AT some point in time I am sure many of us have felt alone, as if we were the only one. I feel it is a valid point; however, my question is what does a person do about it? That feeling of being out of synch from those around you can really do a number on you mentally. Imagine if the co-workers around you all share a fondness for a particular activity which you are not interested in; you could be left out of their conversations or out of office activities. One scenario I have seen numerous times is when one’s circle of friends goes from being single to being a part of a couple. As friends begin to couple up it is understandable there is some adjustment and before you say, “no there is not,” let me say there are a variety of reasons couples may prefer doing things with other couples. I am willing to bet if you were in a relationship that later dissolved, you would have felt alone as your coupled friends came to your support. A particularly difficult time for me took place during my freshmen year of college. I had gone to an out of state university that no one else from my high school was planning on attending. Alone in a foreign city was tough for me, especially because I was the only freshman on my floor; the other residents were all graduate students. It was not until one of my classes held a panel discussion with outside guests that I first felt a connection to some similarly minded students. It was as if a secret door had opened in the middle of the 30,000+ student body and I finally stopped feeling as if I was the odd man out. It was an eye opening experience, not so dissimilar from the one that takes place in this animated adventure comedy. WITH a secret map in her possession Smurfette, voiced by Demi Lovato (Glee-TV, Sonny with a Chance-TV), takes off on a journey that will show her things that she has not found in her own village. Including Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride, Homeland-TV) voicing Papa Smurf, Julia Roberts (Mother’s Day, Closer) voicing SmurfWillow, Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike franchise, True Blood-TV) as Hefty Smurf and Rainn Wilson (Juno, The Office-TV) as Gargamel; this movie was geared more for the younger child. The animation was colorful and there were many scenes filled with action. Honestly, I felt like I was watching one of those old Saturday morning cartoon shows I remember as a kid. I appreciated the dual messages the writers were trying to get across to the viewers; however, I found the story in general mediocre. There was nothing either good or poor about this picture; it was predictable and a little bland for me. Granted I was never into the Smurfs while growing up, but I thought the writing could have been more creative to add heft to the fun and excitement factors. As a whole I was left with a bland feeling about this movie; I could have (if I was into the Smurfs) easily have waited to see this some Saturday morning on television, while eating a bowl of breakfast cereal by myself.
LONLINESS can be your friend when you do not fit in. Depending on the circumstances not fitting in can be an asset; however, in a “dog eat dog” environment the non-conformer can become an easy target for ridicule. When I look back at my experiences involving group settings, the one thing I find in common across all of them is the quickness people have in making judgments. If one person deems another person an oddball, others will easily follow suit; even if they have not had any personal contact with the newly labeled individual. Personally I celebrate those individuals who do not follow this pack mentality. It saddens me when I have found myself in a situation where one person decides another person inferior in some way. When I can I will challenge them to explain why they think that way. You should hear some of the excuses; a majority of them have to do with a person’s looks or appearance. Other reasons have to do with the individual not following exactly the same steps as the accuser. As far as I can tell there really is no good excuse. ONE summer I was enrolled in a woodworking class that was limited to 12 students. Once we were taught how to use our tools we were given a project to create a functional object. I chose to make a chessboard while the guy next to me decided to make a boomerang. Out of all of us there was one person who spent time lining up different pieces of wood around their workspace, color coordinating them. Everyone else was into cutting and arranging the wood they chose. Within a couple of minutes I heard someone behind me whispering to look at the weird one with all the wood around him. It only took a few seconds before I started to hear people snickering around me. Long story short, the student with all the wood pieces created an incredible looking coat rack that even impressed our instructor. It goes to show that those who do not fit in can still achieve great things; just see what happens in this action adventure film. FIVE high school students on the outs with their classmates find themselves thrown together when they start experiencing weird effects from a glowing rock. Starring Dacre Montgomery (Safe Neighborhood, A Few Less Men) as Jason/Red Ranger, Naomi Scott (The 33, Terra Nova-TV) as Kimberly/Pink Ranger, RJ Cyler (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Vice Principals-TV) as Billy/Blue Ranger, Ludi Lin (Monster Hunt, Marco Polo-TV) as Zack/Black Ranger and Becky G. (Empire-TV, House of Sin) as Trini/Yellow Ranger; I first have to tell you I am not familiar with the television show that inspired this fantasy picture. Based on the audience reaction at my viewing; those who were fans of the Power Rangers enjoyed the movie immensely, those seeing the rangers for the first time were not as enthusiastic. I found the movie cheesy; in other words, the special effects were not top notch and the script was average. Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games franchise, Pitch Perfect franchise) as Rita Repulsa was the most fun character in my opinion. What impressed me the most about this movie was how they incorporated a student on the spectrum into the story; unless of course the character was the same in the original TV show. Overall this movie did not stand out for me.
SITTING in the semi-darkened theater waiting for the movie trailers to begin, I was wondering how many different film variations of King Kong I had seen. I believe I saw every one of them and I could even include the robotic one Bette Midler used in one of her concerts, where she played the Fay Wray character who was sprawled out across King Kong’s palm. Thinking about these different versions of the big ape, we really have come a long way from the 1st one to the latest one I was about to see. Of course I was basing it on the movie trailers I had recently seen. Recalling the earlier Kong versions, I can still remember how fake looking he was in the oldest movies. My guess is the writers needed to fine tune their script to keep the audience engaged with the story since an unrealistic looking gorilla would quickly become boring. SPEAKING of story lines I wondered what the writers would do to keep me interested in this umpteenth time of me watching a King Kong film. More often than not I have noticed when a movie comes out with a well known character that has played before the script is updated to reflect current times. Sometimes it works and sometimes it is a bust. I can remember a group of classic horror monsters like Frankenstein and the Mummy being part of a series of movies that were based in comedy, starring comedians and comedy duos. Personally I found them ridiculous; taking such classic horror characters and placing them in a genre of films that no one would ever consider for them, diminishes their scariness in the public’s eyes. With these thoughts in mind the movie theater lights became dark and I sat back in my seat to see what Kong was up to these days. FLYING over the Pacific Ocean, bound for a newly discovered uncharted island, a group of scientists and soldiers did not know they would be disturbing the inhabitants to the point of making them angry. This action adventure fantasy succeeded because of the special effects. From all the different versions of King Kong I have seen on film, this was the best looking or should I say the most realistic version of King Kong. The fight scenes were exciting, especially the opening one. If this film had not been so technically advanced I would have been bored by the script. With Tom Hiddleston (Crimson Peak, I Saw the Light) as James Conrad, Samuel L. Jackson (The Legend of Tarzan, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children) as Preston Packard, Brie Larson (Room, Short Term 12) as Mason Weaver and John C. Reilly (Carnage, Step Brothers) as Hank Marlow; I only found Hank’s character interesting. Samuel was doing his identical acting thing, so no surprises there. However I was surprised how stiff Tom and Brie were with their characters. This was partially due to the script that offered no insights, along with the direction that kept them one dimensional. Only John C. Reilly and John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane, The Monuments Men) as Bill Randa offered any interest among the cast. If you are into visual experiences then you would want to see this picture inside a movie theater. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
WALKING among the ancient relics in the midst of reproductions was exciting. The museum had opened an exhibit devoted to the achievements of ancient man. As I started to walk around the displays I came up to glass cases that had several items in each one. According to the printed cards next to each item these objects were all tools that must have been used eons ago. To tell you the truth except for the obvious hammer and chisel devices I would not know these things were tools. I wondered how the archeologists and scientists figured it out. Among the cases there were blueprints displayed on large easels that stood alongside each case. The plans were modern but they depicted the schematics to ancient structures that historians believed would have been built using some of these same tools that were in the cases. I may be a pessimist but how did they really know? At least I could see the blueprints and corresponding tools would make a good story for the visitors. IN another part of the exhibit there were computer monitors set up to provide visual mini tours of some famous structures. I gravitated towards these monitors and stopped at the first one which was focused on a famous temple in Cambodia. I knew about the temple only because a friend of mine had traveled to it and shared his photographs with me. Listening to the film’s narrator I heard a variety of statements being made about the uses or purposes to several portions of the temple’s structure. How could one really know that a platform jutting out from a side entryway was used for sacrifices I wondered? Maybe it was used as a balcony or it was a portion of a bridge that had fallen apart; who could really say with certainty what something was from so long ago? Call me a skeptic but I tend to need more proof before I will accept someone’s version of an ancient item’s purpose. Maybe this is why I had a hard time believing this action adventure film. MERCENARIES William and Tovar, played by Matt Damon (The Martian, Promised Land) and Pedro Pascal (The Adjustment Bureau, Game of Thrones-TV), were traveling through China in search of a black powder that was rumored to be a powerful weapon. Their search would lead them to something scarier than the powder. Directed by Yimou Zhang (House of Flying Daggers, Hero), this was the largest production to be filmed entirely in China. I will say this expansive fantasy picture had some wonderful visual scenes. Women warriors swinging off of the Great Wall of China looked like a cross between a ballet company and Cirque du Soleil; it was beautiful to watch. Also starring Tian Jing (Special ID, The Warring States) as Commander Lin Mae and William Dafoe (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Platoon) as Ballard, I found the story to be silly and the script to be even sillier. The idea of fending off “alien” creatures was an odd concept, but if that is the idea I would have reluctantly been okay with it if the script was written better. I was periodically bored and the CGI effects did not help the situation. Except for a couple of well choreographed fight scenes I actually enjoyed the craziness of the Great Wall’s defenses. Who knows, maybe there is actual proof somewhere that the wall used to do these things.
1 ¾ stars
WHENEVER I see it being done I always stop to watch. Not only is it an art but a beautiful and skillful manipulation of a basic element. The only times I get to see a potter in action has been at art fairs or galleries. To witness the moist hands dance across the spinning mound of clay centered on their potter’s wheel is fascinating to me. The clay looks at times like it is growing into a living plant reaching maturity; at other times, it may look like an architectural geometric structure. If you ever get the chance to watch the process I highly recommend it. There is another reason why I am attracted to this process and it has to do with control. On a certain level I can easily relate to the potter because they are in total charge of the entire creation. They do not have to depend on anyone; it is simply them and their clay. Whatever way their creation comes out, it is solely do to them. On the one hand you could say that may not always be the best way because if the object is a disaster then the potter is completely at fault. I would willingly accept that fate instead of depending on someone to help complete the vision I foresaw for the mound of clay. BEING in control has always been a part of my mental makeup, since as long as I can remember. Without turning this into a therapy session let me say that after experiencing multiple disappointments I became trained on how not to depend or need anything from anyone. Maybe I had high standards or low self-esteem, but it has always been hard for me to ask someone for help. To let go of being in control for me represents a fear somehow that I am weak or not good enough. Like I said I do not want to delve into my psyche but I do have to say I discovered I have something in common with Batman and it is not the cool gadgets. GOTHAM city could be on the brink of disaster if the Joker, voiced by Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover franchise, The Campaign), goes through with his dastardly plan. If Batman, voiced by Will Arnett (When in Rome, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise), wants to save his beloved city he may have to do something he has never done before—ask for help. This animated action adventure film was just as creative as the original Lego movie. With Michael Cera (Youth in Revolt, Arrested Development-TV) voicing Robin, Rosario Dawson (Top Five, Sin City franchise) voicing Barbara Gordon and Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash, Harry Potter franchise) voicing Alfred Pennyworth; all the characters were fun to watch and especially hear since the dialog had a fun edge to it. This film festival winner would appeal to kids and adults in my opinion. The references made for the adult viewers will not register with kids but it won’t take away from the movie watching experience. I also enjoyed the way the writers brought in a life lesson moment; it was touching and did not feel out of place. So now that I discovered I have something in common with Batman, I wonder if I should start working on my outfit.
3 ¼ stars
DISTANCE was never a factor until I reached adulthood. As a kid I loved all my relatives equally including the ones that lived out of state. They rarely were able to participate in the weekend family dinners and could not be present for every special occasion; however, these distant relatives were always included in our daily lives. And this was at a time before the internet was widespread; when one would buy a birthday card or write a letter that would be dropped off at the post office for mailing. Phone calls were only done on a landline phone; there was no video time to see the person one was talking to on the other end of the telephone line. Love was never brought into question. As I think about this I have to say part of the reason was the respect we had for each other. Being an aunt or uncle was a unique position because they were at times surrogate parents, confidants or pseudo buddies. Another reason why love was strong across distances was the effort everyone committed to in keeping the family bonds strong. IMAGINE my surprise when I first started out in the dating world when my query to go out on a date was rejected because I did not live in any of the surrounding zip codes. I was dumbfounded and left speechless. Now I am not talking about some small town surrounded by farmland; we are talking in the heart of a big metropolis with several forms of public transportation, besides expressways and bike paths. A similar experience happened with someone else when we exchanged phone numbers. Because my area code did not match theirs I immediately saw the disappointment flitter across their face. It was such an odd thing to me where I had to wonder what a person does when they set up limited boundaries for themselves and they exhaust the dating pool of their area. I have to give credit to the main character in this adventure romance for the distance he traveled. GARDNER Elliot, played by Asa Butterfield (Ender’s Game, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), was the 1st person to be born in space. Living on Mars with only scientists, his only connection to earth was through his computer screen. But what he found on it changed his life. This dramatic film festival nominee had a wonderful story; the movie trailers played it up well. Along with Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight franchise, Tinker Tanker Solider Spy) as Nathaniel Shepherd, Britt Robertson (The Longest Ride, Tomorrowland) as Tulsa and Carla Gugino (San Andreas, Watchmen) as Kendra Wyndham; the script was so hokey and basic that none of the actors came off well in their roles. With the right writers this could have been a thoughtful, exciting love story; but instead, this picture may only interest the young adult group if even them. There were a couple of scenes that were decent but I did not feel most scenes ever matured enough to help create an engaging story. I cannot tell you what to do but all I can say is with my reviews I have traveled near and far to see a film; this movie was not worth the travel time for me.
1 ¾ stars
LUCK is such a fickle experience. It seems as if some people get all the luck while others never get a break. I have a friend who is the luckiest person I know when it comes to finding a parking space on city streets. Areas that are congested with cars and people at all hours of the day and all he needs to do is drive into it and BOOM, a space magically appears just for him at the right time. It could be him turning down a short side street to find an untouched open space or simply cruising down a boulevard and someone pulls out of their parking space several feet ahead of him. All I can say is his luck with parking is uncanny. There is another friend of mine who has the best luck when it comes to entering contests and raffles. More times than not this person will wind up winning something for their money; to me this is pure luck. THERE are times where luck is not solely left to chance; it is more determination. If you have ever visited a casino take a look at the people who play the slot machines. They could sit there for hours and lose money time after time, but as soon as they get a hit on a machine the people around them will immediately think that person is lucky. I ask you though, was it real luck or them staying at the same machine until they got a winner? Of course I have seen where a person walks up to a slot machine and on the 1st pull they become a winner. If they take the winnings and leave they are a true winner in my books. You could say they were lucky or maybe it was left to chance. They happened to walk in at the right time when the previous person on the machine left in disgust for not getting a winner after one hour; if they had only stayed for one more play. If you watch this adventure thriller you will have to decide if luck was involved or not. PROSPECTOR Kenny Well, played by Matthew McConaughey (Free State of Jones, The Wolf of Wall Street), had one true love in life and that was gold. The problem was his funds were dwindling but he knew inside he had to hit it big at some point. This film festival winning drama based on a true story also starred Edgar Ramirez (Point Break, Joy) as Michael Acosta and Bryce Dallas Howard (Pete’s Dragon, Jurassic World) as Kay. The story was fascinating and visually this picture was fun to watch with its great outdoor scenes. Matthew did a super job, even putting on 40 pounds for the role, but he was not strong enough to handle the confusing script. At times I felt I was watching a comedy, then a drama; add in the thrills and intrigue and I was left lost. Soon into the movie it seemed as if we were going from one stunt/crisis to another; there was never any time given to explore deeper into the characters. Should you take a chance on seeing this film and hope you enjoy it? I leave it up to you.
MADE especially for you by those knotted skinny fingers, you could only imagine it must have taken months to create the gift. She is one of your favorite relatives who always remembers you on holidays and your birthday. This year she knitted you a multi-colored, bulky sweater. You could tell immediately the sweater was going to be way too big even before you unfolded it. Holding it by the shoulders you lifted it up so the body of the sweater cascaded down like a flood. The array of colored yarns clashed in such a sharp way that your eyes squinted as a few dominant colors seemed to vibrate in their confined patch of the sweater’s landscape. Gratefully you were not asked to try on the massive sweater; you did not want her to feel any anxiety seeing you lost in the yards of yarn spinning around you. It is always the thought that counts and the fact that it must have taken her months to knit only affirmed the affection and love the two of you share for each other. SINCE I believe there are no bad pets only bad owners, I keep the same attitude when I encounter someone’s dog or cat. I do not want the owner to know I am not fond of their pet; I simply remain quiet unless their pet is constantly jumping on me or is trying to bite me. Even the friends of mine who have dogs that greet you by sticking their snouts into your crotch are a bit annoying but still loveable. Having started out in veterinary science during my college years, I have always had a soft spot for animals. With that being said, I was looking forward to this comedic drama; however similar to what I said previously, I loved the dogs in this adventure film but was not fond of the script. THE relationship between dogs and their owners is explored in this heartwarming film. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Hachi: A Dog’s Tail) and starring Dennis Quaid (Frequency, Vantage Point) as Adult Ethan, Juliet Rylance (Frances Ha, Sinister franchise) as Ethan’s Mom and Luke Kirby (The Samaritan, Shattered Glass) as Ethan’s Dad; this movie based on the novel could have been a much better picture. I was aware of the controversy surrounding a video that recently popped up of one of the dogs, but I did not feel I had all the facts to make a proper decision yet. In the meantime the script was so heavy handed that it was dripping with cloying sweetness to purposefully pull at the viewer’s heartstrings. The story was predictable and kept everything in a narrow band of emotional depth; it could have been decent if the writers had backed off from focusing on manipulating the audience’s hearts and concentrate on telling a straightforward tale. I found myself getting bored though I mostly enjoyed Josh Gad’s (The Wedding Ringer, Love & Other Drugs) voicing of Bailey. Part of me wants to give a better rating for the dogs’ performances but I know I need to be impartial. The movie studio may have had good intentions but the end result did not fit together very well.
1 ¾ stars
THERE is always a can of mashed pumpkin I keep up on the shelf in my kitchen cabinet. You never know when the urge will come for some homemade pumpkin bread. It brings memories of comfort and home when my house gets filled with the aroma of pumpkin and cinnamon. The recipe I use was handed down to me: I keep the frail piece of paper it is written on in a plastic sleeve secured in a three ringed binder. I love the taste of pumpkin though I was never a big fan of its seeds; I think it is because those store bought ones were always covered in salt back when I was a kid. Ironically I was also never a huge fan of carved pumpkins sitting out for Halloween. After a couple of days they would start to smell or worse, were attacked by squirrels that would gnaw on them and leave a mess on one’s front porch. Except for that issue there is something about pumpkins that brings back memories of childhood, family and Thanksgiving to me. LAST week while I was grocery shopping I came across a small section of shelves that were stocked with items priced for clearance. At first glance I noticed a majority of the items listed the words “pumpkin spice” on its packaging. Just to give you an idea let me tell you a few of the products that were on the shelves; there were car deodorants, breakfast cereals, cough syrups and coffee all flavored with pumpkin spice. I do not know about you but I found it weird to have so many random products all with the scent or taste of pumpkin spice. Are there that many people driving around with the inside of their vehicles smelling of pumpkin spice? I did not list all the items for you but I felt companies just let their marketing departments go amok and now they are all sitting up on shelves as clearance items; what a waste of time, energy and money. I felt the same way about this sequel. XANDER Cage, played by Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious franchise, Babylon A.D.), was not dead; he was living a peaceful life until he was needed to help retrieve a secret hi-tech device that was stolen by Xiang, played by Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, IP Man franchise). Whoever had possession of the powerful product could easily bring a country’s government down to its knees. This action thriller also starred Deepika Padukone (Happy New Year, Chennai Express) as Serena Unger, Toni Collette (Krampus, Miss You Already) as Jane Marke and Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight, The Legend of Tarzan) as Augustus Gibbons. For the life of me I do not understand how a movie studio decides to bring back a character after all these years and produce a total mess of a picture. The script was awful to the point of almost being a total embarrassment. Sure the action scenes were well orchestrated but that is all this adventure film offered and that only goes so far. I could not tell the difference between Vin’s character here with the one he plays in the Fast & Furious movies. If you want to watch a mindless fast paced film then this would be the one; I suggest though you wait for it on clearance.
1 ½ stars
WHEN I was little all I wanted was to have a common, average full name; something like John Smith or Robert Jones. I was the only one in my elementary school to have my first name, though there were a couple of boys who had names similar to mine. Teachers never asked a Jeffrey or Deborah to repeat their names but with certain teachers I had to repeat mine a 2nd time so they were sure they heard correctly. Thinking back now I am not sure why it was important for me to want a different name unless it was to be less noticed. It was not like my name was hard to spell or even pronounce. AS we graduated out of elementary school we were joined with students from other schools. There was one boy who had the same last name as a local food company and he was picked on because of it. I remember sitting and imagining if he was getting teased for a food product what would happen to a student who had the same last name of an infamous person from history; such as Churchill, Hemingway or Mussolini? Interestingly I knew a couple of people who were connected to famous individuals but no one knew because they did not have the same last name. There was one friend who was able to trace his family history back 6 centuries. He showed me a couple of artifacts that had been handed down generation to generation; it really blew my mind since my knowledge of my family’s history only goes back approximately a couple of hundred years. Tracing a family’s history can be eye opening, both for the relatives or bystanders. The reason I say this is because there is a famous family business headquartered in my city. The descendants have lived around here for years and a friend of mine is the accountant for a couple of them. Just from a couple of stories told to me, this family has some messed up genes in their gene pool. But they do not as far as I know have an ancestor like the one in this fantasy adventure. CAL Lynch, played by Michael Fassbender (The Light Between Oceans, Steve Jobs), was surprised to discover he had an ancestor named Aguilar who was an assassin. Cal was more surprised when he met him. This action film based on a video game had a heavy hitting cast joining Michael. There was Marion Cotillard (Allied, Rust and Bone) as Sofia, Jeremy Irons (The Man in the Iron Mask, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) as Rikkin and Brendan Gleeson (Suffragette, Troy) as Joseph Lynch. With such a good cast it was a shame the nonsensical script was so poor. It was a patchwork of fights, romance, history; it jumped from one to the other. I enjoyed the exterior shots and I did not mind the story, but this film was barely coherent. The actors tried their best I believe; however, I was bored through parts of the picture. Maybe the video game is fun to play but this was not a film one needs to pay full price to see. In my opinion this was a movie studio and family dysfunction.
1 2/3 stars