TEN YEARS AHEAD FIFTY YEARS BACK-PART 1

Not so long ago, I bought some old books at some old estate sale now long forgotten. The books were a bunch of hard covers that came from an estate what lived in the same home since the 1960’s. The kids had since grown up and moved off on their own, while the parents lived in the house until the couple passed on.

This article isn’t about this couple who this writer did not know or know of! I just attended their estate sale! But what makes this sale unique is what I found tucked inside of one of the books I purchased.

Inside of one of the books was a page that was a page written by one of the kids named Betty Jones. She attended high school at Lakewood Senior High School located in Long Beach California, and was going to graduate in 1971. This would make Betty around the age of eighteen or so, meaning that was was born c.1953, making her 67-68 years old in 2021.

Right before she was going to complete her year, she filled out a 1971 Senior Time Capsule Questionnaire, as this questionnaire was called. On one side was a series of questions what one had to fill out the blanks. On the other side offered the questionnaire filler a place to write an easy to write a letter to one’s self ten years into the future. In this case, it was the “Betty Jones” of 1981.

On her entry dated June 2nd, 1971, she was asked about personal goals set by 1981. Question #1 asked if she would be married in 1981. “Yes” was her answer. Question #2-At what age would you marry? (“19”). How many children would you have? (“4”) Who do you believe you would marry? (“Doug Stodgel” was her answer.) How much education will you secured by 1981? (“At least four years of college” was her reply.) What would your occupation be? (“Politician or Performer”) Where will you be living in 1981? (“New York City”)

And there were a few personal questions rounding out the questionnaire, such as if the draft will still exist in 1981? (“Yes”) Will student unrest on college campuses still exist? (“No”) In what position do you feel we will be ecologically in 1981? (Her answer was “Much better than we are now!”) and the last question asked upon what definite problems have you had in this high school–with an asterisk noting that “This question is for you to determine whether or not this was a problem after ten years.” Betty replied that “I’ve been too busy to study and get good grades, and not applying myself enough”

What made this questionnaire interesting is what the Betty of 1971 wrote to the Betty of 1981–ten years into the future. This story about the Betty of tomorrow will be discussed in detail in the next article! Stay tuned!

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IN THE HEIGHTS (Warner Bros.) is a musical tale about a group of eager and young citizens dwelling in a section of New York City who holds dreams of becoming big within their own ways and means.

The story takes place in the Washington Heights district of upper Manhattan, a working class neighborhood located due north or Harlem-a location far removed from the glimmer and glitz of Midtown that has shifted its demographics over the many years where much of its residents hail from Central America.

It tells the trails and tribulations of Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) who runs a small bodega he inherited from his late parents. His big dream is to restore a seaside cantina his dad once ran in a village located in his native place of origin in the Dominican Republic. There’s Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who toils in a neighborhood hair salon who desires to become a fashion designer and perhaps run her own boutique one day. There’s Nina (Leslie Grace) a childhood friend of Usnavi who’s returned back from attending school at Stanford Univeristy-the first person in her family that is receiving a formal education beyond high school. There’s Benny (Corey Hawkins) another young man working as a dispatcher in a community car service company who has his own aspirations. Along with its various neighbors, family members (blood relatives or those “adapted”), and others dwelling within their patch of the barrio, each one holds the wish and desires that if their dreams are big enough, one can possibly reach the top to where they want to go no matter who they are, where they came from, and where they are heading toward–all among the vast shadows of the George Washington Bridge.

This musical feature film, based upon the stage musical of the same name conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda (before he really struck gold with his other stage musical Hamilton) with music and lyrics by Miranda and screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes, who also composed the “book” for the stage version, is a light and rather “cleaned up” version of a tight-nite community where everyone knows one another and looks after each person to a degree. (This part of upper Manhattan is where both Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes hailed from. Thus, they write and speak from personal experience!) The area itself appears to be rather colorful in its own movie version way, full of scenes and descriptions that are very New York City centric, meaning if one ever lived in or near the NYC area, one can perhaps relate to. Other than that, it’s a community depicted to others outside the realm as one-part West Side Story and another part Sesame Street. This means that the people and places depicted are those that are free from the urban grit and grime one may find in such communities of late.

Also, each main character as depicted are first generation American citizens, although they do “keep real” with their roots while all were born in the USA and are not “illegals” by any means. However, this is a movie musical, not a documentary! So however the characters are depicted and the region to where they hang their hats are just part of the escapist forms of visual entertainment that is desperately needed in these current times as folks are just starting to get out of their shells and are looking for summertime movies that is rather “fun” to look at–no matter what kind of environment they may be in at the moment.

And speaking of current times, much, if not all, people involved in this feature both in front of the camera and behind are those that are what’s known as “people of color”. (i.e. Non white!) Jon M. Chu, the person behind the surprise hit film of 2018, Crazy Rich Asians, directs this piece in a form that is very amusing, upbeat, charming, and harks back to the times where movie musicals, especially those set in an urban setting–mostly in New York City rather than Chicago or any other urban towns located in the Northeast or Midwestern part of the USA, showcases a hamlet that’s the be-all place to be! A city that’s big, exciting, and full of heart and soul!!

The remaining cast fits the bill when it comes to diversity, such as Melissa Barrera (TV’s Vida), Olga Merediz (Broadway’s In the Heights), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Broadway’s Rent), Gregory Diaz IV (Broadway’s Matilda the Musical), Stephanie Beatriz (TV’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Dascha Polanco (TV’s Orange is the New Black) Jimmy Smits (The various Star Wars films), and Lin-Manuel Miranda himself as Piraguero the narrator. This reviewer placed their previous credits of the cast members as extracted from the press notes supplied through the Warner Bros. movie publicity department expressing the fact that they may not be big names stars so to speak, but have appeared in other properties well circulated among the streaming media circles.

As to the behind the scenes stuff. Alice Brooks (The Walking Dead) serves as its cinematographer giving the film its city-esque appearance. The costuming is by Mitchell Travers that presents its characters that urban barrio look including its female leads donning shorts that show off their legs. The set designs by Andrew Baseman give this film another urban presence to it all. (He also did the sets for Crazy Rich Asians, as well as The Trial of the Chicago 7, a title remembered more as a TV movie rather than a feature release that was suppose to play in selected movie houses.) And its choreography is by Christopher Scott, who previously worked with Chu on the Hulu TV streaming series The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers.

All in all, IN THE HEIGHTS is still an appealing title to view. It does have a rather long running time for a movie musical, clocking in at around two hours, twenty minutes–give or take! But for those that wish to see it in a real movie theater, make sure to bring along your extra large bladder or to hold off guzzling those large cups of fizzy soda pop! For those viewing it on HBO Max, Warner Media’s streaming service, one doesn’t have to worry about these little things. When nature calls, just hit the pause “button” on your device, step away to do your duty, and return to where one left off. Everyone will be waiting for you so they can sing and dance through the phrases of living life in the barrio.

This feature is rated “PG-13” for mild cussing and for “suggestive references”–whatever that means! Now appealing in selected movie theaters that may be open in your community, or through streaming via HBO Max for 31 days from its theatrical release date or until July 11th or thereabouts.

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QUEEN BEES (Universal/Gravitas Ventures) is a comical look to where a woman of age is forced into a setting to live with others of her own kind, only to discover that their attitudes they hold haven’t changed too much since their adolescence days as both for the bad and good!

Ellen Burstyn stars as Helen, a widow who desires to live independent, but really can’t seem to keep up. Her adult daughter Laura (Elizabeth Mitchell) insists that she moves into a local senior community center, but flatly refuses. Laura’s young adult son Peter (Matthew Barnes) cares for his grandmother, but also shows his own concerns, even making sure he keep on hand an extra key to her place in case she locks herself out. One evening while cooking something on the stove. Helen does lock herself out. The pot on the stove burns resulting with a kitchen fire. Laura then decides to place Helen into the senior home until her home is reconstructed. Helen is or course reluctant to relocate, but holds little choice in this relocation that she insists is only for a short time. Once settled into her new temporary digs, she see other people of her age, but not in the same behavior patterns as expected. She notices that the other ladies there are flirting with the few male residences, even having these same ladies “sharing” the male suitors. But what makes things change for her is when she meets a gaggle of three women known as the “queen bees”, consisting of Janet (Jane Curtin) the leader of the bunch, Margot (Ann Margret), and Sally (Loretta Devine). When there is an opening in the bees’ tight-nite bridge group, Helen is invited to join them. But Dan (James Cann) a man living at the home tries to woo Helen. She first resists Dan. But being a guy that won’t say “no”, he insists that the two can be something. Dan does hold a good heart and spirit, and Helen sees this. They do eventually become a couple, in spite of the fact that the other ladies has one less man to “share” with!

This little feature written by Donald Martin based upon a story by Harrison Powell, is a charming melodrama that is light in spirit as well as light in its dramatic and comical tone. (No real big laughs here!) Although the concept of a group of ladies playing so-called “mean girls” that’s far removed from bossy girls found in any domestic middle school and/or high school setting, that idea of elders playing kids as comedy relief never seems to jell as it could. However, it’s rather amusing to see a pack of well known film and TV stars make another appearance in a program such as this feature–somewhat in the same notion as an old episode of the TV series The Love Boat where its “special guest stars” are familiar faces from the TV and movie world to where the viewer could say “I though they were long dead!”, as their screen appearance would prove otherwise! Michael Lembeck, the son of character performer Harvey Lembeck, directs this film that holds enough grace and style in the same fashion as any mature woman of a selected age would show herself off to–cute and amusing, but that’s about it!

Along with the for noted stars, Christopher Lloyd is featured as Arthur–another male “catch” at the senior community, and French Steward as Ken, the manager of the senior center. French is not a big name star per se, but this writer has seen him play Buster Keaton in the stage production Stoneface at Hollywood’s Sacred Fools Theater a few years back.

As one can guess, this feature title has the seal of approval from the AARP as “the most AARP movie ever” in their collection of movies called Movies from Grownups that usually consists of films that are heavy in drama, and tends to cater to those over the age of 60–maybe even older! After all, its principles are all of that age bracket. Ellen Burstyn clocks in at 88 years, James Caan at 81, Jane Curtin 73, Ann-Margret 80, Loretta Devine 71, and Christopher Lloyd at 82. Michael Lembeck himself is 72 years old. And for the record, those age statistics were provided to this reviewer by the AARP itself, proving to those in the know that folks of these elevated ages can still get work. After all, President Joe of the USA is pushing 80, so there still is hope! Maybe eighty may not be the new eighteen as Jace Curtin’s character Janet states, but this is all besides the point!

QUEEN BEES is rated “PG-13” for TV-type cussing as well as for milder drug usage. (Dope smoking.) Now playing is selected theaters where available, and through streaming video on demand.

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