I SAW HER STANDING ON THE stage above an auditorium of people. The music was loud, but not heart thumping loud and everyone was following her moves. Looking at the audience, I noticed there were people of all sizes and shapes. What impressed me the most was the fact that everyone had a smile on their face, despite sweating and moving continuously to the music. This was a foreign concept to me based on my experiences with exercise. A friend had asked me to come with her to this aerobics class and though I was hesitant, I decided to join her only if we could stay in the back of the room. The classes I had attended in school were less about exercise and more about domination and testosterone, which was the reason for me not being too thrilled to go back into a similar scenario. We walked over to the registration desk where a woman was standing in platform shoes. She was barely over five feet in height, but she had an abundance of personality. I felt welcomed and safe. After paying for the class, we found two open spaces close to the back of the auditorium. From this spot, I figured it would be easy to pickup the exercise routines; I would just need to watch the people in front of me. The music the instructor used was current and fun; it was easy to figure out the steps. I soon found myself having a fun time exercising; it was a feat! AT THE END OF THE CLASS, I was hooked. The two of us decided to sign up for the monthly pass. The instructor was amazing to me. She had this infectious personality that radiated throughout the room as she coaxed and encouraged us to keep moving. Her exercise moves were easy to follow for the most part. If there was something she thought might be a challenge for the class, she would demonstrate it first before asking us to try it. Up until this time, I had never given thought to becoming a fitness instructor; but, watching how she conducted her class did something to me. Seeing all these women and men, both skinny and large to old and young, enjoying themselves while exercising gave me the idea that I would like to teach. For months, I never missed a class, noticing a loss in my weight that I had not seen for some time. I idolized the instructor because I attributed this achievement to her skills and devotion to all of us succeeding. It was because of her that I moved forward and became a certified instructor. I realize my story is not unusual as you can see by happens to the young man in this animated, adventure comedy. BEING SUCH A HUGE FAN OF a super villainous group, a twelve-year-old decides to apply for a position when there is an opening. He would need to come with some pretty cool, evil weapons. With Steve Carell (Beautiful Day, Welcome to Marwen) voicing Gru, Alan Arkin (Love the Coopers, Grudge Match) voicing Wild Knuckles, writer and director Pierre Coffin voicing the Minions, Taraji P. Henson (Proud Mary, The Best of Enemies) voicing Belle Bottom and Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All at Once, Last Christmas) voicing Master Chow; this latest installment in the franchise followed its consistent formula for the most part. I will say this was a tight production, everything worked in synch to create an easy level of enjoyment. The cast did a wonderful job with their characters as they went through a steady stream of humorous and fun scenes. When one chooses to see a Minions movie, they already know what to expect so there were no surprises. However, with the excellent animation, cast and script; this was a light, entertaining viewing experience. There was an extra scene during the ending credits.
I FOUND SOMEONE I COULD RELATE to and it was an elephant. Don’t laugh; this little elephant was a character I not only could sympathize with but identify with because of what he was going through in his young life. It was on a Saturday and I remember we took the train down into the city. A theater there was doing a weekend showing of the animated movie Dumbo. As we walked around the corner and I saw the movie theater, I got upset because of all the people lined up trying to get into the theater. I thought for sure all the tickets would be sold before we got up to the box office. By downtown standards this theater was one of the smaller ones which was part of the reason for my fears. All I knew about this little elephant was its ability to fly and I desperately wanted to see it for myself. Flying was something I dreamt about and was hoping I could learn something from Dumbo. As you can see at a young age I was already heavy into fantasy, looking to create a different reality around me. I could not stop fidgeting as we slowly made our way up to the box office. WITH TICKETS IN HAND WE FOUND seats in the theater; I could not have been more excited. When Dumbo was being made fun of, I felt his pain. I was overweight and endured similar name calling. If I could I would have jumped into the screen to defend Dumbo and let him know he was not alone. I was visibly upset as I sat in my seat. And then suddenly, my sadness and pain disappeared in a puff of air, that I felt from Dumbo’s large ears when they flapped to give him flight for the first time. Seeing that little elephant rise up into the air was pure magic for me. I was told I had big ears, so I wondered if it was at all possible I could teach myself to use my ears along with my flapping arms to allow me to lift off the ground. There in that movie theater I had found someone like me; I wanted to do everything Dumbo could do. If I was ever afraid or uncomfortable I could simply fly away from the situation, soar above any of the pain or name calling I was experiencing. After all these years, I now have the opportunity to see my flying friend once again in this live action, fantasy film. WHEN CIRCUS OWNER MAX MEDICI, PLAYED by Danny DeVito (Batman Returns, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia-TV), bought a pregnant elephant; he never imagined the birth of a baby elephant could change his life so drastically. This family movie also starred Colin Farrell (The Beguiled, The Lobster) as Holt Farrier, Michael Keaton (American Assassin, The Founder) as V.A. Vandevere, Eva Green (Based on a True Story, Penny Dreadful-TV) as Colette Marchant and Alan Arkin (Argo, Going in Style) as J. Griffin Remington. While watching this picture I had a visceral reaction to what was being shown on the movie screen. Except for the variety of fanciful visuals, I thought this movie was an abomination. How did the movie studio okay a story that was dark and so not kid friendly? I was completely shocked by the script and found absolutely nothing fun or joyful in this picture. There were little glimpses of a possible pleasurable scene but for the most part the script and over the top soundtrack drowned any hope of enjoyment. Days later I still was confused how this film got made of such a classic iconic character from animated history. Unless you want to punish your child or yourself, there is no reason to go see this poor version of the classic tale.
1 ½ stars
NO matter how hard one works it seems as if that finish line keeps moving further away. I am referring to those plans put in place for retirement. Besides the big element of the “unknown,” the unexpected expense, it seems as if the rules and the times keep changing faster to any adjustments one tries to execute. The age of 65 used to be the goal line for retirement; now it gets pushed back depending on the year one is born. There is a grocery store I occasionally use that has a couple of small sections put aside for clearance items. One of them is in the produce section of the store and I have to tell you it is hard sometimes to watch the elderly shoppers pouring over the bruised or wrinkled fruits and vegetables, looking for one that would still be edible. I wonder what my retirement will be like when I am on a fixed income; would I be one of those shoppers looking for a bargain that potentially could make me ill? AS my friends and I grow older our conversations about are retirement years has increased. Some amongst us have multiple insurance policies to cover a variety of scenarios; others have focused on savings that they will be able to draw on once they are no longer working. One of the big concerns we all share is whether we will be able to still live independently, under our own roofs. No one in my circle of friends has had something good to say about nursing homes unless they had a super wealthy relative, who could afford one of those luxury retirement communities set up like a condominium building. They would have to buy the apartment outright and when they died the living space would revert back to the association. Since none of my friends or me could afford such an arrangement, we have come up with some creative ways on how we could take care of each other. I will tell you the option that was chosen in this comedic crime film never occurred to any of us. RETIRED friends Joe, Willie and Albert; played by Michael Caine (Inception, Batman Begins franchise), Morgan Freeman (Driving Miss Daisy, The Dark Knight franchise) and Alan Arkin (Get Smart, Argo); were falling deeper into debt. After witnessing a crime, Joe got an idea that would solve all three friends’ money issues. Directed by Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs-TV), the only reason to see this film is to watch these three actors, along with Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future franchise, Taxi-TV) as Milton and Ann-Margaret (Grumpy Old Men, Any Given Sunday) as Annie, working together. It would have been more interesting to watch them if the script had not stayed on the light side; the humor and emotional parts were rather wishy-washy. Putting aside my dilemma with celebrating crime situations, I thought the lead up story was a good motivator for the action. When the film came to an end I was left with the same feelings I had with yesterday’s picture, just a sense of “blah.” In my opinion it was a crime to have used these actors for such an uninspired script.
Maybe I should have listened better when I was being told I was good with numbers. I say this because I have been seeing more examples of things being reduced to a number. There is the weekly box office results that list the top 5 grossing movies for the weekend. Reaching this list contributes to whether a film can be considered a success. However, I have seen numerous pictures that were excellent and they never made the list. Think about all the different food items that have been introduced only to be pushed off the grocery shelf for something bigger or better, at least according to the manufacturers. One of the more troubling aspects to this numbers game is when human beings are reduced to a number, a commodity. It is safe to say all of us have either experienced or known someone who has gone through staff reductions at their place of employment. It is hard for me to think of something worse at the workplace than having one’s dignity taken away by becoming a statistic in a company’s formula on how to save money. Knowledge and experience used to mean something but I fear numbers have beaten them down. In turn, don’t you find people who base decisions on how the numbers benefit them as being less humane? I do and this movie based on a true story shows what happens when numbers are considered the most important thing. Jon Hamm (The Town, Mad Men-TV) played sports agent JB. When he lost out on his last chance to sign up a sports celebrity, JB came up with an idea to hold a contest to look for potential baseball pitchers. His idea would take him all the way to an unlikely place. The story in this dramatic sports film certainly had potential. Jon played a believable character and had the good fortune to have Lake Bell (In a World, Black Rock) play his tenant Brenda. She was such a likable and convincing character. Sadly I could not say the same for Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) as Rinku and Madhur Mittal (Slumdog Millionaire, One 2 Ka 4) as Ninesh. The script reduced them to cartoon characters; I never felt a sense of who or what they were in this biographical picture. This contributed to the whole film being too sanitized and generic; there was no emotional depth that would allow me to care about any of them. At the beginning of this review I said you could see an example when numbers are a factor; let me clarify, the example was the studio playing it safe by sticking to the numbers instead of letting the story come to life. Added photos and videos of the actual people were shown during the ending credits.
2 1/4 stars
Early on in my teaching years I became aware I was not only the instructor but the student. The members who attended my classes were not aware they were presenting me with a life changing gift. They showed me that age was only a number. Prior to teaching fitness I did not have an example of an older individual who continued to be active, either in a professional or physical capacity. In my classes I would see people in their 70’s and 80’s keeping up with strength training and aerobic activities. My most profound experience was watching a wheelchair bound member, who after a few months, got up out of their seat in one of my yoga classes. It changed my whole outlook about growing up and growing old. Since that time I am all for people who do not let their age stop them from being active and utilizing their skills. So this brings us to today’s review of this comedy film. The story was about 2 former boxers Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp and Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen, played by Sylvester Stallone (Escape Plan, Rocky franchise) and Robert De Niro (Casino, The Family). It has been 30 years since the 2 bitter rivals last boxed but sports agent Dante Slate Jr., played by Kevin Hart (Think Like a Man, This is the End), was determined to get the two men into a ring to decide who was the better champion. Okay, I do not have any issue with the concept of this sport film. Heck, I just saw a news report about a 90 year old runner who still does marathons. Recently I read comments that Sylvester felt he still had something to say about boxing and that is why he did this movie. If he felt he had something to contribute who am I to judge? I cannot recall the last time I felt embarrassed from watching a film out at the theater. The generic script was so lame that it was cringe worthy. Maybe I am being judgmental here but for the life of me, I cannot come up with any reason why Robert De Niro would do such a film except for the paycheck. Even as I am typing this I am experiencing deja vu of feeling icky when I was at the theater. The only bright spots for me were seeing Kim Basinger (L.A. Confidential, Cellular) playing ex-girlfriend Sally and Alan Arkin (Get Smart, Edward Scissorhands) playing former trainer Louis ‘Lightning’ Conlon. As for Kevin Hart, this is the 3rd or 4th film I have seen with him and it seems as if he is just repeating the same character in each one. I am afraid I have seen better winners in my fitness classes. There were several brief scenes where blood was shown.
1 2/3 stars
Magic gives us the opportunity to believe there is something else around us that may explain the unexplainable. For some our 1st encounter with magic occurred when we were babies. A face would appear from behind a covering of hands and say peek-a-boo. I remember my older brothers playfully grabbing my nose then showing it to me sticking out from their clenched fingers. It took me a while to figure out they were sticking the tip of their thumb up between those rounded fingers. Some type of magic can be found almost every day if you look hard enough. No matter how much you look though, you will find no movie magic in this dull comedy. Childhood friends Burt Wonderstone and Anton Marvelton, played by Steve Carell (Hope Springs, Date Night) and Steve Buscemi (Fargo, Boardwalk Empire-TV), grew up to be famous magicians of a Las Vegas show. When street performer/magician Steve Gary, played by Jim Carrey (Mr. Popper’s Penguins, The Truman Show), gained enough public interest to steal the two headliners’ thunder, a competition began to see who would become the top magician to lead a new show for hotelier Doug Munny, played by James Gandolfini (Welcome to the Rileys, Killing Them Softly) in his new hotel. From the entire movie I believe I chuckled four times. If you have never seen Jim Carrey you will enjoy his performance. For the rest of you who have seen him, it was the same old stuff from rubber faced Jim. Both Steves were lackluster, uttering infantile lines; it made the scenes drag. The only one who was good but did not have much screen time was Alan Arkin (Argo, Stand Up Guys) as Rance Holloway. Olivia Wilde (The Words, In Time) as Wonderstone’s assistant Jane was forgettable. However, part of the reason was the undeveloped role given to her. I am afraid this film created no magic for me. They say “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” in the promotional ads for the city. No truer words have ever been spoken; this film should not have left the editing room. I had more fun making a pint of ice cream disappear over the weekend.
1 2/3 stars
True friends are the bright lighthouses that help illuminate your life’s path. There to offer support, concern and love; friends are the safe keepers of one’s history. Part of my inner circle is made up of friends from my childhood. We may not see each other often; but when we do, our conversations do not miss a beat from our previous time together. With one friend, we leave each other daily voice messages on each other’s phones. Just to say hi and stay updated on daily events; this is how we keep track of each other. Like those friends you can have non-verbal conversations with, the relationship between friends Val and Doc was the highlight of this movie. Al Pacino (Scarface, The Merchant of Venice) and Christopher Walken (Seven Psychopaths, Hairspray) did a masterful job playing long time con men Val and Doc. Their looks, their pauses all contributed to a wonderful and believable performance. Being released after 28 years in prison, Val and Doc set off for one last night out on the town before Doc had to complete the job he was hired to do–kill Val. The two men spring their good friend Hirsch, played by Alan Arkin (Argo, Get Smart), from his retirement home and head out to adventure in a stolen car. The three actors made this crime film. I appreciated that the script was tailored to their ages instead of trying to portray them as younger action heroes, like some recent movies have done with their movie stars. The actors did their best with the script which I found muddled and loose. The story went with an easy sentimental value instead of tighter excitement; it took some time for the pace to pick up. Part crime and part comedy, the movie had an identity crises that could have been solved if the writers had given more to these aged to perfection actors.
2 1/2 stars
I could not wait to post this review, pushing aside what I was working on already. After seeing this film last night, I am happy to report the hype you have heard is all true. Hollywood can confidently welcome into her arms a new generation of filmmakers in the form of Ben Affleck (The Town, Hollywoodland). They say the 3rd time is the charm and that is so true here with Ben’s 3rd outing as director of this movie based on a true story. Ben has shown his true talent is his amazing directing skills. A critical time in history, the story was set during the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis. Six Americans escaped from the American embassy as it was overrun by revolutionaries, finding refuge in the Canadian Ambassador’s residence. It would be only a matter of time before they would be found. Ben Affleck played CIA specialist Tony Mendez who devised an outrageous plan for what most believed was a no win situation. Pretending to be part of a Canadian film crew, he would fly into Iran to scout out film locations then fly the 6 Americans out as part of his crew. To accomplish this never before done rescue operation Tony would need to set up a fake film production company. He turned to film producer Lester Siegel, played by Alan Arkin (Get Smart, Little Miss Sunshine), and special effects expert John Chambers, played by John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, Roseanne-TV), to set up a fake film production company. The pacing of the story was well thought out, skillfully using Alan and John for comic relief as the tension rose to a crescendo. I loved the graininess to the film that added an authenticity to the period being shown. Here is the bottom line: this movie did everything right to give the viewer what I felt was a flawless experience. Along with prime acting, including Bryan Cranston (Drive, Breaking Bad-TV) as Tony’s boss Jack O’Donnell, the story was told brilliantly. Hollywood, the CIA, world governments and real people all expertly handled and meticulously placed in the gifted hands of Ben Affleck. C’mon Oscar nominations, this movie is waiting for you.
Is there really such a thing as a normal family? Every family has its quirks and drama. In fact, I have attended or been part of many family dysfunctions. So picture this family: Father Joe Lorkowski, played by Alan Arkin (Get Smart, Little Miss Sunshine), sisters Rose and Norah, played by Amy Adams (Enchanted, The Fighter) and Emily Blunt (The Young Victoria, The Adjustment Bureau), respectively. Combine this wonderful cast with a good director, an original writer and what you get is a movie that has the flavor of an independent film, without falling into a mundane comedy. You may not necessary bust out with guffaws; but you certainly will be amused as you chuckle through the comedic levels into a deeper, darker base of drama. A well done movie about single parent Norah, a former head cheerleader, needing to raise money to send her son to private school, by attempting to start a biohazard removal/crime scene clean-up service with her unemployed sister. As the sisters clean up after the dead, they soon begin to delve into issues that have been buried deep inside themselves. This non-typical comedy is pretty special and well worth watching.
3 stars — DVD