WE HAD MET WITHIN a group of people who assembled at the art museum. Throughout our time there we bumped into each other several times; it seemed we appreciated the same artists. Everyone from the group returned to our meeting place in the lobby near the gift shop at the designated time. Some individuals said their goodbyes and left; others broke off into smaller groups to stick around or do something else. She and I decided to go out for coffee since it was too early to get something to eat. We walked over to a nearby café, found an open table and sat down with our menus in hand. After we placed our orders we talked about our appreciation for the same artists and how fortunate we were to have a world class art museum in our city. FROM OUR CONVERSATION THAT initially focused on art we veered into the topic of beauty and what does it mean to be beautiful. We touched on a variety of aspects concerning beauty; for example, the unrealistic expectations found in modeling and fashion. I do not know how it happened but we started to share our own assessment of our looks. Something she said struck me in a curious way; it was the way she said it I think that made me question her further. When she talked about herself I noticed a majority of her comments had a negative element to them. I could not understand why she felt that way so I simply asked her if she thought she was not a beautiful person. She just stared at me for only a moment before I noticed tears welling up, about to spill out of her eyes. Turning her head away she looked out the window before she whispered yes. After a brief silence she explained that she was born with a hair lip that took a couple of surgeries to correct, though a trace of it remained. Ever since that time she always felt poorly about herself. I did not want to prod and see if she was teased or treated differently since it was obvious she still was dealing with some emotional baggage over it. Sadly I could relate since I had body image issues growing up that did a number on me. It takes one small thing whether a comment or one’s own lack of confidence that takes us on a path of darkness. FORCED OUT OF THEIR city due to an evil threat; it would take friendship, magic and hope for Princess Skystar, voiced by Kristin Chenoweth (Bewitched, The Boy Next Door), and her friends to find a way to save their precious homes. This animated, adventure comedy also had Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Looper) voicing Tempest Shadow, Uzo Aduba (Tallulah, Orange is the New Black-TV) voicing Queen Novo, Taye Diggs (Chicago, Private Practice-TV) voicing Capper and Liev Schreiber (Spotlight, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) voicing The Storm King. The animation was your typical old fashioned Saturday morning flat style. I am afraid the script was written in a narrow range for the 5-7 year old set; there was not much offered for anyone older. Unfortunately I found a good portion of this movie boring. It was not until the last ½ hour or so that I became interested. And it was a shame because I thought the message conveyed was poignant and meaningful. For those of you who were into My Little Pony toys you might enjoy this story more than I did. For the rest of the viewing audience I suggest you skip this ride at the theater.
THE PROBLEM WAS they looked alike even though they were different sexes. His mother had a reputation in the neighborhood of not being smart; though the adjectives used to describe her were unkind. People just assumed her son had the same low level of intelligence. Sadly it was a perception, it was not a fact. However this falsehood stayed with him all through school. If he had been a straight A student then the assumption would have quickly died, but he was more of an average grade pupil with grades that went from C to A. The interesting thing about this was he did not care or at least did not show any concern regarding what people thought of him. It turns out he was smart and used this incorrect assumption to his advantage. To make a long story short he became a shrewd business owner who became quite successful. ASSUMPTION BY ASSOCIATION is something people tend to do easily and in my opinion too often. To me I consider it along the same lines as profiling. I have mentioned before my feelings about individuals making rash judgments based on a person’s appearance. After recently being updated on the changes taking place within the labor laws, I know they say one cannot discriminate; however I have seen and been on the receiving end with the misconception that overweight individuals are lazy. Sadly I have heard people’s comments in a variety of settings that were derogatory based on a person’s race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. I know it is more prevalent than my experiences and I find it pathetic. The idea of someone making a judgment solely based on one’s looks is frankly horrifying. From my school years I have seen how these types of perceptions can scar a child for a long time, possibly their entire life. Imagine what the boy in this animated action adventure had to endure. ALL THE KIDS avoided Lloyd, voiced by Dave Franco (Now You See Me franchise, Neighbors franchise), because of his father Garmadon, voiced by Justin Theroux (The Girl on the Train, The Leftovers-TV). His father just wanted to rule the world. This 3rd film in the LEGO movie franchise started out in a fun way by having the first several minutes being live action with Jackie Chan (Shanghai Noon, Rush Hour franchise) as Mr. Liu and later voicing Master Wu. I liked Jackie in both roles. Including Fred Armisen (Easy A, Saturday Night Live-TV) voicing Cole, Michael Pena (The Martian, End of Watch) voicing Kai and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick, Fist Fight) voicing Jay; the actors were fine with their characters. The script had several amusing scenes; however, there was little of the laugh out loud or surprise factor compared to the previous pictures. As for the animation it was just as good as before and I especially enjoyed the interjection of the live action character. In fact that was my favorite part. Overall I have to tell you my enthusiasm watching this film was lackluster; there was a sense of tiredness since it pretty much was the same stuff being done as before. I do not know if there is an actual cartoon character for Master Wu; the closest example I could think of was a takeoff on The Karate Kid or an old television show I think called Kung Fu. After playing with the same toy for an extended time one eventually will get tired of it; that is what I believe is going on here. There was one extra scene of outtakes in the middle of the credits.
2 ¼ stars
EXCEPT FOR A couple of friends the rest of the people in the train car were strangers. I knew they were going to the same place we were going based on the various paraphernalia and clothing they had on, besides hearing bits and pieces of multiple conversations taking place around me. By the time we arrived at the stadium there were all kinds of festivities taking place. The atmosphere was giddy and light as everyone was in an excited mood, all having come together for this one big event. Everything went smoothly and the sporting event was a huge success. My ears were still ringing from the sold out crowd’s cheering, along with the fireworks display. I remember it took forever for us to leave the stadium; so many people slowly merging closer together to get through what seemed like the narrowest of passageways. The image of threading a needle came to mind as I looked one last time across the field to see how the fans on the other side were making their way out. I READ IN the newspaper the next day that the event was historic. I looked at the accompanying photo to the article and recalled how much fun I had the night before. It never occurred to me that we were participating in an historical event; we were just there to have a good time. It felt pretty cool to have been part of that event; from now on whenever someone talked about it in the future I could say I was there. This made me think about the circumstances so many of us have that put us in a situation where we can become part of history. Think about our ancestors who left their homes due to war. Some people may only know a relative traveled overseas to start a new life, not aware that family member was affected by an historical event. I am sure some of us were more fortunate in learning the details about their loved one’s experiences than others; I will say it takes on a whole new feeling when the stories become personal, like the one told in this historical, animated drama. THOUGH MORE AND more necessities were becoming scarcer Suzu, voiced by Rena Nounen aka Non (Hot Road, Princess Jellyfish), did her best to keep living a normal life. She had no idea she and her family were going to experience an event that was going to become historic. This film festival winning movie also included Megumi Han (The Garden of Words, Hunter x Hunter-TV) voicing Sumi, Yoshimasa Hosoya (The Anthem of the Heart, Attack on Titan-TV) voicing Shusaku, Natsuki Inaba (Frozen) voicing Harumi and Daisuke Ono (Working!!-TV, Attack on Titan-TV) voicing Akira. It took me a short time to get into the story but once in I was enthralled with the beautiful animation and enjoyed the simplicity of the story. The story unfolded like a roll of fabric, revealing daily life in the midst of wartime Hiroshima. If this picture had been done live I do not think it would have worked as well or at all. Presenting that time frame as an animated movie I believe made it easier to tell the story. Let us face it most of us have seen or experienced deadly conflicts; through this movie the viewer was aware of the situation in a subtler way. This well thought out film was a memorable movie watching experience for me. Two versions of this film are being shown; one spoken in Japanese with English subtitles, the other dubbed in English.
3 1/2 stars
IF AN OBSTACLE stops you reaching for your dream, then maybe that dream was not meant to be. If you are willing to give up easily then I do not think your heart was really into it. Imagine if scientists/inventors had given up on their projects after the first defeat. Look at the microwave oven; it came about after a scientist was experimenting with a new vacuum tube and the candy bar in his pocket started to melt. The potato chip came about in the 1850s because a chef got angry at a customer always complaining about the potatoes being served. Figuring he would teach the customer a lesson the chef sliced the potatoes thinner, fried them then covered them in salt; that is how potato chips were born. Dreams are an essential part of us being human; I know if I stopped pursuing my dreams my life would have turned out drastically different. WHEN I FAILED the practical portion of the certification process to teach fitness I got depressed. In my head I was hearing all those old tapes that were telling me I was not good enough and I was stupid for trying to be something I was not. I even heard my elementary school teacher telling me I would amount to nothing. It is interesting because those comments made to me years ago became my fuel to push myself to work harder for my dreams. I have always had the hardest time when it came to me trying to be spontaneous, so I knew that practical portion was going to be a challenge; however, I did not give up. I forced myself to practice in front of a mirror first, then friends; afterwards, I signed up again for testing and passed. Sure I was nervous standing up in front of a group of strangers, but I knew I could do it and more importantly knew I wanted to do it. Having taught now for over 20 years I know it was worth fighting back to reach my dream based on the amount of pleasure and satisfaction my job gives me every day. This is why I was hoping the main character in this animated, adventure comedy would reach her dream. IF FELICIE, VOICED by Elle Fanning (The Beguiled, 20th Century Woman), could find a way out of the orphanage she knew she had to make her way to Paris, because it was there she could follow her dream to become a great dancer. Her friend Victor, voiced by Dane DeHaan (A Cure for Wellness, Kill Your Darlings), would find a way out. Having a fondness for dance and a dream once of being a go-go dancer, I was looking forward to seeing this movie. The idea to this story was admirable; I liked the way the writers showed one should never give up on a dream. With Carly Ray Jepsen (Grease-TV movie) voicing Odette, Kate McKinnon (Rough Night, Office Christmas Party) voicing multiple characters and Tamir Kapelian (A Broken Code) voicing Rudolph; the actors’ voices were well suited for their characters. The animation was okay, nothing really stood out as special however. My issue with this film was the odd assortment of song choices, along with the timeline confusion regarding certain events. I did not think there was much humor in the script; plus I found a thread of laziness in the entire production process. This story could have been more original instead of appearing to be a Cinderella knockoff. There was a good message in the story but the script did not dream big enough.
BELIEVING IN A cause can be the start to making a change.Throughout history I remember studying multiple examples where groups of people have an affect on what has been the norm in their world. This will sound trite; but outside of my studies, the first time where I saw the results from a diverse crowd of people coming together to affect change was when there was a write-in campaign to keep a television show from being cancelled. What surprised me was the crowd’s dedication in the way they kept up the pressure on the TV network with their letters, calls and peaceful demonstrations. From the little exposure I had to this event, what I was most impressed with was the variety of people from all walks of life. There was no color barriers, no age discrimination; in other words, there was no labels associated with anyone except for their love of this particular television show. THEY SAY THERE is strength in numbers but I have not always seen that to be the case. Sometimes a smaller group can still affect change with their actions. I wish I could say it always produces a positive change but sadly that is not the case. As the years have gone by there seems to be more opinions about any and everything. It is nothing today for someone to not only have an opinion but share it freely with anyone who will listen…or not listen. I believe everyone has the right to have an opinion. The hard part is respecting it when it runs counter to one’s own thoughts on the subject. Putting that aside, I have mentioned in the past I did volunteer work for several organizations around my hometown. What always impressed me was the devotion the employees had for their common cause. How they all were on point and dedicated to make a positive change was an incredible feeling to experience. If you want to see what can happen when a diverse group comes together for a common cause then this sequel is for you. WHEN THEIR SOURCE of food gets blown up it is up to Surly, voiced by Will Arnett (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, The Brothers Solomon), to find a new home for everyone. Unfortunately their new home was about to go through a radical change. This animated, adventure comedy also had Katherine Heigl (The Ugly Truth, Life as We Know It) as Andie, Maya Rudolph (Sisters, Friends with Kids) as Precious, Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man, Chef) as Frankie and Jackie Chan (Rush Hour franchise, The Spy Next Door) as Mr. Feng. The cast was matched perfectly with their characters, but I have to say the best character for me was the Jackie Chan one. Regarding the story, it continued right where the first film left off. I was not a fan of the original movie and I have to tell you I enjoyed this sequel even less. The action just kept being thrown to us in a fast crazy pace, not allowing time to develop a decent scene of humor. All I felt was the writers were just tossing out idea after idea without any filtering. Overall I was bored since there was nothing different or special in this picture. I could appreciate the movie studio believing they were producing a decent product and I respect their opinion. But I was sorry I paid full price for this film. On the plus side the credits were fun to watch and there was an extra scene at the end of them.
1 1/2 stars
INTENTLY drawing on their construction paper the students were following the teacher’s assignment to draw a picture of their favorite animal. Each child had their own box of crayons; some had the bigger sized containers with more colors. The teacher was walking around the classroom, checking up on each student’s artwork. She would offer words of encouragement or ask a question or two about the animal. Walking up from behind she looked over the shoulder of a boy who was carefully working on something the teacher could not figure out. There was nothing on the paper that resembled an animal. The teacher asked the student what he was drawing and he gladly explained the scene he created on his paper. What he had drawn was an elaborate jungle scene, using a variety of brightly colored crayons. Off to the side barely visible were 2 eyes staring out; the boy said it was a tiger. The teacher told him that was not the assignment. TECHNICALLY the assignment was to draw your favorite animal; the student did just that, except had the animal hidden in the jungle. One could say the boy was very creative and in fact, encourage the continued use of his imagination. However the teacher did not see it that way. She liked everyone to conform to the same thing. To look at something a different way was not something the teacher was comfortable with evidently. Assignments were supposed to be followed according to what the teacher believed was the “right” way; in other words, the way she thought things were supposed to be done. Someone with imagination would not easily conform to restrictions; they would as they say, “think outside of the box.” Personally I feel it is always an advantage to have people around who see things differently than you do. This animated, adventure comedy knows what I am talking about. EVERYONE living in Textopolis has one facial feature that they hope gets picked by the phone’s user. Considered an anomaly was Gene, voiced by T.J. Miller (Deadpool, Office Christmas Party), who had more than one facial feature. With a cast that included James Corden (Into the Woods, The History Boys) as Hi-5, Anna Faris (The House Bunny, Mom-TV) as Jailbreak, Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids, Sisters) as Smiler and Steven Wright (Reservoir Dogs, Son of the Mask) as Mel Meh; I thought the concept for the story was admirable regarding differences between people. From that idea to the big screen something got lost in translation because the script was bland and uninteresting. I could not get over how you make a film with colorful emojis and then do not offer them some excitement and fun. Overall there were no laughs or emotions to this picture. Not one child in the audience I was sitting with expressed any happiness towards a scene. At least the actors’ voices were fun to listen to, especially from James and Maya. Sadly out of all the emojis shown in the movie, the one that best describes my feelings about this film is “meh.” There was an extra scene in the middle of the credits.
1 ¾ stars
THEY were from the same parents but you would never know it. Two brothers only a few years apart in age, yet they had nothing in common. Even when we were younger I rarely saw the older of the two siblings. If I was over at their house and the older one happened to be present, there was a good chance an argument would take place between the family members at some point during the day. I believe it was after high school when the older brother enlisted in the army and that was the last time the parents would ever have contact with him. I never understood what happened between the family members that would lead one child to stop interacting with the rest. The parents went on with their lives; whether they were upset with the situation they never showed it. WHAT I just described was my first exposure to such extreme actions between family members. From that period of time going forward I have seen situations from both ends of the spectrum; from a family who had little contact with people outside of their own family members to families who resorted to violence. Recently a news article crossed my desk about a family owned company. One relative was using legal means to force an issue, making claims of inappropriate behavior and illegal business activity. As I read the article I was surprised by the level of hatred that was motivating the lawsuit. I did not know how many of the accusations were true, only that the company did business with my company. These scenes always remind me there is no such thing as a “normal” family. Every family or should I say every human being is different, who come with their own unique set of issues and quirks. If you do not believe me just take a look at the characters in this animated, action adventure film. AFTER all these year Gru, voiced by Steve Carell (Café Society, Freeheld), discovered he had a quite successful twin brother. If they were to meet, what would they possibly have in common? This 3rd installment in the franchise included Kristen Wiig (The Martian, Ghostbusters) voicing Lucy, Trey Parker (Run Ronnie Run, Orgazmo) voicing Balthazar Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove (School of Rock, Icarly-TV) voicing Margo and Steve Coogan (The Trip to Spain, Tropic Thunder) voicing Fritz/Silas Ramsbottom. For me the best part was the inclusion of the Minions; they are one of the best cartoon characters today. As the previous sequels this one had fun animation and a great soundtrack. The story initially was fine to me; however, as the story progressed and veered off in different directions I found myself not as interested. I believe the issue was due to having three different directors working on this picture. It almost seemed as if there was not enough time to cover one plot before something else was happening. Additionally the humor was sort of low key; it was geared towards young children and even then not much in the laugh out loud category based on the audience’s reactions during my viewing. Sitting through this movie I felt the Minions were overall the biggest draw because the story lines were not that unique to the characters. There was a sense as if I had seen each story before in a different film. It may be time to let these characters leave the coop so to speak.
2 ½ stars
THE last time a new updated version of an electronic device came out I happened to be at the shopping mall. A long line of people snaked halfway across the mall, waiting for the store to open. During my college years I remember standing in line for hours to buy tickets for a rock concert, but waiting in line for an extended amount of time just to buy a cell phone or computer device seemed odd to me. Being the curious type I walked up to a few of the waiting people at various places in line to ask them why they were there. After they would tell me I asked them if this was a 1st time purchase of the device or were they upgrading to the latest version. Only one person was there to buy their first phone; everybody else just wanted the newest device. As a sidenote every person I asked had their phone out and it appeared to me they were in perfect working condition. On one hand I can understand if someone wants the latest device but on the other, the devices are not cheap and really how much would the new items change the owner’s life. THERE is one other aspect I have noticed that motivates people to buy the latest things. I believe there is a fear the person will appear old or out of touch by other individuals. I see it in myself, not that I run my life based on what other people think of me. Every time I go to the bank the teller asks me to slide my ATM/debit card in the card reader right after they say hello. I used to say I do not have one but got tired of saying each time; so now, I simply hand them my driver’s license. More times than not the teller will look up at me and say, “You don’t have an ATM card?” The looks I get from the various tellers borders on disdain or incredulousness. You would think I had committed some horrible transgression. Just because I do not have an ATM card doesn’t mean I am an old fogey; I choose to only get things that add value to my way of living. Not having an ATM card makes me feel safer that my account will not get hacked. Some things still have worth even if they have a new replacement and this message comes across in a strong way in this animated adventure comedy. LIGHTNING McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson (No Escape She’s Funny That Way), was on top of the world until he was beaten by a younger race car. Though others counted him out he still believed he had something to offer. This latest sequel in the franchise also starred Cristela Alonzo (Cristela-TV, Hey It’s Fluffy-TV) as Cruz Ramirez and Chris Cooper (Demoltion, Adaptation) as Smokey. I thought the animation was outstanding; there were some outdoor scenes that made me wonder if the backgrounds were real and only the cars were drawn in. The script had value especially due to a couple of the story lines. However there was a long lull I experienced as the car races seemed too long. I actually enjoyed the beginning and end parts to this film. Part of the reason could be attributed to the limited audience the writers were writing to; there was little comedy and what there was would only be appreciated by a younger crowd. With a little more detailing and tweaking this would have been a more exciting movie. There was an extra scene at the end of the film.
2 1/2 stars
THERE always seems to be at least one in a crowd. Whether it is in the classroom, the office or a group of friends; usually one person is the prankster or jokester. I did not have the courage to act out in the classroom; however, I discovered I was quite good in coming up with a plan and then letting someone else execute it. I think the statues of limitations have long expired so I am okay to mention one of my pranks, keeping in mind I am not boasting or full of pride about it. There was a strict teacher we had who made some of us kids’ lives miserable. Looking back now I would not use the word “miserable,” but to a 9 year old who did not know better, the teacher was labeled bad. I discovered if you removed the cylinder of ink from certain pens they could be used to shoot spitballs. But I took it a step further; if you roll one end of the empty pen in lip balm and blow hard on the other end, it would jettison the glob of balm. If it was aimed at the blackboard it would leave a greasy mark. The teacher came into the classroom one day and discovered he could not write on the blackboard due to all the grease spots. THROUGH my early school years I actually did not do many pranks. I was never one to embarrass a classmate, like that student who glued another student’s schoolbook to their desk. The only time I would consider doing a prank against a student is if they hurt me. And even then I would have had to be 100% confident that the joke could never be traced back to me. I am not a mean spirited person, but I used to be a big fan of getting revenge. If I wanted to get back at someone I would have to do the prank myself, not even telling my friends. I was good at keeping a straight face even when my friends would ask if I was the one who did such and such prank. Little did I know I would have something in common with this animated, action comedy based on the bestselling children’s book series. BEST friends George and Harold, voiced by Kevin Hart (The Wedding Ringer, Central Intelligence) and Thomas Middleditch (Kong: Skull Island, Silicon Valley-TV), were always coming up with pranks to upset the school principal Mr. Krupp, voiced by Ed Helms (The Hangover franchise, Vacation). The 2 boys thought they had created the ultimate prank when they hypnotized the principal into their comic book hero, Captain Underpants. The joke was on them though. I was not familiar with this story; based on the kids who were in the theater with me, I would say the books must be written for the 4-8 year old crowd. As a result the humor in the script was geared more to that age group. There was nothing done that I found to be laugh out loud material, more on an amusing level. Some of the animation was similar to the style of those Saturday morning cartoon shows; it was imaginative. What saved this film for me was how life lessons (which I assume are part of the books) were presented into the story. Even if the focus was on pranks, at least something positive was coming out of the events. I was just glad I no longer have to be part of any pranks.
2 ½ stars
AT some point in time I am sure many of us have felt alone, as if we were the only one. I feel it is a valid point; however, my question is what does a person do about it? That feeling of being out of synch from those around you can really do a number on you mentally. Imagine if the co-workers around you all share a fondness for a particular activity which you are not interested in; you could be left out of their conversations or out of office activities. One scenario I have seen numerous times is when one’s circle of friends goes from being single to being a part of a couple. As friends begin to couple up it is understandable there is some adjustment and before you say, “no there is not,” let me say there are a variety of reasons couples may prefer doing things with other couples. I am willing to bet if you were in a relationship that later dissolved, you would have felt alone as your coupled friends came to your support. A particularly difficult time for me took place during my freshmen year of college. I had gone to an out of state university that no one else from my high school was planning on attending. Alone in a foreign city was tough for me, especially because I was the only freshman on my floor; the other residents were all graduate students. It was not until one of my classes held a panel discussion with outside guests that I first felt a connection to some similarly minded students. It was as if a secret door had opened in the middle of the 30,000+ student body and I finally stopped feeling as if I was the odd man out. It was an eye opening experience, not so dissimilar from the one that takes place in this animated adventure comedy. WITH a secret map in her possession Smurfette, voiced by Demi Lovato (Glee-TV, Sonny with a Chance-TV), takes off on a journey that will show her things that she has not found in her own village. Including Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride, Homeland-TV) voicing Papa Smurf, Julia Roberts (Mother’s Day, Closer) voicing SmurfWillow, Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike franchise, True Blood-TV) as Hefty Smurf and Rainn Wilson (Juno, The Office-TV) as Gargamel; this movie was geared more for the younger child. The animation was colorful and there were many scenes filled with action. Honestly, I felt like I was watching one of those old Saturday morning cartoon shows I remember as a kid. I appreciated the dual messages the writers were trying to get across to the viewers; however, I found the story in general mediocre. There was nothing either good or poor about this picture; it was predictable and a little bland for me. Granted I was never into the Smurfs while growing up, but I thought the writing could have been more creative to add heft to the fun and excitement factors. As a whole I was left with a bland feeling about this movie; I could have (if I was into the Smurfs) easily have waited to see this some Saturday morning on television, while eating a bowl of breakfast cereal by myself.