THERE WAS ONLY ONE BRIGHT SPOT for me in that transitional period between summer vacation and the new school year. It was the day when I would get my new school supplies. Up until that day, I loved the freedom of summer vacation. In the early years, I had to endure summer camp programs. There were some I enjoyed but most of them did not interest me. My biggest accomplishment out of all my camp experiences was building a wooden coat rack that I painted in vibrant colors. Once I outgrew the summer camp phase, I was free to hang out with my friends every day. The only part of the day when I was indoors was at lunchtime; otherwise, if I was not playing with my friends, I was either climbing trees or riding my bicycle. As we rolled into the month of August, I started counting the days before I had to go back to school. I also counted how many days until I could go pick out my new school supplies. In one of my earlier reviews, I told you about my obsession with pencil sharpeners; they were always the first item I would pick out at the store. Next item to find were spiral notebooks; I always tried to get left-handed ones because the wire spiral always got in my way when writing. All that was left to get afterwards were pens, pencils and a pencil bag/box to store them. TIMES HAVE CERTAINLY CHANGED AND I NOW understand why all school kids are wearing backpacks. The list of items children must bring to school currently is unbelievable to me. A friend of mine showed me the list she received from her son’s school and I could not get over what has become the responsibility of the child, or should I say of the parents since more than likely they are paying for it. Besides the pens, notebooks and such; the child must bring a box of facial tissues, three rolls of paper towels, a container of cleaning wipes and a ream of computer paper. These along with the rest of the items on her list I found perplexing; since when did the responsibility of facial tissues and paper towels fall on the child? Every company and store that has a bathroom provides these items for their employees and customers; but schools no longer provide, what I consider, these essential items?!?! Are school districts’ budgets so deep in debt that they cannot afford such standard things? I feel the educational system deserves enough funds to properly provide all the tools to create the best learning experience for each child; teachers have such an important role that they should not have to go without or worse, spend their own money to provide items that the class needs. What is wrong with this picture? This crime comedy might explain one of the issues. DETERMINED TO MOVE TO THE TOP POSITION a school district in New York would spare no expense to make their goal a reality. The only problem was they did not know what they were paying for. With Hugh Jackman (The Front Runner, X-Men franchise) as Frank Tassone, Allison Janney (Hairspray, Mom-TV) as Pam Gluckin, Ray Romano (The Irishman, The Big Sick) as Big Bob Spicer, Welker White (Eat Pray Love, Cedar Rapids) as Mary Ann and Geraldine Viswanathan (Blockers, Miracle Workers-TV) as Rachel Bhargava; this story inspired by true events excelled due to the wonderful cast. Everyone fit well into their character and carried the script that needed help in the beginning. The story started out slow for me and though I enjoyed the dark humor/satire, things did not pick up until we got near the midpoint. Not that the first half was boring; it just needed a little more punch and back story to come up to the level of the 2ndhalf of the film. The story as depicted was outrageous; I cannot imagine what that school district could have done for the students if it had known what was going on.
MOTIVATION IS A KEY INGREDIENT IN a person’s journey through life; I firmly believe this. It is the reason one has for behaving or acting a certain way. For example, I wanted to feel better about myself and be able to buy clothing off the rack from any store; so, I went on a diet to lose weight. Another example was my dream to visit all 50 states. I let pass social opportunities so I could save money to fund my travel plans. As long as I can remember, whenever I was motivated to do something I never had a completion date associated to it. In other words, if there was something I wanted to do or get I would stick with it until I reached my goal. Is this the norm? I do not know. From my experiences, I have seen so many variations in a person’s motivation. Now let me say upfront I found it difficult to be sympathetic to an individual who wanted to achieve something but was not motivated to go get it. I had a friend who desperately wanted to be in a love relationship; not a conversation would go by without him mentioning what he would do if he had a significant other. The problem as I saw it was he did nothing to try and meet people. I do not know if he was expecting people to come knocking on his door. WITH THE LAST EXAMPLE I DESCRIBED, the other aspect that contributes to me being unsympathetic is when the person blames others for the predicament they placed themselves in. Recognition is the first step in solving a problem. The friend I described above once in a while would meet someone by happenstance, while grocery shopping or riding the train. If they struck up a conversation and eventually went out on a couple of dates, my friend would already start to think ahead of what might happen. However, if the few dates went nowhere, he was always quick to place blame on the other person. They were conceited, stuffy, high maintenance were some of the excuses he would express to me. After hearing the same excuses over time, I had to finally suggest to him that maybe he should take a look at the things he was doing. You would have thought I was accusing him of murder or fraud; he said he was doing nothing wrong. At that point I was done and knew there was no sense in trying to reason with him. I believe I would have come to the same conclusion with the main character in this comedy. WITH NO JOB AND NO SOURCE OF INCOME; Susan, played by Sean Hayes (The Three Stooges, Will & Grace-TV), had to rely on getting money from her mother. However, the arrangement wouldn’t last if her brother had something to say about it. With Carrie Aizley (For Your Consideration, Transparent-TV) as Corrin, Margo Martindale (The Hollars, August: Osage County) as Mary, Allison Janney (Hairspray, The Girl on the Train) as Velvet and Danny Johnson (Daredevil-TV, Shades of Blue-TV) as Leon; I thought the story was interesting at the start. The cast was well suited for their roles, but I felt the script dragged on for a good portion of the film. Sean was just okay in the role; there was nothing unique to his acting. I would have preferred knowing more about how the dynamics between Susan and her family came to be. As it stood, the story did not go anywhere for me; everything seemed to stay on one level. Except for the occasional humorous scene, my pulse did not get a rise from this picture. Maybe it was expecting me to find the good parts to the plot?
1 ¾ stars
WHILE I WAS WAITING FOR MY interview with the fitness director, the little voice in my head was telling me I was an idiot. I was sitting in the lobby watching staff and members passing through the lobby. The voice in my head was telling me to leave because I did not look like any of the staff. Where the employees were fit and trim, I was what you would consider soft and pudgy. I did not have any muscles prominently displayed on my frame, my gut looked more like a jello mold instead of a washboard and I had a full beard. Now granted, no one knew I had lost a considerable amount of weight and actually had strong legs compared to my body; but I was not confident I could get a job teaching fitness classes. In my mind, I pictured a place with people who came in all different sizes; for my short time sitting in the lobby, everyone looked thin and buff. Because I had seen some of the members walking by with full makeup on their faces, I assumed everyone at this particular club was more interested in their looks than their health. This was in direct opposite to my way of thinking; I wanted to teach classes that were both fun and heart healthy. IT WAS DURING THE AUDITION PART OF my interview when I realized the interviewer understood what I was doing because she had a smile on her face. I was incorporating strength and dance like moves into a routine I created to go in synch with the music I brought to accompany me. While I was moving the whole time, I kept up a light banter of jokes and social comments as if I was talking to an entire studio filled with members. I was hired that day with my first-class taking place the very next day. That first week of teaching classes turned into an eye-opening experience for me. I soon realized there were indeed members who were only interested in their looks; they would be dressed in the latest fashions for aerobic clothing. There were some male members who spent hours lifting weights with no regard to doing any cardio work for their heart. The bigger their muscles got the less flexible they became. Now I do not want you to think I am judging any of these individuals I have been describing; I am only making observations. Within the first few weeks I concluded that there were a multitude of reasons why someone joins a fitness center and my job was to simply give them a safe and good workout. I was grateful that the interviewer was someone who did not judge me on my looks. Sadly, I cannot say the same for the main characters in this drama based on real events. AFTER PUTTING UP WITH A TOXIC environment at work, one woman decides to take a stand and reveal what she has been hiding for many years. She only hoped her actions would cause a change. With Charlize Theron (Long Shot, Atomic Blonde) as Megyn Kelly, Nicole Kidman (The Goldfinch, Boy Erased) as Gretchen Carlson, Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, The Legend of Tarzan) as Kayla Pospisil, John Lithgow (Pet Sematary, Love is Strange) as Roger Ailes and Allison Janney (I, Tonya; Hairspray) as Susan Estrich; this biographical drama rang true due to the acting of the cast. Charlize, Nicole and Margot were such a force that I was drawn into the story that focused on Roger and Fox News. At times I felt the story was playing out like a mystery thriller; I enjoyed watching it. Whether the script took some liberties or not with the story I cannot say; however, I was still stunned by the discrimination and sexual harassment that I saw taking place at the news network.
IT WAS THE FIRST time I was invited to such an event and it would be my last. I was invited to an ice skating birthday party many years ago. The party was being held at an indoor ice skating rink that had a party room that my friend’s parents decorated with balloons and signs. I had never gone ice skating before so I was excited to try it out. After lacing up the skates, on wobbly legs I made my way to the rink, grabbing any solid object for balance on my way. Stepping on the ice I remained at the side with my hand on the short wall that surrounded the rink. I had seen ice skaters on TV and thought it was easy to stand on a thin steel blade but I was wrong. Every time I let go of the wall and tried to skate I fell down. I do not think I ever made it around the rink once without my skates slipping out from underneath me, either falling face first on the ice or on my backside. THOUGH THERE WAS STILL time to skate before we were having cake, I got off the ice and sat on a bench where there was carpeting. I would not say I was sad, maybe frustrated; since there were people on the ice who made it look effortless. There were a few individuals who would skate face forward then suddenly do a hop so they could skate going backwards. I still remember one girl who was given a wide space around her because she was doing these incredible fast spins, where she simply looked like a blur or did spinning jumps in the air that captivated me. These few people almost looked like the skaters I would watch at the Olympics and other ice skating competitions. Sitting there looking at my discarded skates, I wondered if it was possible to get a second blade on each boot. I just felt if I had more blades to balance on I could make my way around the rink. And do you know what the funny part is to this story? I remember seeing Tonya Harding on television when she did something that no other female skater had done before and no one I saw at that rink was like her. FROM A YOUNG AGE Tonya, played by Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, The Wolf of Wall Street), stood out from the other ice skaters; her mother LaVona Golden, played by Allison Janney (Hairspray, The Hours), stood out even more. Based on true events this film festival winning, biographical drama has to be seen to be believed. Allison was totally outrageous in the role and I see award nominations piling up for her. Margot was a perfect fit for this character; it was a smart choice on her part that will make her even more bankable as they say. With Sebastian Stan (Captain America franchise, The Covenant) as Jeff Gillooly, Paul Walter Hauser (Kingdom-TV, Super Troopers 2) as Shawn and Julianne Nicholson (Black Mass, August: Osage County) as Diane Rawlinson; I cannot remember how long it has been since I sat in a movie theater laughing out loud. The script beautifully blended outrageous moments with tragic undertones. The story when it happened was so bizarre to begin with, I enjoyed seeing the behind the scenes stuff in this movie even if it was not true. One thing I knew for certain was the judgmental views officials had about Tonya. No matter which way one chooses to view Tonya in this picture, the fact remains she did something astounding. You will have to decide what it was she did.
3 ½ stars
It is not as fun, fun being a relative term, when there is not an audience or one’s followers around to witness the act. More times than not the person picking on another person has a posse of buddies in tow to be their audience and witnesses when they go on the attack. I have seen it time and time again besides being on the receiving end; watching the bully walk away with their admiring subordinates following up the rear, sometimes punctuating the event with their own punch or kick. Now I know there are some followers who may not agree with their leader’s actions, but they choose to go along as a preventative measure to avoid being in a position where they could be the one that is on the receiving end. This logic can be applied on a global scale. How many times has the news shown a horrific act of violence? I have wondered what would happen if there was a moratorium on reporting such activities; would it have a dampening effect on those individuals or groups who seek out an audience for their actions. Speaking of audiences this recently happened here; a local news station reported on an attempted robbery that took place on public transportation. There was video from a security camera that was shown and the thing that struck me was how there were other passengers around who did nothing as the victim fought back against their attacker. Would they be considered human versions of the Minions? DESPONDENT over their lack of having an evil leader to follow; Kevin, Bob and Stuart head out in search of someone bad enough for them and the rest of their fellow Minions to follow. This animated comedy was geared towards the younger viewer; however, the soundtrack was done with the adult in mind. I thought the song choices were a great accompaniment to the terrific animation. Additionally the choice of actors such as Sandra Bullock (Gravity, The Blind Side) as Scarlett Overkill and Jon Hamm (The Town, Mad Men-TV) as her husband Herb were well equipped to handle their characters. After seeing for months the hilarious trailers, this film was a bit disappointing. The script did not provide enough punch to make this animated movie succeed. For example I thought Scarlett was not evil enough; she lacked the drama that someone in that position could have been yielding. I found myself getting bored halfway through the story since it seemed as if it was one stunt or comedy bit being repeated over and over. Maybe it was due too all the exposure the Minions have been getting the past several months, but this full length feature did not provide any excitement until closer to the end. There was an extra fun musical scene at the end of the credits.
2 1/2 stars
Something I say to remind me there may be additional opportunities is the saying, “It is not written in stone.” I do not know how this saying came to be, but what it means to me is I do not have to remain in the same place forever. In other words, I can make a decision to learn a new exercise program and discover it is not suitable for me. Just because I agreed to do it does not mean I have to teach it the rest of my life. Maybe a better example is when a friend of mine was out of work. Enough time had passed where their funds were almost depleted. A job offer finally came up that wasn’t exactly in their field and they were not sure they wanted to take it. I explained just because they accept the offer doesn’t mean he will have to stay there the rest of his life. The important thing was to start earning an income and down the road see what opportunities open up for them. This may sound hokey but we can be whatever we want to be. I have rewritten my life’s path several times, going from wanting to be a veterinarian to a fitness presenter to a movie reviewer. Each portion of my past journey has led me to my present destination. KEITH Michaels, played by Hugh Grant (Music and Lyrics, About a Boy), was an Oscar winning screenwriter. So what happened to him where he had to leave Hollywood and take a temporary teaching position at a small east coast college to earn a living? This romantic comedy felt like a well-worn blanket; it felt familiar besides having Hugh’s typical dry wit and humor. To tell you the truth I was surprised this movie had such a stellar cast. There was J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Labor Day) as Dr. Lerner, Marisa Tomei (Spare Parts, The Wrestler) as Holly Carpenter and Allison Janney (Liberal Arts, Bad Words) as Mary Weldon; all of them were wonderful in this easy to watch film. I cannot remember the last time I saw Hugh in a movie but he still was able to play that type of character who was part selfish, part snob and part lovable sheepish bloke. The story was simple; there was nothing really new about it. However, because of the cast I enjoyed watching this movie. There would be no reason to run out and see this film right away; I think this picture would be perfect to watch on a lazy, cloudy day when you have few commitments. You do not have to take my word though; you can watch it anytime you want.
2 1/4 stars
The reactions vary from individual to individual when it comes to experiencing good or bad luck. Some people take things in stride, where the appearance of luck has little effect on their mood. Whether they find $20.00 on the ground while walking to the store or getting drenched by torrential rains that started five minutes before they arrived at their destination, their mood barely budges. I think part of the reason has to do with the way one was raised. The lower the self-confidence the gloomier a person becomes from a stroke of bad luck. There is something about bad luck that makes it feel like a chewed up piece of gum that is stuck on your shoes, making each step harder to take. I have also noticed, at least in my experiences, luck comes in waves. If a person is having a lucky moment it tends to expand beyond one incident. An example would be someone on a lucky streak while playing a game of chance. However, the same could be said if they were on a bad streak. There is an old saying that death comes in threes; the same could be said regarding bad luck. IN this comedy Melissa McCarthy (The Heat, Identity Thief) played Tammy, essentially the same character she recently has portrayed twice before. Loud and foul-mouthed Tammy had a string of bad luck going when her car broke down, lost her job and found her husband Greg, played by Nat Faxon (The Descendants, Bad Teacher), cheating on her with another woman. Seizing it as an opportunity to get out of town and change her life, Tammy found an additional problem; she would have to take along her alcoholic grandmother Pearl, played by Susan Sarandon (The Lovely Bones, The Big Wedding). This film festival winner was such a mess with its conflicting story lines. It would flip from a comedy to a drama, from funny to sad without a continuous train of thought. Maybe it has to do with my own issues about body image but I found this movie offensive. With Melissa’s recent films it seems to me she is cast for her size. The humor is supposed to come from watching a large person doing activities that if the character had been skinny would not be as funny. There was nothing new that Melissa provided to this film; but then again it was hard for any of the actors to do anything worthy with the abysmal script and poor direction. Only Kathy Bates (Titanic, Misery) as cousin Lenore came across as authentic. As far as I was concerned I felt Melissa’s luck had run out with this dud. There was one brief blooper outtake scene in the middle of the credits.
1 2/3 stars
Laughter is the safety valve to life’s daily pressures. Bubbling up from the pit of the stomach, laughter purges tension and stress, replacing it with a euphoric effervescence. Humor comes in multiple shades since each person has their own unique form of funniness. Some people enjoy practical jokes while others prefer cerebral comedy. The former IT director of my company was an odd fellow. Disheveled with improper fitting clothes, he stuck out from the general population already besides his over 6 foot tall frame. One day at the office while working on an account, I heard him calling out for help from his workplace. When I came to his office door I found him wedged underneath his desk with only his head visible on his desktop, his chin resting on the rim. He tended to sit on the edge of his chair and it had flipped up behind him, causing him to fall down to the floor with his legs underneath the desk. The top of the chair came down and pressed up against his back while the chair bass was stuck into the wall behind him. He could not move since his arms were on his lap below the desk, with no room to maneuver them down to the floor for leverage. Now if your immediate reaction to this story was to laugh, then you will enjoy this comedy. This film was so inappropriate but oh so funny to me and the rest of the audience in the theater. Jason Bateman (Disconnect, Arrested Development-TV) was utterly outrageous playing Guy Trilby, an adult man who exploited a loophole to enter a children’s spelling bee contest. With news reporter Jenny Widgeon, played by Katherine Hahn (We’re the Millers, Wanderlust), in tow; Guy was out to prove a point, stopping at nothing to make sure it came across loud and clear. This being Jason’s directorial debut, he did a wonderful job keeping up a steady pace while fitting in a multitude of wicked moments. Allison Janney (The Way Way Back, Juno) was perfect playing Dr. Bernice Deagan, who was determined to stop Guy from ruining her competition. The script was tight, constantly balancing itself on the edge of funny and inappropriate. I think some people would find a few of the jokes and strong language offensive. I will say the first time Guy threw down off-color verbiage to a child I cringed; however, it was that unexpectedness that made me laugh in shock. If Jason Bateman had not been so skilled to pull off this role, I feel the movie would have not been as enjoyable or funny. From the amount of laughing I did during the film, I should be living stress free for at least a few weeks now.
My tongue instinctively brushed the surface of my teeth looking for my braces that were made from the shiniest metal on the planet. I had to check my face to see if any angry pimples were about to burst out from under my skin. Then there was the vision of me seeing the first wave of facial hair spreading across my face like a brewing storm, warning me of the impending turmoil of adolescence that was coming over me. All of those awkward and confused moments swirled up from my pooled memories while I sat and watched this wonderful, coming of age film. Liam James (Fred Claus, 2012) was perfect playing the 14 year old character Duncan. A simple look from him easily conveyed those embarrassing emotions we all felt at one time or another during our adolescent years. Duncan was stuck going with his mother Pam, played by Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, United States of Tara-TV) and her overbearing boyfriend Trent, played by Steve Carell (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Get Smart) to Trent’s summer home during summer vacation. Uncomfortable with his surroundings, Duncan found refuge at a run down water park managed by the kid like Owen, played by Sam Rockwell (Moon, Seven Psychopaths) and his wife Caitlin, played by Maya Rudolph (Grown Ups, Bridesmaids). This was one of the best performances I have seen from Sam; his character was crazy and memorable. I loved the unexpectedness of this poignant film. Everyone’s acting was so strong and realistic; Allison Janney (Juno, Liberal Arts) was hilarious as Trent’s alcoholic neighbor Betty. The script offered up such ideal lines, I actually felt a bond forming between me and several of the characters. After experiencing many memories from my youth during this film, a shadow of my adolescence remained behind as I walked out of the theater.
3 1 /3 stars
Going away to college was a liberating experience for me. Where a majority of fellow high school seniors planned attending the state school, I chose to go out of state. Moving to a place where no one knew me seemed the safest thing to do. Surrounded by people who had similar interests to mine was exciting. For one of my required courses I was responsible for the upkeep of a horse named Daiquiri. Doing so allowed me free horseback riding lessons which I thought made be cool looking. In this educational world I learned more about myself and felt I was coming back to life. There was nothing better than acquiring knowledge and being allowed to express myself. These feelings were rekindled as I watched this sweet touching film. Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother-TV, Not Another Teen Movie) deserves credit since he was the director, writer and star of this fresh thoughtful film. He played Jesse Fisher; a 30 something, recently single guy. When favorite college professor Peter Hoberg, played by Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, The Cabin in the Woods), invited him to his retirement party, Jesse agreed to travel back to his alma mater. The return to campus sparked fond memories in Jesse. When introduced to college student Zibby, played by Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene; Peace, Love and Misunderstanding), Jesse was taken by surprise with the strong connection that quickly formed between the two of them. Despite their age difference, both discovered they could still learn something from each other. This film had more to offer than what was shown in the trailer. I loved Elizabeth Olsen; she and Richard Jenkins were simply special with their acting. A surprise for me was seeing Zac Efron in this film and liking him for a change. This slice of college life with its sense of discovery, emotional upheaval and life’s lessons could easily make you want to enroll in school again.