PLAY DAYS ARE NOT JUST FOR children. I am giving each of you permission to schedule yourselves a day to have fun. Remember when we were little we could find enjoyment from the most innocuous things? There was a phase my friends and I went through where our bicycles had to have playing cards clipped to our back wheels, so the spokes would make the cards clap. To us this made the sound of a car engine. I recall taking a fallen tree branch, stripping off all the leaves and little offshoots from it, to make a magic staff or if smaller, a wand. With that branch I would become a wizard or a king. I cannot tell you how much fun I had when I discovered putting a small paperclip on the front of my paper airplane would make it soar further through the air, when I released it from our 3rd floor apartment’s back porch. Another fun thing to do was to skim pebbles across the surface of water to see if we could make them skip. It served no real purpose except to amuse us as we tried to make the thrown pebbles travel as far as possible. I FIRMLY BELIEVE TAKING TIME OFF from one’s daily life to do something mindless and fun is a great way to recharge the mind and body. For me, going to the movies is one of the fastest ways to put myself in a relaxed state; I can totally forget about the outside world and any of the issues that come along with it. Obviously, I have a purpose in seeing movies; I get to review them. But, there are other things I do that could be considered completely mindless that are just as much fun. It is not necessary to have a purpose or financial gain to experience something joyful. Watching the tide roll in or seeing the sun set does not provide something tangible that you could put in your pocket or bank account. Instead, it may provide you with peacefulness or calmness. It is a feeling you experience that allows you to forget what you were doing. Now I do not know about you, but there are times I want to escape from my daily routines and not have to think about anything. If you would like to try and experience this then I would recommend you go and see this musical comedy, because there is nothing you will have to do except sit and watch it. HOPING TO FULFILL HER MOTHER’S dreams Sophie, played by Amanda Seyfried (First Reformed, The Last Word), was almost ready to open a hotel in paradise. She only wished her fathers could see what she had done. This sequel or should I say prequel also starred Lily James (Baby Driver, Darkest Hour) as the young Donna, Meryl Streep (The Post, Out of Africa) as Donna, Cher (Moonstruck, Mermaids) as Ruby Sheridan and Andy Garcia (Book Club, Geostorm) as Fernando. If you have not seen the first film, it would not hurt for you to watch it before seeing this picture. The writers did their best to bring the new viewers up to speed with the story, but there still was a learning curve involved. I found the jumping back and forth in time a little annoying but ultimately, I did not care since there were so many songs packed into the story. There was only a bare minimum of a script and for the most part it did not do anything but steer the characters to the next song. If you are not an Abba or musicals fan you will not enjoy this movie. Everyone else will enjoy themselves with this mindless fluff piece and that is exactly what it was meant to do. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
2 ½ stars
EVERY TIME I BUY A newspaper I believe I am doing my part in preventing the publisher from shutting down. I know it is a fallacy, but I have to believe it is true. The convenience store used to have their racks full of newspapers; now if I do not get there early enough the few papers they do get are already gone. It makes me sad because I prefer reading a newspaper instead of looking at an electronic screen. So, I want to believe my little contribution will help sustain newspapers through my lifetime. I have a similar belief when it comes to my personal banking. There is no way I want a debit card; it is that simple. Yet anytime I need to use a teller the first thing they ask me is to swipe my debit card. When I say I do not have one they give me this look as if I am a much older version of a Rip Van Winkle character. I want to believe that I am not alone, that there are others like me who prefer doing their banking the old-fashioned way and by that, I mean the banks still need to keep their branches open with tellers. WHEN IT COMES TO BELIEFS I believe I am not alone; each of us has a set of beliefs. The ones I just mentioned are not based on any facts which fits into the definition of belief. It is a state of mind where a person thinks something is true despite having evidence to prove it. For me my beliefs are based in feelings, not facts. An example would be the route I take to work. I believe it is the fastest way to get to my office; however, if someone shows me a different way that is faster, then I will no longer believe my route is the fastest. Remember there was a time where people believed the earth was flat; it took science to show them that was not the case. I consider beliefs to be multifaceted; some people refer to them as opinions, others define them as faith. It seems to me beliefs assist us in finding order in the world or put another way, they help explain the world around us. This does not mean I expect others to have the same beliefs; in fact, I would be offended if someone tried to foist their beliefs onto me. They are a personal matter as far as I am concerned. To see how beliefs can affect a person, feel free to watch this film festival winning, dramatic thriller. IN THE MIDDLE OF PREPARATIONS for his church’s celebration Reverend Ernst Toller, played by Ethan Hawke (Born to Be Alive, The Magnificent Seven), experiences a crisis of faith. With Amanda Seyfried (The Big Wedding, Dear John) as Mary, Cedric the Entertainer (Larry Crowne, Barbershop franchise) as Reverend Joel Jeffers and Victoria Hill (December Boys, Macbeth) as Esther; this thought provoking movie posed a variety of topical issues. Written and directed by Paul Schrader (Raging Bull, The Walker), I found the acting to be excellent. Not in a flowery or over the top type of way, but simply an adult driven script that infused the characters with realness. I felt the way the picture was filmed complimented the script, set in upstate New York, beautifully. My major complaint about this movie concerned the lead up to the ending. I did not like the element of fantasy that was introduced nor the way the story ended. It was a letdown for me because I believed the script was going to maintain a consistent flow to its conclusion. You might think differently because you have a different set of beliefs and that is okay.
THOUGH I WOULD LIKE EVERYONE to act in an honest and ethical way, I am sure there is a lot that goes on in the business world that would shock me. Not just big corporations, I am sure it trickles down to small shop owners. I have a couple of friends who ran a medical practice and I used to get surprised by the things they told me they encountered during the average work day. Drug salespeople were constantly dropping in hoping to catch a quick meeting with the doctor. If they could not meet on their first attempt, some would try to bring in lunch for the staff. I assume they were hoping they could entice the doctor to meet them over a meal. There was one salesperson who would stock their cabinet with trial size packages of the drug they were representing; however, they always either pushed back their competitor’s product to the back of the shelf or even took some of it away. Through my friends’ years at the medical practice I was astounded by the amount of free products the drug reps would try to leave at the office. I had to wonder if the drug company eliminated the free trial size portions would they lower the prices of their drugs. THE PAST WEEK A FORMER pharmaceutical executive was sentenced to prison for fraud. I think the verdict is just since he broke the law; but this is the same person who raised the price of a life-saving drug from $13.50 a pill to $750.00. Now I am all for everyone making a profit but gouging the public is simply wrong. The percentage of that price increase covers the price of inflation for centuries. Granted having the product billed as a lifesaver makes it worse, but I would feel the same way if a company increased the price of their bread by some exorbitant price. The difference is they would never do it because one can always buy a loaf of bread from a different company. People in business who only think of themselves and are willing to sacrifice the consumer to get ahead are no different in my opinion to those malicious email attachments seeking your bank information. And as a side note the latest statistics show those emails increased by 300% in the last quarter of 2017. Despite the crooked and unethical things I have mentioned, I was shocked by what I saw in this action crime comedy. WANTING TO BE THE FIRST to come to market with a brand new drug medical executive Richard Rusk, played by Joel Edgerton (Red Sparrow, The Great Gatsby), was willing to do anything to succeed. This would put his employees in a precarious predicament. With Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde, Mad Max: Fury Road) as Elaine Markinson, David Oyelowo (A United Kingdom, Queen of Katwe) as Harold Soyinka, Thandie Newton (Crash, 2012) as Bonnie Soyinka and Amanda Seyfried (Dear John, Mamma Mia!) as Sunny; I felt the cast choices were way better than the roles they were given to play. The script started out promising to me but as time went on I thought the addition of multiple story lines and the under developed characters bogged it down. I actually do not recall anything funny in this film. Instead I thought the story was a generic version of several “chase” films I have seen before. Even with the acting I felt Charlize was the most authentic; I can only assume David wanted to do something totally different, but it did not work for me. This movie has to make one wonder if all involved producing it were sampling the drug that was coming to market in this story.
1 ¾ stars
CONTROL was something that had been a part of me for so long that not being in control was becoming a distant memory. Using myself and several people I know who also prefer being in control, I believe certain events in one’s life steers them to becoming a “control freak” or as I prefer to say “control aficionado.” For some experiencing disappointment multiple times can trigger them to stop counting on others. For example at work if you have an employee on your team that isn’t working up to the level needed to succeed in a specific task you are involved in, you might decide to take on some of the co-worker’s responsibilities to finish your project to your satisfaction. Another thing I have noticed for some people is their lack of spontaneity increases their desire for control. I know I can relate to this one because my brain is wired to the logic, “for every action there is a reaction.” My days are usually planned out due to my multiple jobs and responsibilities. To do something out of the norm would throw off the rest of the day for me. NOW with everything I just said I recently discovered or better yet I should say rediscovered the feeling of not being in control. I have to tell you when I first realized I was relinquishing control it was unsettling for me. So you have a reference point, let me tell you that the level of my control used to be where I would not participate in a group decision on where to go out for dinner. If I did not like someone’s choice on where to eat I would not order any food. Reading what I just wrote doesn’t make me sound like a fun person does it? I hope I do not grow old and get a similar reputation like the main character in this dramatic comedy. SUCCESSFUL businesswoman Harriet Lauler, played by Shirley MacLaine (Bernie, Elsa & Fred), had such control over her life that she even needed to know what her obituary would say about her before she was gone. That tough task would fall onto newspaper employee Anne Sherman, played by Amanda Seyfried (Dear John, Mamma Mia!). Casting Shirley in the main role was a big asset for this story. Both her and Amanda worked well together I thought. Also starring newcomer AnnJewel Lee Dixon as Brenda and Thomas Sadoski (John Wick franchise, Wild) as Robin Sands, I did not mind the rest of the cast; however, even if they were all renowned thespians it would not have helped the contrived script. The scenes did not come across as totally believable and it was long into the movie before I even felt a connection to Shirley’s character. For the most part none of the scenes went beyond standard fare; what I mean is Shirley’s character could have been more extreme, the scenes if they were believable could have been pushed for more emotion. As a result I was left with a “blah” feeling by the end of the film. In fact my strongest feelings came from the idea that I could wind up like Harriet if I don’t start giving up some control in my life.
1 3/4 stars
There are some friends that can always make you laugh; there are some friends that can have a serious conversation with you and there are some who always provide you with the perfect advice. Just as I believe a love relationship is unconditional, so do I feel the same way about friendships. You cannot pick and choose the parts you like about a friend and ignore the rest; true friendship only comes as a complete package in my opinion and they are as diverse as the world around us. Because this is how I treat friendships, I am always perplexed when someone offers their unsolicited opinion about someone else’s friend. Has this ever happened to you, where a friend of yours asks why you are friends with someone else? I experienced this in the past about a particular friend of mine. Here was an individual who did poorly in school; I suspect there was a learning disability. They may not have been able to carry on a conversation about world events or be able to communicate with proper English; so what, they were such a considerate, kind soul who was always willing to help out a person in need. I remember when a light fixture broke in my house and they immediately offered to fix it, knowing my limited handiness skills. Another friend of mine used to question how I could be friends with someone with such a limited vocabulary. I was offended by their questioning of such a thing, especially without even knowing the other person. How can someone comment on someone else’s relationships? See how it is done in this comedic sequel. RECENTLY married couple Ted and Tami-Lynn, voiced by Seth MacFarlane (A Million Ways to Die in the West, Family Guy-TV) and played by Jessica Barth (Get Smart, The Waterhole), have decided to have a baby. However, Ted will have to prove who or what he is before he can be a father. Written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, this sequel was essentially more of the same from the first film. Though Seth has a wicked sense of humor that was represented in the script by some quick funny lines, I found the story line dull. There was the same crudeness and vulgarity but this time it wasn’t as funny to me; I felt the set up for the scenes was a template that was repeated over and over as the movie progressed. A bright spot for me was Amanda Seyfried (Dear John, In Time) who played the lawyer Samantha. She did a good job with her role. I appreciated the idea behind the story but felt it was being handled with a heavy hand. If I were to consider movies as friends of mine, this would be one film I would not want to watch in a public place. Strong language throughout film.
1 3/4 stars
I sat in their front room staring at the VCR with its display flashing 12:00 for the time. It stayed at the same time while I waited for my friend to finish up helping his mother before we were going out to dinner. I was not surprised by the flashing number since I have seen the same thing in houses of other people from the same generation as my friend’s parent. With technology constantly changing, I sat and wondered what people from younger generations would find amusing about some of the things I do. Some of my friends cannot believe I still do not have an ATM card; I just do not care for them. They say change is good and I can see the value in that statement, but sometimes I prefer staying in a place or routine that is already established as being an easy comfort. As we all get older we experience changes not only in material things but in relationships too. I have friends who change when they are in a relationship; one makes adjustments as that common single mentality turns to a couple and single person relationship. Or when friends have kids, a change takes place; it is no longer about going to a late night movie, instead it is getting home in time to take the babysitter home. These are changes all of us face to some degree. The difference is in how one accepts the changes in their life. CORNELIA and Josh, played by Naomi Watts (Insurgent, St. Vincent) and Ben Stiller (Night at the Museum franchise, The Watch), were a 40 something couple whose friends were settled down having children. Things were not like they used to be; but upon meeting the young couple Darby and Jamie, played by Amanda Seyfried (Dear John, Mamma Mia!) and Adam Driver (What If, Inside Llewyn Davis), Cornelia and Josh felt they found what they were looking for. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach (Francis Ha, Margot at the Wedding), this dramatic comedy had some smart, observant dialog. I thought the cast worked quite well together, coming across as real people. Noah had a good ear in the way he presented the differences between age groups; I could relate to some of these individuals. The first half of the film was stronger for me. As the story played out I found the last part was not as interesting to me. There were more scenes that worked than not; but the more I thought about, those scenes I cared less for were the ones that Ben’s character appeared to be in a crisis mode. This story certainly presented valid points about changes; but at the end of the film I felt like an old man in the theater.
2 3/4 stars
There are so many times I hear people say life is easier now, but I am not 100% convinced of it. I remember reading Generation Zs do not know how to fold up a map since they only grew up with GPS devices; some only know how to tell time from a digital display. Does this make life easier? When you expand the length of time, sure I can see where some things are easier now then decades or centuries ago. When the United States still had frontiers, there was a reason why people referred to the areas as the Wild West. Back then you would have to protect yourself from wild animals; now it is more likely it will be from humans. There was more farmland back then; people would work the land and grow their own food, eating healthier. Now you can simply take your pre-wrapped meal from the freezer to the microwave oven and have hot food in 6 minutes. The differences between the two time periods were ripe for creating a comedy which Seth MacFarlane (Tooth Fairy, Ted) tried to do in this humorous western. Besides being the writer and director of this film, Seth took on his first starring role playing Albert the sheep farmer. After being threatened to a dual with pistols and getting dumped by his girlfriend Louise, played by Amanda Seyfried (Mama Mia, Red Riding Hood), Albert was willing to take advice from the mysterious Anna, played by Charlize Theron (Prometheus, The Italian Job). The only problem was Louise already started seeing Foy, played by Neil Patrick Harris (The Smurfs franchise, How I Met Your Mother-TV). I wish I could have figured out how Seth went from writing the comedy Ted to creating this farce. Where I found Ted to be wickedly funny, this movie was a bust. I only found a few sporadic scenes humorous since the majority of the jokes were either lame or cheap shots. It would be easy to compare this film to Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles but there is a big difference. Mel’s comedy was a trendsetting funny spoof that understood its purpose. Seth’s picture was just a series of gags that had a certain predictability to them. The chosen cast certainly had the talent to make this a fun time but I found things were dull and lifeless. However, it was a kick to see the actors who made cameo roles. I had no idea it would be so hard to write a funny story about a period of time from our past. There was an extra scene after the credits.
1 3/4 stars
The best part of the forest for me is the darkest place. Passing the wooden sentries, I look for the area where leaves have formed a confetti sky above me. In the quiet stillness, when the sun is at the right angle, a single ray of light will infiltrate the darkness. I love to see that single bright strand illuminate a tiny patch of ground; noticing almost microscopic sized, feathery objects floating briefly through the light. It is wonderful to witness; seeing the forest teaming with life. In this animated adventure, the forest was home to a magical world of creatures. Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained, Carnage) was flawless voicing the evil leader Mandrake. With the fate of the forest dangling in the balance, Mandrake was determined to overcome the forest’s protector Queen Tara, played beautifully by Beyonce Knowles (Dreamgirls, Cadillac Records). The basic story was about good and evil. What set this one apart from others was its creativity. First there was the imaginative and colorful characters of the forest. Next was the use of actors with distinctive voices like Colin Farrell (Total Recall, Seven Psychopaths) as Ronin and Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia, The Big Wedding) as Mary Katherine. I never thought in my lifetime I would hear Steven Tyler of Aerosmith voice a cartoon character as he did here, playing Nim Galuu. The movie was stunning to watch and had an engaging soundtrack, thanks to American composer Danny Elfman (Men in Black franchise, The Nightmare Before Christmas). While I was watching this film I was aware the children in the audience were sitting quietly, intently watching the screen. There was action, comedy, adventure and romance; something for everyone. The next time I walk through a forest, there will be no way I cannot think about the memorable creatures from this fantasy world.
Attending a wedding is a little like going to a dinner/theater performance. Sometimes the food can be good while the production is lukewarm; other times, it can be the exact opposite. Wedding receptions are a double edged sword for me. There have been occasions where the bride and groom made it their mission to find me the same happiness they had by seating me next to one of their single friends. Can we say awkward? Usually every wedding has one relative in attendance who feels everyone should be having as much fun as her or him. In my case it usually was a tipsy aunt who found out I could dance and wants to dance the night away with me. So you see why I accept wedding invitations with some trepidation. I had similar feelings about seeing this comedy; my expectations were low. Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook, Being Flynn) and Diane Keaton (Mad Money, The Family Stone) played former husband and wife Don and Ellie. If it was not going to be uncomfortable enough seeing each other for their adoptive son’s wedding; it was going to be a monumental task to pretend they were still married for the sake of their son’s strictly religious, biological mother. Granted the story was far-fetched, but the actors gave it a decent shot. What made it work was the chemistry between Robert, Diane and Susan Sarandon (The Company you Keep, The Client) who played the girlfriend Bebe to Robert’s character Don. It was a pleasant surprise to see Robin Williams (World’s Greatest Dad, Good Will Hunting) playing a more subdued character as Father Moinighan. There were amusing scenes as well as lame scenes throughout the movie. It may be due to my years of exposure to family (dys)functions; but as a whole, I did not mind sitting through this film. At least I did not have anyone sitting next to me or was forced to get up and dance.
2 1/4 stars
It could happen at a business meeting, a party, or even at the grocery store; when you see an older version of someone you were in love with years ago. For me it happened at a holiday party. I had seen them across the room. It was obvious they were a happy couple, but I could still remember each happy event when it was me standing there and not him. I do not have the answers on the how and why it did not work out; the timing was not right, I was not mature enough, they easily could be one of many reasons why it did not last. But I wonder, if we had the opportunity to see a past love, how many of us would want to seek them out? Claire, played by Vanessa Redgrave (Anonymous, Coriolanus), was fortunate to have such an opportunity in this romantic comedy. Amanda Seyfried (Les Miserables, Mamma Mia!) and Gael Garcia Bernal (No, Bad Education) played engaged couple Sophie and Victor. On a pre-honeymoon trip to Verona Italy, Sophie stumbled upon a group of women known as the “Secretaries of Juliet.” They were entrusted with the job of answering letters left by lovelorn individuals seeking advice from Juliet Capulet aka Romeo and Juliet. Asked to join them, Sophie answered a recently found letter that Claire had written back in 1957. When Claire showed up with her grandson Charlie, played by Christopher Egan (Eragon, Resident Evil: Extinction); Sophie joined them on their search to find the love of Claire’s life from decades ago. Though there were no surprises in this movie, it was beautiful seeing the countryside of Italy. There was nothing offensive or rude in this film nor did it have any foul language. Vanessa’s acting never goes bad; however, it showed the other actors were not as convincing as she was with her character. Overall there was nothing great or bad about the movie, perfectly suited for viewing on a lazy day. I will say if I had the opportunity to meet a past love, even if the relationship had ended badly, I would absolutely go if it meant going to Italy.
2 1/4 stars — DVD