AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER, I believe each of us has planned an escape. From something as small as an uncomfortable conversation to leaving one’s home. When I was sending applications out to colleges, I felt I was working on an escape out of the hard times I was experiencing in high school. I purposely chose schools out of state, to get as far away as I could and reinvent myself to no longer be the victim. It was a hard adjustment at first because it was the first time I was ever away from my home. What I learned in my new environment helped me immensely. The knowledge I gained helped when two of my friends wanted to leave their husbands. One friend who I will refer to as Carol, had been married for nearly 20 years and grew tired of the mental and physical abuse inflicted on her by her husband. His physical abuse was confined to pushing and squeezing, at least that is what she told me. I did wonder though when I would catch a glimpse of her arms and see a bruise or two. It came to a point where she needed to get away from him; I did my best to provide her with emotional and mental support through the process of leaving him. The difference in her once the divorce was final was amazing; she was filled with joy and happiness. MY FRIEND, LET ME CALL HER, Mary was married for years also. She had a low level of confidence in herself, so the relationship was one-sided in my opinion. She let her husband make all decisions and believed whatever he said was true. Through the years she started working on herself through therapy and personal growth avenues, to the point she started feeling confident. As you might imagine, it caused conflict between them because she was for the first time voicing her opinion and discovering not everything her husband said was right. It came to a point where she wound up staying with me until she could figure out her next steps. In this case, they both started couples therapy and are still married to this day in a healthier place. Of course, there are other reasons a person feels they must leave a situation. I met a man who left his family and home because the religion he was born into did not accept him. There is more to it, but I want to respect his privacy. The main character in this Oscar nominated, Sundance winning film had a good reason to find an escape; you might want to see it for yourself. WITH HIS COUNTRY BEING TORN APART, the family of Amin, voiced by newcomer Daniel Karimyar, had to find a way to get to a safe place. The effects of their plan would have a lasting effect. With Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal, Encounter) voicing the adult Amin, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (The Silencing, Game of Thrones-TV) voicing Rasmussen, newcomer Milad Eskandari voicing 8-year-old Saif and Belal Faiz (Rita-TV) voicing 13-year-old Saif; this animated dramatic documentary based on a true story was extraordinary. This was a new fresh way of telling a story via animation and live footage. The story was incredible and the way it was told fascinated me. Scenes of present times were separated by memories of the past; it really brought me into the story. When an animated film is nominated for an Oscar like this one, I assumed the animation would wow me. That was not my reaction at first because the animation was kept simple; however, its simplicity made the story more vivid for me. Also, I saw the English version of this film; in the original Danish, Dari, Russian and Swedish were spoken with English subtitles. With its other nomination for best international film, this picture is a strong contender in getting the Oscar award. This movie might just be one you do not want to escape you. This is not a film for children.
3 ½ stars
AS WE WERE COMING IN FOR a landing at the airport, the passenger in the next seat reminded me to make sure I don’t put my wallet in my pants pocket. I thanked him as I wondered what kind of city I would find in this foreign land. The flight was several hours and this passenger, upon hearing this was my first trip to the city, had updated me on a variety of places where I had to be careful because of pickpockets and con artists. I had heard similar stuff from friends back home who had visited this place before. My plan once we landed was to get my luggage then find the transportation terminal to take a bus to my hotel. The walk from luggage claim to transportation was short; once there, I stopped to put my luggage down to double check my paperwork on which bus I needed. About 25 feet away from me was a woman standing and talking to 2 guys. At first, I thought they were a group; but soon realized the two guys were native as they were talking about their cab that was parked outside. The way they stood next to the woman; she could not see that one of the guys was trying to slip his hand into her purse, that was hanging down from her shoulder. Before I had time to think, I yelled out, “HEY!” It was enough for the guy to move his hand away as the woman turned to look at me. The 2 men quickly walked away. What kind of city was I getting into? GRATEFULLY, DESPITE THAT INTRODUCTION TO A new city, I fell in love with the place. My time there reminded me of another trip I took to an international city. On that trip, I had planned to incorporate a lot of walking into my daily sightseeing attractions. Of course, I had to try their public transportation at least once, which was surreal for me because I was able to imagine what it must have been like to be underground decades ago, while bombs were exploding above. On one of my daily excursions, I wound up getting lost and could not figure out how to get to my intended destination. With the tourist map in hand, I glanced at the pedestrians who were coming and going and chose a middle-aged looking man to stop and ask for help. He was friendly and unbelievably helpful to the point where he insisted walking with me, to make sure I got to the correct train stop. That chance encounter only enhanced the great time I had visiting that city. A moment of kindness can make all the difference; you can see it for yourself in this animated adventure comedy. THE SIGHTING OF A UFO NEARBY makes the Farmer, voiced by John Sparkes (Calendar Girls, Peppa Pig-TV), see a new source of income; while Shaun the sheep, voiced by Justin Fletcher (Chicken Run, Justin’s House-TV), makes a new friend. With Amalia Vitale (Making It, Christmas Eve) voicing Lu-La/Me-Ma, Kate Harbour (Bob the Builder-TV, Timmy Time-TV) voicing Agent Red/Timmy’s Mum and David Holt (Angry Kid-TV, The Jungle Book-TV) voicing Mugg-1NS; this Oscar nominated and film festival winner was a joy to watch. Besides enjoying the style of animation in this film, I loved the fact there was no discernible dialog. Emotions and intentions were all conveyed with the face and body; it was incredible. The story was simple and there were no surprises per se; however, there was such a charm and fun element to this film that I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. The humor/sight gags were sly and amusing on multiple levels; some geared to younger kids and others to more mature, including adults. If this sequel is any indication of what to expect going forward, I will always enjoy visiting this farm where Shaun lives. Extra scene during the credits.
3 ¼ stars
As you turn the page of the novel you find an old photograph stuck between the pages. You see a younger you floating across a lake on an inner tube. Immediately memories flood your mind, flushing into your eyes as you can see and remember how the water was so cool and clear on that hot summer day. Absently you scratch your arm in the same spot where you had that reaction to the bug bite you got when you came out of the water. Besides the common things like photographs or hand-me-down objects that trigger one’s memory, I have always been fascinated with how the mind responds to what seems like random items to stimulate a memory. I can hear a couple of musical notes in a certain order and I get catapulted to a wide white concert hall where a full orchestra is in the middle of playing a romantic symphony. When driving through a densely tree lined street, images of a deceased relative well up into my consciousness because they had given me my first ride in a convertible car. The way the sunlight filters through the leaves, creating sparks across my windshield, reminds me of the car ride we had gone on. He had driven us down a long stretch of road so I could feel how the air would whoosh by me, tickling my ears. It seems as if memories of past relatives grow sweeter and softer as I grow older. DEATH was a place filled with celebrations, happiness and good food in this animated adventure film. Diego Luna (Milk, Elysiom) voiced Manolo, a man who was willing to die for Maria, voiced by Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy). He would have to fight his way through the dead and living worlds if he had any hope of seeing her again. The cool thing about this movie was the way the writers took the subject of death and turned it into a less scary place. I believe the story was based on the holiday Day of the Dead, though I am not familiar with it. For that reason I may have been at a disadvantage in the way I interpreted this movie. Granted some could consider this an odd idea for a children’s film and it did cross my mind as well. I understand how much easier death would be if we were taught to look at it as a celebratory passage in time and this picture did its best in that regard. The writers treated the subject with sensitivity which I could appreciate. However, I did not find anything special or unique about this picture. Yes the visuals were fun to watch and some of the dialog was cute, but I certainly wasn’t blown away like I had been with other animated films. After a short time has passed, I doubt I will have any memories left of me having seen this animated comedy.
2 1/2 stars
One of the best objects for motivation is food. It does not necessarily have to be a comfort type of food like cookies or ice cream; could be a sandwich or a piece of fruit. During the week food is the escalator that helps me get through the day. If I am having a stressful time at the office I know it will not last long because I have set up an oasis where I will be taking in some food at a certain time. I may not want to go jogging on Sunday but I know if I want to treat myself to a chocolate chip cookie later, I have to go running now. There are certain foods I will eat simply because I want them to continue a memory I cherish. The smell of cinnamon quickly brings to mind cookies my mother used to bake, where the dough had to be rolled out and cut with heart and diamond shaped cookie cutters. Just before the cookies were put into the oven they would get sprinkled with a combination of cinnamon and sugar. Whether there is an absence or abundance of food it still can be a big motivator as this animated movie will show you. Will Arnett (When in Rome, Blades of Glory) voiced Surly, a squirrel who only looked out for himself in a park filled with other animals. After being banished by the park’s dominant animal the raccoon, voiced perfectly by Liam Neeson (The Grey, Taken franchise), Surly tried to survive in a city filled with humans, where he was to discover something that could change everything for all the animals back in the park. I understood the moral message the writers were trying to convey in this adventure comedy, though it was a weak effort. Part of the issue was creating a story and film to cover everyone’s tastes; it was too much and too predictable. There was no humor for adults, spending way too much time on flatulence jokes. The voices of Katherine Heigl (Life as We Know It, Grey’s Anatomy-TV) as Andie and Brendan Fraser (The Mummy franchise, Bedazzled) as Grayson easily lent themselves to a cartoon character; but I did not find much excitement among the majority of the players. Compared to other animated films I have seen, this one was not much fun to watch. All I kept thinking about during most of the movie was what I would eat for lunch when I got home. There were a couple of extra scenes in the middle and end of the credits.
An evil presence lived in my bedroom closet. I would only hear it at night when I was a little boy. It would make a creaking sound as if a giant’s foot was stepping out of the closet to eat me. One of my defenses was to hide under my blanket and be very still. The other was to make pretend spiders out of black construction paper and place them on the floor, in front of the closet door. They used to do a good job; so good, that I accidentally scared one of my brothers, when I left one of the spiders on the floor. As I grew up it dawned on me that what I was really afraid of was the unknown. It would have been a big help if this animated comedy had been around back then. A film that showed monsters going to school to learn how to scare humans was a wonderful idea. For those of us who saw Monsters, Inc this was the opportunity to visit with a younger Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan, voiced by Billy Crystal (Parental Guidance, Analyze This) and John Goodman (Argo, Flight). If you are not familiar with their story, it will not be a major factor in watching this film. A few sly references would be missed. However, the charm and originality of the previous movie was also missing. The story took a little part from the movies Carrie and The Hunger Games, minus the frightening parts. I believe young children will still enjoy this movie; though, I did notice the kids were noisier here than at other animated family films I have seen. Billy and John were perfect voicing their characters again, as was Steve Buscemi (Rampart, Broadwalk Empire-TV) as Randy. The addition of Helen Mirren (Red, Hitchcock) as Dean Hardscrabble was my favorite character. Though there was a little less magic and a little less fun in it for me, I still enjoyed finding out how monsters learned to be scary. Stay through the end of the credits.
2 3/4 stars
Never stop being curious, because you never know what you may find. I consider myself an inquisitive type. When traveling to a new place, I can spend the entire day seeking out and learning as much as I can about the area. Finding that little off the beaten path surprise can still give me a thrill to this day. Now speaking of surprises, some of you already know I do not believe in accidents; there is a reason for everything. In my previous review I wrote about a room where I kept my memories in balloons. As I watched this film, there was a scene that had glowing lanterns rising up into the sky. Not only did they remind me of my memory balloons, but I loved what they represented in this animated comedy. Putting a new spin on the fairy tale Rapunzel; the writers created an assertive and curious Rapunzel, voiced by Mandy Moore (A Walk to Remember, The Princess Diaries). Kidnapped as a baby, she was raised in solitude by the woman she believed to be her mother Gothel, voiced by Donna Murphy (Higher Ground, Center Stage). However, her mother never could explain what were the glowing lights in the distance that only came out on Rapunzel’s birthday. Something about those floating lights kept Rapunzel’s resolve strong; she was determined to find out their meaning. There was some of the old Disney magic in this family film. Funny characters, crazy chases and of course several positive messages filled out the movie. Zachary Levi (Stunt Men, Chuck-TV) did a super job as Flynn Rider. I did not find the music especially memorable which surprised me. Usually one can always find at least one standout song in a Disney film. It was good to see the movie studio updated their female lead into a strong, positive role model for girls; instead of the innocent, frail, always needing to be saved by a man type of girl from years past. An imaginative, adventuresome film; I am glad it piqued my curiosity enough to make me see it.
3 stars — DVD
Words of encouragement can make such a difference in a person’s life. In a similar way, a lack of encouraging words can also have a dramatic effect on an individual. When there is a new member in my yoga classes, I make a point to tell the person they did a good job at the end of class. Especially when they have paid attention to what their body was physically able to do; instead of trying to copy my every move. When I first started attending group exercise classes, I felt intimidated. It seemed as if everyone knew the moves. There I was trying to copy the steps; not only feeling uncomfortable, but aware that the extra 85 pounds I was carrying made me stand out even more. A kind word or two would have been nice. I never went back to that particular class. In this animated film, I was surprised to find what motivated the main character Gru, voiced by Steve Carell (Hope Springs, Date Night). When the world discovered the Great Pyramid of Giza was stolen, Gru was determined to do something even more spectacular. He wanted to be the most evil villain of all time. Not only would he not be outshone but he would make his mother proud. His mother was voiced by Julie Andrews (Tooth Fairy, Victor Victoria). His plan to beat master thief Vector, voiced by Jason Segel (The Muppets, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), hit a speed bump when three orphaned girls entered his life. The movie started out slow for me, but I soon realized the humor had a certain amusing sophistication to it, not a typical slapstick schtick. While Steve did a perfect job with his character, I had no idea Julie and Jason were the voices of their characters. The humor was appropriate for all ages and I liked the added twists to the story. It is amazing what some people will do just to get approval. I for one approved of this movie.
3 stars — DVD
Since today is my favorite holiday of Thanksgiving, I feel this is the perfect movie to review. Do you know that feeling where random variables line up perfectly to make your life easier? For example, when all the traffic lights turn green so you can get to the movie theater on time. You enter the full parking lot just as one car pulls out giving you the only open space. Then you get to the long ticket line just as extra cashiers open up, speeding up the line, so you can get into the theater just as the last preview ends and you see your favorite seat is the last seat open. In a similar vein, I felt everything fell into place to make this movie extra special for me. Recalling fond memories from past Thanksgiving meals with friends and family, as soon as the film started I felt I was that little boy again, filled with wonder and excitement. This wonderful animated movie starred characters we all used to believe were real. When an evil spirit threatened the children of earth, it would take the forces of the Guardians to come together to save the children. The Guardians consisted of Jack Frost, voiced by Chris Pine (Star Trek, This Means War); North aka Santa Claus was voiced by Alec Baldwin (To Rome With Love, 30 Rock-TV); Tooth aka Tooth Fairy was voiced by Isla Fisher (Wedding Crasher, Confessions of a Shopaholic) and Bunny aka Easter Bunny was voiced by Hugh Jackman (Real Steel, X-Men franchise). These actors did a wonderful job of bringing life to their characters. Jude Law’s (Anna Karenia, Hugo) voice was spot on for his character Pitch the evil spirit. The CGI effects were magical to me, adding an extra layer of fun and excitement to the story. As I walked back to my car I tried to remember if I ever believed in these characters when I was a little kid. Honestly, I do not recall ever believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. But because of this movie I believe in them now. As a side note, there is no reason to see this movie in 3D.
3 1/3 stars
To be independent and responsible adults is the hope parents have for their children. Though for some it may be hard to let go and allow their kids to make their own decisions. In a recent review I mentioned how my dad taught me how to drive a year before I had driver’s education. What I failed to mention was how he would tell me not to go out driving if it was raining outside. Another thing he would say was not to turn on the radio because it drained the battery. To this day when I call him up to say hello, all he wants to hear is that I am driving straight home. Keep in mind I moved out of the house when I was in my 20’s, but to him that does not matter. That is why this fun movie gave me an extra kick. I found the idea of a classic horror film character being an overprotective parent hilarious. The story was about Dracula, voiced by Adam Sandler (Grown Ups, Reign Over Me), throwing a 118th birthday party for his daughter Mavis, voiced by Selena Gomez (Monte Carlo, Remona and Beezus). Several past scary film characters traveled to Dracula’s exclusive human free resort, Hotel Transylvania; to help in the celebration. But during the festivities Dracula’s fatherly concerns would be tested when teenager Jonathan, voiced by Andy Samberg (Celeste & Jesse Forever, That’s My Boy), accidentally stumbled into the hotel. There were enough gags and jokes for both kids and adults; though some of the jokes were more bathroom type humor. Adam’s voice perfectly matched the Dracula role, along with the fine animation. With a little more substance than the average animated movie, I had a good time at the theater watching this comedy. Who knows, maybe I will finally tell my dad about the time I drove his car with 9 people squished in with me.
What a flashback I got while watching this animated movie. No, not that type of flashback; I am talking about when I went to see the circus with my aunt and cousins when I was a little boy. This film was just as fun but without the animal smells. As the third installment of this franchise, this one was the best one. The assortment of vibrant colors reaching across the screen was just beautiful. Starting where the 2nd movie left off, the furry friends were still in Africa. Feeling homesick for New York City, the group of animals hatched up a plan to get back home. Among the usual cast there was Alex the lion, voiced by Ben Stiller (Tropic Thunder, Tower Heist); Marty the zebra, voiced by Chris Rock (Head of State, Down to Earth) and Melman the giraffe, voiced by David Schwimmer (Friends-TV, Six Days Seven Nights). Once the group arrived in Monte Carlo, the action went into high gear. New character Captain Chantel DuBois, voiced by Frances McDormand (Moonrise Kingdom, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day), was determined to capture Alex so she could mount his head on her trophy wall. I enjoyed the humor that was appropriate for young children, along with having fun lines written with the adult in mind. A madcap chase ensued as the animals traveled across Europe with Captain DuBois hot on their tails. Filled with excitement, laughs and thrills; this wonderful movie had everything to please a young child and a grown-up who was a kid at heart.
3 1/4 stars