My first encounter with exotic animals took place at a zoo. It was a family outing and our first time going to the zoo. I remember how excited I was as we passed through the zoo’s tall metal gates. There were signposts that had wooden cutouts of animals standing on arrows, pointing the way to where we could find them. I was struck by the pungent smell as we entered some of the indoor pavilions. My two favorite animals I wanted to see were the tigers and the chimpanzees. There was something about the way the tigers moved that mesmerized me. As for the chimps, my favorite stuffed animal was Zippy the Chimpanzee that was handed down to me from my brother; I wanted to see some of Zippy’s relatives. After spending the entire day at the zoo, the last thing we did before exiting was to visit the gift shop. It was here where the magic of the day solidified for me. Standing in a corner of the shop was a machine that looked like a jukebox. Instead of records there were wheels and molds that would come together and create a wax model of your favorite animal. That was it for me; I deposited the quarters that were given to me and watched as the machinery created a golden tiger. Once I got home I placed the wax figure on the top shelf of my bookcase so it could watch over me as I slept. There were so many wonders discovered on that first trip that vividly remain with me today. If you never had a similar stirring experience regarding the sight of live animals at a zoo then you might enjoy watching this family adventure film. Tim Allen (Wild Hogs, Big Trouble) was the voice of Rex, a king penguin who returned home to Penguin City on South Georgia Island near Antarctica. The movie followed Rex as he struggled against harsh conditions to find a mate and start a family of his own. This sanitized drama confused me; I thought it was gong to be a documentary. When I looked for a movie trailer, I discovered this film was released a year ago as Penguins 3D. It seems as if they added more footage and created this story. I did not see this in 3D nor find anything that had not been shown before in TV shows or movie documentaries. With Tim narrating, the humor was kept at a mild children’s level. If you know nothing about penguins or have a child that has never been to a zoo, then it would be okay to see this movie. For me, it did not provide any joyous wonder.
In our everyday life things we don’t know do not necessarily cause us stress or anxiety. In a math class, there may be an unknown variable in an equation you must figure out. Maybe you have an appointment in a part of the city that is not familiar to you or you were invited to a party where you do not know what type of gift to buy for the host. As I said before, these scenarios should not be too stressful for you. Now if the unknown is the whereabouts of a loved one that would be a different story. I have been fortunate not to have experienced such an awful thing. When newscasts report on a missing child or relative, they usually show family members in distress. Days or weeks can go by without any news and the relatives just want to know what happened to their loved ones. This type of scenario was the premise for this dramatic crime thriller. Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone, Gerry) played Iraqi war veteran Rodney Baze Jr. Experiencing a hard adjustment to life back home, in the small steel mill town, Rodney could not find employment except for some clandestine fighting matches. When he did not return from one of his matches his older brother Russell, played by Christian Bale (American Psycho, The Prestige), could not wait for the local police to find him. He took matters into his own hands. From the start, this intense film created heaviness within me. It felt as if each scene was created to convey a sense of resigned depression. The cinematography which was beautiful further helped convey those feelings. As for the acting it was subtly superb by Christian and Casey. Then there was Woody Harrelson (Rampart, No Country for Old Men) playing Harlan DeGroat. He was as wickedly sinister as he has every been. I also thought Willem Dafoe (The Hunter, The English Patient) was perfect for his role as John Petty. The disappointment in this film festival winner came from the script. I found it weak as it lost steam by the end. If the actors’ incredible acting had a stronger screenplay, this movie would have been close to a 4 stars rating. Instead I left the theater knowing I had seen a great cast, but not knowing what the writers were thinking when they wrote the screenplay. There were scenes that had violence and blood in them.
2 3/4 stars
For many years I would eat to feel good. Notice I did not say, “better” but good. At an early age I learned food could be a reward, a comfort or even a friend for me. When I would be playing at a cousin’s house, there would always be a time where the two of us would stop to get a food treat from my aunt. If she did not have homemade cookies or a cake we would be taken to the local candy store, where I usually picked out something with chocolate in it. Food became more of a comfort during my early school years. I still remember how at the end of the school day I would hide in an empty classroom until I thought it was safe to come out. Carefully leaving the building I would hunt down the distant tinkling bells of the departing ice cream truck, so I could get an ice cream cone and eat all of it before I got home. It was not until later when I decided I could not stand the way I looked anymore. I researched and learned how to eat to feel better. What I soon discovered was how certain foods could be used as a remedy for the human body. For example I found out eating ginger could relieve nausea and ingesting cinnamon could lower cholesterol. I was so surprised to find ways to heal the body without having to take medications. It made sense to me. If my eating habits were making me unhealthy, then if I started eating better I should be getting better, right? Now keep in mind I am not a medical expert, but I was fascinated with this documentary. Director Lee Fulkerson (Combat at Sea-TV, The Crash of Flight 191-TV) did a fine job of directing by letting his interviewees explain their findings. For example, Dr. T. Colin Campbell from the Center for Nutrition Studies was interesting to listen to as he explained one of his major achievements, The China Project. At times the movie felt like a reality show (I mean this in a good way) as it followed the progress of patients who adopted a new plant based diet. There were times where I felt the scenes were becoming repetitive and dull, but the topic kept my interest. All I could think of were my friends who are healthy eaters, wondering if they knew any of the facts that were being discussed in this film. I have to tell you, after watching this intriguing documentary I am moved to the point where I want to be a conscious eater.
3 stars — DVD
Each of us has had experience with it, yet we handle it in a variety of ways. Not all solutions are the healthiest for us, but we try as best as we can. What I am referring to are relationships that are toxic. It could be family, business or personal ones; it does not make a difference to how lethal the toxicity can be. I have experienced the effects of being in a toxic relationship and suffer both physically and mentally. A heaviness comes over me, where each step I take feels as if I am pulling the soles of my feet off from sticky wads of chewed up gum that cover the ground. My shoulders slouch down unable to maintain the excess weight that has been placed on them. Mentally my brain strains to process the images my eyes have taken in, coating them in thick dark syrup; I am only able to understand a portion of what I see. Now I can spend this entire review on ways we can protect ourselves in these types of relationships, but then I could not talk about this dramatic musical film. See for yourself how toxicity brewed inside the Cobbs family in this movie. Based on American Langston Hughes’ play, this updated version had a strong cast of actors who tried to carry the story. Jennifer Hudson (The Secret Life of Bees, Dreamgirls) played a single parent named Naima who had a son named Langston, played by Jacob Latimore (Vanishing on 7th Street). Having fallen on hard times, about to be evicted from their place, Naima had to send her son to her parents Aretha and Reverend Cornell Cobbs, played by Angela Basset (Strange Days, Gospel Hill) and Forest Whitaker (Platoon, Phone Booth). But there was a problem, they had not spoken to each other for many years. Though unhappy with the situation, Langston was desperate to find out what happened between his mother and these two strangers he was forced to stay with in New York City. My favorite part of this film were the musical numbers. I am partial to strong female vocals which Jennifer and the choir aptly provided. Sadly that is all I liked about the film. I am sure the original story on stage was a powerful piece; however, in this movie version it was so heavy handed, determined to show the viewer the struggles, that I was bored. Part of the reason had to do with the poor screenplay; it introduced scenes without providing character backgrounds. This movie was disappointing, though it did remind me of one of the biggest lessons I learned: I do not have to accept anything, just respect it.
1 3/4 stars
It was a delayed reaction on my part when I heard the undecipherable sounds in the subway car. It was white noise or at least I thought it was when it coughed out of the train car speakers. The train was being detoured to the elevated tracks instead of its usual route and going express to a station that was unfamiliar to me. I was stuck as I gazed out the window at the new views of the city’s landscapes. It became exciting for me since I was seeing some of the city’s skyscrapers from a new angle and they were magnificent. We finally reached the station where I stepped out onto the platform, only to be surprised by what I saw before me. The station had been remodeled to its original look from the 1920′s. Freshly painted with wide brass signs hung on the wall, the place was a knockout. Here my trip had started out on an ordinary trek and wound up in a different place that shocked me. The same thing happened to me when I went to see this action mystery movie. I had no prior knowledge, did not know it was a remake of a South Korean cult classic or that the story would be so twisted. Josh Brolin (Men in Black 3, Milk) played alcoholic advertising executive, Joe Doucett. After a night of heavy drinking Joe woke up to find himself in a strange motel room. It turned out not to be a motel room but a cell, where he remained for the next 20 years. With no explanation or human contact to explain why he was imprisoned, one day Joe woke up and found himself free in an open field. He would spend every waking minute tracking down the people responsible for his imprisonment and take revenge on them. Directed by Spike Lee (Malcom X, Inside Man), visually the scenes were exciting but not for the faint of heart. There were extremely bloody and violent scenes in this action drama. Josh appeared to have bulked up for the demanding role and he impressed me with his determined darkness. Elizabeth Olsen (Silent House, Liberal Arts) brought her high level of excellent acting skills to her performance as Marie Sebastian, a first responder who was drawn into Joe’s plight. The story took such twisted turns that it was not a shock to see Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained) play the character Chaney. I have to honestly say this bizarre movie left me with mixed feelings. The cast was good but I felt some of the scenes lacked any depth, besides not making much sense to me. I would be very curious to get the original film and see why it has reached a cult status. Since I prefer knowing as little as possible when I go see a movie, I was very much taken aback by this crazy mystery; I just do not know if I enjoyed the ride. There were scenes with blood and violence.
2 1/4 stars
Once the heart loses a loved one it never fills up the same way. The empty space in the heart gets filled with memories like air in a balloon until it almost resembles its former shape. But as time goes by the area shrivels due to the memories fading. The heart never deflates completely; as recollections withdraw to the deeper recesses of the mind, it takes more effort to keep the heart aloft. Though it may not be felt right away, life does go on as the heart seeks out a new or different type of love to nourish and return it to a higher place of consciousness. I have experienced such loss (who hasn’t, right?) and understand we each treat loss in different ways. Inspired by a true story, the main character in this dramatic film had been secretly carrying her loss for 50 years. Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal, Ladies in Lavender) was stellar in the role of Philomena, the Irish woman who had her out of wedlock son taken away from her and given up for adoption. Steve Coogan (Ruby Sparks, Tropic Thunder) played investigative journalist Martin Sixsmith who would take and document Philomena’s journey to find out what happened to her son. This film festival winning movie used Martin’s book, “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee,” as a source. First and foremost let me start with the acting in this film. Judi was amazing in the role. It was a different type of character for her, where she gave the impression of being naive, but underneath had a solid core of strength. As for Steve, I was impressed by him taking on a cynical, smart aleck type of character who had a protective fondness for Philomena. Because of their chemistry and acting skills, they never let the script fall into a sentimental mushy state. I was surprised with the turn of events and I have to say it was hard not to become emotional. This was an adult story that captivated the audience to the point I was able to hear people’s emotions welling up. There is a good chance Judi and possibly Steve will get nominated for an Oscar, besides the director Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity). None of us may ever experience what Philomena did, but each of us will certainly be able to relate to the love and loss she endured.
3 2/3 stars
I can remember every single fight I was involved in when growing up. Out of all of them there was only one time where I threw the punch first and that was because the boy had been picking on me for weeks. I am not a violent person; in fact, I was never taught how to defend myself. A friend’s older brother had to show me how to correctly make a fist with my hand. I used to wonder where the aggressive kids learned how to fight and torment other students like me. It was during the parent/teacher conference nights where an answer could be found. I was not old enough to understand the reasons, only remembering how I felt when seeing the parents of a bully. More times than not the parents would frighten me. I could not explain it, but saw how they treated their spouse and child. Among my friends and family I never saw an adult act like that to someone else. In this action thriller, you will see what happens when parents get involved. Jason Statham (The Bank Job, Snatch) played Phil Broker, a former drug enforcement administration agent. After his wife’s death, Phil decided to settle in a small town to raise his young daughter Maddy, played by Izabela Vidovic (Help for the Holidays-TV movie, Raising Hope-TV). With the residents already suspicious of out-of-towners, it appeared Phil and Maddy may have settled into the wrong town. When Jason Statham stars in a movie, one already knows what to expect. There were many fight scenes that showed off Jason’s battling skills. One thing I was grateful for was Sylvester Stallone (Rocky franchise, Rhinestone) not starring in this film since he wrote the screenplay. It seems as if the screenplay was sitting on his shelf for years and Sylvester felt he was now too old for the role. This leads to my next point which concerned the script; it was simple and straight forward. There were few surprises since it was easy to figure out what was going to happen in almost every scene. I did enjoy seeing James Franco (This is the End, 127 Hours) and Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush, 21) play darker roles as brother and sister Morgan “Gator” Bodine and Cassie Bodine Klum. Though this crime film did not offer anything new, I was grateful at the end for not growing up being an aggressive kid. There were multiple scenes with violence and blood.
The first thing I noticed was the high darkened ceiling. Laid out were curved rows of burgundy colored seats that reminded me of a lake at sunset. I was excited to be at the movie theater, though you could easily say, “movie palace.” The place was built years before there was such a thing as stadium seating. I can still remember a phone book being placed underneath me so I could see over the people’s heads in front of me. The animated films that played in those movie theaters are now considered classics; they enchanted us with their stories, songs and animation. I would get totally engrossed in those wonderful films; their magic would draw me in to become part of their world. Early on in this animated adventure movie those feelings I experienced as a young boy welled up, magically taking me to the kingdom of Arendelle. Kristen Bell (When in Rome, Veronica Mars-TV) and Idina Menzel (Rent, Enchanted) were the voices for Princess Anna and her sister, Princess Elsa. When the kingdom plummeted into a perpetual frozen winter, Anna set off on a perilous journey to find her sister who was the cause of the frigid temperatures. Helping her track down her icy sister was Kristoff, voiced by Jonathan Groff (Taking Woodstock, The Conspirator) and his loyal reindeer Sven. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, which was one of my favorite cartoon movies, this film is proof Disney has not lost its magic. First of all, I loved the story and thought Kristen and Idina were ideal for the roles. The music and songs were not only memorable, but I believe will earn this film an Oscar nomination. There was comedy for all age groups, exciting action and beautiful visuals; just like the old classics. It was so satisfying to watch a well done animated film where the entire audience was enjoying the story as much as me. I found it funny that Olaf the snowman, voiced by Josh Gad (Jobs, Thanks for Sharing), was the one character who I thought would be the most annoying but instead turned out to be amusing. One of my few complaints was about the ending; I felt it was rushed as if the studio had to keep the movie length low, so they could fit in their movie short and abundance of previews. The bottom line here is I had such a good time seeing this wonderful film, experiencing the same feelings I had when I was a kid, except without having to sit on a phone book. Notice the disclaimer towards the end of the film and there was an extra short scene afterwards.
3 1/3 stars
Walking down the grocery store aisle can be dangerous for me. Besides my desire for foods that are not the healthiest, my eyes can easily spot the words “new” and “improved” on any package. When it comes down to it I am a marketer’s dream shopper because I am easily swayed to try new food items. If they fit into my world of approved foods I am always adventurous to bring home new stuff and taste it. Sometimes I hit the jackpot when the product tastes so good, I do not want to brush my teeth for hours, letting the sumptuous taste linger in my mouth as long as possible. Other times it is a bust and I bring it to the office, hoping someone will get a positive experience from it. When it comes to a product’s packaging that claims a new fuller taste or improved flavor, I am aware it is more of a gamble. I have been disappointed when I brought the package home only to find the improvement consisted of shrinking the size of the food. To make matters worse, I can see it was done to make the package look fuller, but the net weight was reduced and I am being charged the same price as the former package. Stuff like this ticks me off as I am sure it would you too. I have to tell you I felt the same way about this comedy remake of the French Canadian film Starbuck, which I reviewed here previously. This American version starred Vince Vaughn (The Internship, Couples Retreat) as David, a delivery driver who discovered he was the father to 533 children, due to a mixup at the fertility clinic he donated at years ago. If a film studio wants to do a remake I do not have an issue with it. However, if it is going to be done I expect to see and experience things differently than the original; otherwise, what is the point? The biggest flaw in this movie was Vince Vaughn. I am tired of him playing the same role now in every one of his movies, it does not provide any entertainment value to his films. Supporting characters Brett, played by Chris Pratt (Moneyball, Wanted) and Emma, played by Cobie Smulders (Safe Haven, Now I Met Your Mother-TV) at least tried to act in this dud. Another thing that annoyed me was the obvious manipulation of emotions the writers were trying to do in the script. It did not work for me. Save your money by skipping this film and go rent Starbuck instead.
1 3/4 stars
It takes a person with a certain disposition who can enjoy living in a small town. They find comfort in knowing their neighbors, bumping into friends at the local supermarket, having their children attending the same school and living a simpler lifestyle than in a large metropolis. I am so not one of those individuals; in fact, I would probably get claustrophobic if I had to live in a small town. Being born and raised in a large city, I find comfort in the anonymity of being part of the masses. I do not know if it is due to how I was raised or to the hostile environment I experienced in high school, but for years I have always felt safer being invisible and not standing out. Now I will say I do not have a problem visiting small towns. There is something to be said for kicking back and going at a slower pace from time to time. If you can appreciate the attributes of small town living, you might get a quicker kick out of this dramatic adventure film. When mentally confused Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern (Monster, Last Man Standing), received a notice stating he could be a million dollar sweepstakes winner, he was determined to make his way from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up his winnings–even if he had to go on foot. With his youngest son David, played by Will Forte (The Watch, MacGruber), being the only family member to show compassion for his dad, they took off on a road trip that brought them some unexpected surprises. This beautiful black and white film directed by Alexander Payne (The Descendants, About Schmidt) unfolded like the sipping of a sweet tea on a lazy summer day. There were no big or thrilling moments per se; instead, scenes bloomed with satiric wit and touching realizations. The actor that stole ever scene she was in was June Squibb (Meet Joe Black, Scent of a Woman) as Woody’s wife Kate. She was a hoot with her take no prisoners persona. I found myself being drawn into this quirky story as it revealed more and more the realities of small town living. There were several scenes where I laughed out loud as the stellar acting carried us along for the ride. Though I still would not want to live in a tiny residential area, I would gladly go visit this family and sit down to a piece of homemade pie and some iced tea.
3 2/3 stars