The Vikings didn’t really do anything other than invade foreign lands, initiate hand to hand combat and have sex.

The principle character of the show is an ambitious farmer turned Viking king Ragnar Lothbrok and his family. The show spans generations and the show does a good job of developing the characters and their storylines. The make up artists did a great job of maturing and aging the actors.

Michael Hirst is the writer of the show and he said that Vikings is loosely based on history. So I’ve learned some new things but they are general ideas and not necessarily historic facts. Vikings is purely a drama and not educational material. But if you don’t know much about the Vikings this show may inspire you to learn more about them and their influence.

If you don’t mind violent battle scenes and torture you may enjoy Vikings. Some of the seasons are long so the series is kind of a big commitment but it’s a great story with a lot of intricate details and great actors.

Pandemic Winter Book Review: The Cobbler

I recently finished The Cobbler: How I Disrupted an Industry, Fell From Grace, and Came Back Stronger Than Ever by Steve Madden. I ran across this book on a library shelf. I was familiar with the brand and owned some of the product but I had never thought of Steve Madden as a person. This book is Steve Madden’s life story. For the most part it is an interesting read and I would recommend it.

First off, I enjoyed the conversational tone of the book. The language was very direct and blunt. Madden is from New York and this book was written the way New Yorkers tend to talk. The author did not try to be deep, woke or intellectual. Reading this story was like talking to a person in a bar.

The Cobbler is fairly short but it touches on a few different subjects. I’ll start with what the book is not. The book is not primarily about fashion, design and trends. Those things are discussed but it’s not the focus of the book so if that’s what you’re looking for this book isn’t for you.

This book touches on family ties, addiction, business, a possible personality disorder the stock market, marriage, divorce, parenthood, incarceration and social injustices. There is a lot going on which can probably be said for all of our lives.

Steve Madden’s story starts in Long Island, NY with his mother, father and two brothers. He talks a bit about his family dynamic and childhood. In his teen years he begins his career as a retail sales person in, you guessed it. A shoe store. He expanded his career in the shoe business as a young adult as a designer, manufacturer and sales representative in New York City.

Steve started his shoe company with $1,100 in 1990. The company did relatively well but he knew the company couldn’t grow without additional cash flow. Steve had a childhood friend named Danny that lent him money to to take his company private. It was a part of a scheme to flip stocks.

Danny worked with a man named Jordan who inflated and sold stocks. The deal was that Steve had to sell his stocks after they were inflated. This deal was depicted in the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Wolves of Wall Street. Steve served about two and a half years for stock manipulation, money laundering and securities fraud.

Steve Madden’s incarceration is the most interesting part of the book. If you enjoy programs like Lockup or Locked Up Abroad you may enjoy The Cobbler. Steve describes prison life and some of the characters he might while locked up. Incarceration gave Steve an understanding of inequities in society and how racist and inhumane the American prison system is.

Steve employed several people that he met while he was incarcerated. He knew that he was fortunate to have a business to return to while other inmates had no opportunities. I really appreciate the author did not get sappy and all kumbaya (which is getting on my nerves) while discussing these matters. He was very matter of fact. Steve Madden supports a non profit organization that helps ex prisoners and homeless people.

Steve got engaged in prison which was cute. He married one of his employees that was with him since the early days of his company once he was released. After his incarceration Steve Madden returned to work and his company grew and became a global juggernaut.

This is an interesting book and inspiration can be gained from it in many different ways. It’s a short read and a little slow in parts but it picks up in the middle. There are heartwarming parts of the book as well as some laugh out loud moments. Overall, would recommend it if you have the time.

Pandemic Book Review: Parable of the Sower

SPOILERS AHEAD!

It’s 2021 and COVID cases are increasing which makes pre COVID life impossible. Social activities are very limited so there is more time for past times like reading. My first book review of 2021 is Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I would recommend this book.

Octavia Butler is an African American author. I appreciate Parable of the Sower because if features a Black, female protagonist and most of the characters are Black but race is not the vehicle that moves the story along. Parable of the Sower is not a typical Black story that involves Civil Rights, inner city life, music, slavery or sports. I don’t have anything against that subject matter but I love it when writers give Black characters range beyond those roles.

Octavia Butler

The story takes place in California from around 2024 to 2036. American society has spiraled downward. The economy is in shambles and Americans are living in poverty. Crime is out of control. Homelessness is commonplace. The government is rife with corruption. The nation’s infrastructure has crumbled.

The United States regressed one hundred and fifty years. Every shameful part of our past was a part of the books present. People were enslaved. Workers were routinely hurt in factories. Child labor was commonly used. A large part of the population was illiterate. Drugs and addictions were ubiquitous. A plague was spreading and making people ill.

Racial tensions were high. Nationalism and hate crimes had been on the rise for decades. A presidential candidate from Texas used this vulnerability to gain support. His campaign promise was to make America great again. Octavia Butler wrote Parable of the Sower in 1993.

The book moves a little slow in parts but I would encourage readers to stick with it. The story is a part of a series and there isn’t a very exciting payoff but I was floored by the author’s insight. If Donald Trump read I would have sworn that he based his campaign on Parable of the Sower. We all know he doesn’t read so I will assume that Butler was clairvoyant. She died in 2006.

If you enjoy dystopian novels add this to your reading list. I think you will enjoy it.

Lockdown Reviews: A Father First, How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball

During the COVID 19 Lockdown I read the biography A Father First, How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball by retired NBA star Dwyane Wade.  The book was published in 2012.  It tells the story of Dwyane’s life while focussing on his relationship with his boys.  He is the father of two sons and he also raised his nephew who needed a home.

For the most part I enjoyed A Father First.  The book is a bit slow moving in parts but it was interesting and touching at other times.  I am an NBA fan and I followed Dwyane’s career for year but I didn’t know much about him personally.  Dwyane lived with his three sisters, two of which were from his mother’s previous relationships, his mom and his dad.  He was the baby of the family.

Wade stated that his family was far from wealthy but when his parents were together his life had stability and the family had what they needed even thought their lives were modest.  His parents, Dwyane and Jolinda, divorced when Wade was a young boy.  His mother admitted that the split was due to her controlling ways.  Everything changed for Dwyane and his sisters after the break up.

Dwyane didn’t see his father often.  His two older sister went to live with friends or other relatives.  Dwyane and his younger sister remained with his mother who developed a serious drug habit.  She had abusive relationships with men after her divorce.  His mother’s boyfriends were involved with drug trafficking and Chicago PD raided his home.  Young Dwyane Wade often went hungry.  His childhood trials made him decide as a young boy that if he became a father that he would be devoted, responsible and loyal.

Dwyane’s grandmother was the matriarch of his large extended family.  Dwyane had a lot of respect for his grandmother and she was always available to offer help.  He and his sister didn’t always seek her help because they didn’t want anyone to know about their mother’s struggle.

Wade went to live with his father, stepmother and brothers when he was in upper elementary school and his life improved.  His sister who he was closest with was not taken in by the dad.  His father and stepmother had another baby, a girl.  While living with his dad sports became a big part of Dwyane’s life.  His dad was his first coach and his brothers were his competitors.

He had a growth spurt in high school and it got the attention of coaches and recruiters.  Dwyane later went to Marquette University.  While he was a student he married his high school sweetheart and became a first time father.  He and his wife had a rocky marriage and later a terribly dramatic divorce after being drafted into the NBA by the Miami Heat and having another baby.

Jolinda had a religious epiphany while she was a fugitive of the law.  She turned herself in to serve her time.  While she was in prison she became free of her drug habit and studied her Bible.  She started a storefront church once she was a free woman and her son later bought her a church with his NBA fortune.  The other details of the book were about his college and NBA career.  I skimmed through those pages because neither were very interesting to me.

I would recommend the book if you’re an NBA fan.  The book can be a bit dry but it kind of mirrors Dwyane’s personality.  He’s never come across as very dramatic or talkative.  Jolinda’s story is inspiring even though I resented her for the way her children suffered due to her shortcoming.  Dwyane’s decision to be a committed family man at a young age is also inspirational.  It’s a good read if you have the time.

Lockdown Reviews: Showboat The Life of Kobe Bryant

Like much of the United States and possibly the world I am on lockdown because of COVID – 19.  I have two jobs and both have shut down for the last five weeks due to government orders to prevent the spread of the plague.  This has given me a lot of time to catch up on reading.  I checked out the biography Showboat:  The Life of Kobe Bryant shortly after the NBA star died and I didn’t get around to beginning the book until the quarantine in March.

I am an NBA fan but Kobe was never my guy.  He didn’t play for my team which is the Detroit Pistons.  I have chanted BEAT LA in my living room many, many times.  Most of that energy was directed towards Kobe.  When Kobe died on January 26 I was shocked and saddened.  Even though I’ve never been a Kobe fan I respect his success and I appreciate what he did for the game for twenty years.

This biography is very well written, well researched and detail oriented.  This book is essentially an NBA history that focused on the late 90s to the mid 2010s.  There are accounts of injuries, trades, games and series.  The book is a little less than six hundred pages so it is a long and at times dry read.

I enjoy NBA but the minutiae of this book was a bit much for me.  I was disappointed that the author only devoted a paragraph or two to the 2004 Laker loss to the Detroit Pistons.  I was looking forward to reliving that in print but the author glossed over that glorious event.  But overall I enjoyed the book because it cleared up some of the folklore surrounding Kobe’s relationship with Vanessa, his mother and father and Shaquille O’Neal.  And yes, the rape trial was discussed.

This book reinforced all of my previous notions about Kobe Bryant.  He was an aloof man and fierce competitor.  Kobe Bryant was not a nice guy.  He didn’t really get along with anyone once he became a star.  But that wasn’t important to him.  Winning was.  He was meticulous in everything he did and was a diligent worker.  Kobe had no patience for people around him that didn’t live up to his standards and people were easily discarded.

Kobe also didn’t like to share the spotlight with others.  He didn’t want to share the spotlight with Shaquille O’Neal or Phil Jackson.  LA wasn’t big enough for all of them.  He never wanted it to be said that he needed them in order to be successful.  Kobe was a lot like a 1980s night time soap opera villain that was motivated by a single goal and he didn’t let anything get in his way.  Even though Kobe wasn’t warm and fuzzy I did like him more after reading this book.  I respect the man’s drive and passion.

I also disliked him more after reading this book.  By all accounts Kobe was a prick and so is his wife.  He stabbed Shaquille O’Neal in the back more than once.  He threw his coach Phil Jackson under the bus.  He turned his back on his parents and siblings and cut them off financially before marrying his wife Vanessa and buying a beautiful new home for her mother who was in financial straits before her daughter married the NBA star.  No one really seemed to get along with Kobe.  As an NBA fan I kind of already knew that.

I did learn some new details about Kobe’s life but there wasn’t a lot of new information for me in this book.  It’s fun to relive some of the NBA history that was written about in this book.  I enjoyed the dirt that the book shared on Kobe’s personal entanglements.  The author did a good job of giving us a backstage look at NBA life.  I would recommend the book if you’re an NBA fan.  You will enjoy it and it might make up for the NBA Playoffs being postponed.

 

3022: My Review

This movie is not good at all.  It’s a B movie that happened to have well known actors in it.  3022 is unoriginal with a thin plot and cheap looking.  Very little imagination went into the making of this movie.  This is one of those films that you run across and it has big name actors in it and you wonder why.  What made them do this?  What were they going through?  Did they owe someone a favor?  Are they living check to check like everyone else?  I thought they had options.

Spoiler Alert  Omar Epps is the captain of a spaceship with a crew of four people.  The ship gets lost in space.  A young crew member dies, the oldest crew member loses his mind, it’s Kate Walsh and Omar Epps for a while.  They run across another spaceship that is lost in space.  They decide to help those aboard the other spaceship.  Unfortunately there are limited supplies and not enough resources including oxygen for everyone to survive and make it back to Earth in the time they project.

A fight for survival ensues.  One of the newcomers dies.  The other two lose their minds.  Those two eventually die.  Kate Walsh dies at some point and Omar Epps ends up an old man lost in space by himself which is sad.  I thought that the spaceship had limited resources but  I guess Omar figured that out.

3022 is not the year that this takes place it is the day of the mission when Omar Epps makes a journal entry as an old man.  The movies takes place in the distant future but the movie set looks like an old black and white episode of “Lost in Space” and they used keyboards on the spaceship that look like the exact keyboard I am using right now.

lost in space Lost in Space

omar eps 3022

I guess if you’re a fan of Omar Epps or Kate Walsh you will enjoy this.  Miranda Cosgrove is in this as well and she is very cute.  You may like it if you enjoy science fiction under any circumstances.  But I can’t find a real reason to recommend this movie.  It’s pretty corny.

Terminator, Dark Fate: My Review

I watched Terminator Dark Fate yesterday and it was OK, just OK.  I was a fan of the old Terminator films so I gave this film some grace for being a part of a franchise that I loved long ago.  However, I don’t think it stands alone very well.

Linda Hamilton and Arnold Swarzenegger were great in this movie.  When I heard about this film’s release I was confused as to how either of them could reprise their roles due to their ages.  Both actors are what most of us would consider to be long in the tooth to be an action hero.  Hamilton is sixty three and Schwarzenegger is seventy two.  But they played their roles as well as they did in their prime.  Perhaps they are still in their prime; who am I to say?  Edward Furlong wasn’t in Dark Fate if you’re wondering but his character was in the story briefly.

I have always had a problem with movies that transcend time and or dimension.  Movies such as The Matrix and Inception always confuse me.  I have a difficult time keeping track of what is the reality or a dream and what is the present, the future or the past.  Back to the Future worked because there were clear differences between the times that he traveled between.

The plot was pretty typical.  A young woman held the fate of all humanity in her hands and she needed to be protected.  There was a villain, a Terminator that was trying to kill her in order to change the history of the world.  She had to be protected.  Chaos and destruction ensues.  Meh.

Terminator, Dark Fate took place in the future and then went further into the future.  I think.  It was hard to keep up with what was going on.  In all fairness I have to divulge that I borrowed a DVD of this movie from the library.  I had to watch it late at night on a work night and I was drowsy while watching it and dozed off in parts.  That might explain why I couldn’t totally follow the plot.

Another problem with this film is that it is extremely loud.  I’m glad I watched it at home where I could control the volume.  This film must have been overwhelming in theaters.  I don’t remember being bothered by the loudness of Terminator 2 that I remember seeing in a theater.  But I was much younger then and more tolerant of racket.

This movie could stand to be shorter.  There is a loud, non stop action sequence that lasted thirty to forty five minutes.  Crazy things happened, such as fights against indestructible, futuristic robots in planes while in flight and a huge door was open.  They fought the robot under water for a while.  The story took place in Mexico City so I have no idea what body of what they were in.  The scenes were wild and the noise was deafening.

mexico city

The evil robot that was in pursuit of the savior of the world, the late model Terminator, had a clear advantage in that he was nearly indestructible.  I mean this guy got shot, bludgeoned, set on fire, put through a turbine of some sort and continued to fight.  But he couldn’t take out three mere mortals and one robot that was an old model.  That was a huge hole in the plot for me.

If you enjoyed the old Terminator films you may get a kick out of this for the sake of nostalgia.  You may also enjoy it if you enjoy raucous action films and special effects.  This movie was just OK for me.  If it wasn’t a part of a successful franchise that I enjoyed long ago Terminator, Dark Fate wouldn’t hold much merit for me at all.