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.
LIFE as you know it can burst apart in a seismic moment when you are introduced to your new baby sister or brother. If you are the first born it probably is a bigger adjustment than it would be for those born after you. When you are the only one, you benefit from your parents devoting their attention solely on you. With multiple children in the family the parents may feel as if they are spending equal time with each child; but the perception from the child’s point of view may be totally different. It stands to reason before that baby arrived the only child was the sole focus; now 2 siblings will vie for the attention of Mom and Dad. It does not stand to reason that the scope of your parents’ attention will double with each new child coming into the household. If that was not enough then there is the whole issue about birth order and the characteristics associated with it; such as the middle child gets the least attention and the youngest of the siblings gets spoiled. THE thing that stuns me the most about families with more than one child is how these early, shall we say, landmines can lead to the deterioration of family ties. I recently was talking with someone who expressed they do not talk to their brother. When I asked what they meant, they told me they have not had any communication with their sibling for years. Personally I cannot understand how siblings could dissolve to a level where it was preferable to end all communication between each other. One has to wonder where the parents and their involvement in the upbringing of these children were during the siblings’ formative years. The answers may be found in this animated family comedy. THERE was something different about the baby, voiced by Alec Baldwin (The Departed, 30 Rock-TV), who came into the life of Tim, voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi (Shrek franchise). For starters the baby was dressed up in a suit. This movie was geared towards the older siblings of a family. I felt part of the humor and sight gags were pointed more to the 6-10 year olds; however, a good portion of the script had the parents in mind, with the type of jokes and references on display. I am not sure if younger children will have as much fun watching this film. Alec was perfect in the role, though Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs, Fargo) as Francis Francis, TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel as Dad and Lisa Kudrow (Easy A, The Comeback-TV) as Mom held their own. What I enjoyed about this movie besides the humor was its retro look; the visuals reminded me of some of the cartoon shows I used to watch when I was a kid. Underneath all of this I thought the writers did a wonderful job in introducing the lesson of the story. Maybe parents will see the lesson to learn early on, but for children it came across in an imaginative way. Pitting this against other recent animated films, this one may not have all the bells and whistles; however, as the baby of the family I refrain from making such comparisons. There was a brief extra scene in the middle of the credits and another extra scene at the end.
2 3/4 stars
WHENEVER I see it being done I always stop to watch. Not only is it an art but a beautiful and skillful manipulation of a basic element. The only times I get to see a potter in action has been at art fairs or galleries. To witness the moist hands dance across the spinning mound of clay centered on their potter’s wheel is fascinating to me. The clay looks at times like it is growing into a living plant reaching maturity; at other times, it may look like an architectural geometric structure. If you ever get the chance to watch the process I highly recommend it. There is another reason why I am attracted to this process and it has to do with control. On a certain level I can easily relate to the potter because they are in total charge of the entire creation. They do not have to depend on anyone; it is simply them and their clay. Whatever way their creation comes out, it is solely do to them. On the one hand you could say that may not always be the best way because if the object is a disaster then the potter is completely at fault. I would willingly accept that fate instead of depending on someone to help complete the vision I foresaw for the mound of clay. BEING in control has always been a part of my mental makeup, since as long as I can remember. Without turning this into a therapy session let me say that after experiencing multiple disappointments I became trained on how not to depend or need anything from anyone. Maybe I had high standards or low self-esteem, but it has always been hard for me to ask someone for help. To let go of being in control for me represents a fear somehow that I am weak or not good enough. Like I said I do not want to delve into my psyche but I do have to say I discovered I have something in common with Batman and it is not the cool gadgets. GOTHAM city could be on the brink of disaster if the Joker, voiced by Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover franchise, The Campaign), goes through with his dastardly plan. If Batman, voiced by Will Arnett (When in Rome, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise), wants to save his beloved city he may have to do something he has never done before—ask for help. This animated action adventure film was just as creative as the original Lego movie. With Michael Cera (Youth in Revolt, Arrested Development-TV) voicing Robin, Rosario Dawson (Top Five, Sin City franchise) voicing Barbara Gordon and Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash, Harry Potter franchise) voicing Alfred Pennyworth; all the characters were fun to watch and especially hear since the dialog had a fun edge to it. This film festival winner would appeal to kids and adults in my opinion. The references made for the adult viewers will not register with kids but it won’t take away from the movie watching experience. I also enjoyed the way the writers brought in a life lesson moment; it was touching and did not feel out of place. So now that I discovered I have something in common with Batman, I wonder if I should start working on my outfit.
3 ¼ stars
THE mother was upset by the zoo animals fighting in their enclosure. With her young child standing by her side with his arm extended up to hold his mother’s hand, she was arguing with a zookeeper. I was standing off to the side with other visitors but I could hear every word and she was mad. Essentially she was upset the animals were not peacefully walking around their pen, letting the visitors get a good look at them. I had the urge to tell her this was a zoo and not a beauty pageant but decided to keep my mouth shut. The animals were just being themselves and fighting over territory; but apparently that was not enough for her, she wanted them to act more human. I know there are people who find animals more endearing when they can attach a human emotion to the animal’s actions. I totally understand because I wanted to become a veterinarian after I read the book Doctor Dolittle. I loved the way the animals carried on conversations with the doctor. Wouldn’t you say most of us are more comfortable with animals when they act in a fashion more akin to human beings? As a child I could not wait to grow up and go out on a date to an Italian restaurant so we could share a spaghetti meal just like Lady and Tramp did in their movie. Look at how many talking animals have been part of our culture, from Michigan J. Frog to the horse Mr. Ed to the talking chipmunks Alvin and his brothers. Oh and how can I ignore all of those cat and dog videos posted on the internet? The animals look adorable as they perform tricks or interact with those around them. Watching them can be fun but I have never seen any that can match the singing that was done in this animated film. BUSTER Moon, voiced by Matthew McConaughly (The Wolf of Wall Street, Dallas Buyers Club), came up with a brilliant idea to save his beloved theater; hold a singing contest. He was in for a big surprise after the mailer advertising the event was sent out. This comedic drama had a wonderful cast of actors to voice many of the characters; there was Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line, This Means War) as Rosita, Seth MacFarlane (A Million Ways to Die in the West, Tooth Fairy) as Mike, Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers franchise, Don Jon) as Ash and the biggest surprise for me Taron Egerton (Eddie the Eagle, Testament of Youth) as Johnny. Luckily the characters were fun to watch because the script was a bit bland. The story revolved around the singing competition which was fine, but there were times where I felt the script could have used a rewrite. Let me say kids will like the mayhem and action while the parents will enjoy the singing; most of the songs were current. This film may have lacked a little in the lessons learned aspect that other children’s animated pictures have depicted, but I found this movie to be quite entertaining. Plus c’mon how can one resist animals that sing and sing well?
THERE is no shame in having or wanting a savior in one’s life. Depending on what has or could happen there is nothing wrong with getting help. Imagine an individual who had been unlucky in love to the point where they shut down their heart, putting up ironclad walls around it, to avoid any more pain. Then unexpectedly someone comes along who has the magic key to unlock the heart’s defenses, releasing the pent up love to be shared by two. Wouldn’t you say that person with the key was a savior. I know the word savior is used in a religious context, but it also can refer to a hero. The funny thing about heroes I have noticed has been the change or to be more precise the evolution of what is a hero today. YEARS ago heroes were considered to be handsome and male. At least it was in the movies, which was a reflection of the public’s perceptions of a hero. They were usually virile masculine figures who rode in to save the day. If you do not believe me just take a look at the animated films Cinderella and Snow White. As perceptions changed so did our heroes. They soon were not always the epitome of beautiful or handsome and more importantly they were not always male. One of my early saviors was a woman, so I was glad to see gender was finally being taken out of the equation regarding heroes. Some of you might remember the hoopla in the press surrounding the first American female astronaut. And there might be several of you out there who remember when the Starship Enterprise was commanded by a female captain. The times are changing and in this animated comedy there is a new hero to add to the list and her name is Moana. HOPING to correct a wrong that has plagued her father’s village; Moana, voiced by newcomer Auli’I Crava, set off across the sea on a perilous journey. This comedy adventure story was set in ancient Polynesia and I have to tell you the animation was an outstanding palette of colors. With Dwayne Johnson (Central Intelligence, Pain & Gain) voicing Maui, Rachel House (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Whale Rider) voicing Gramma Tala and Temuera Morrison (Star Wars franchise, Once Were Warriors) voicing Chief Tui; the stars of this film were Auli’I and Dwayne. Auli’I had a beautiful singing voice which had the good fortune of singing songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, Into the Heights). As for Dwayne his comic timing added a fun element to his character and the story. I thought the script was well written and appreciated the influence of real mythology into the story. Overall there was a familiar template that was followed for these types of animated films but truthfully I did not mind it much. I think the message it was conveying was a worthy and important one that demonstrated the image of a female hero. Except for one scene that might be scary for very young children, this film would be something the entire family could enjoy. So feel free to be a hero for suggesting this fun film.
3 ¼ stars
IT is quite easy to be pessimistic when one has experienced many disappointments. I have mentioned in the past I refer to myself as a defensive pessimist. The first time I heard this term was in one of my psychology classes. The term fit me like a custom-made suit. Through classroom discussions I learned some new things about myself. I would not be labeled a “downer,” but I never was one to look on the bright side of a situation. This I found out was a good thing because me and people with a similar mindset prepare for the worst in a situation, but are quicker to adapt then those who stay positive. I will give you an example of something that happened to me this week. MY furnace had to be replaced immediately. The HVAC company offered a 36 month payment plan, interest free. Who would not want to take advantage of this offer? However, as I was filling out the online application I noticed the issuing bank was the same bank I had a horrible time with when I refinanced my mortgage. Just to give you a reference point this bank had my mortgage and my application to refinance it was declined one time because no one at the bank checked off the prefix Mr. So now as I continued the application process a part of my brain was already planning for the worst. I was coming up with a couple of backup plans if the bank was going to hassle me again. Sure enough the bank responded to my application by only giving me a $900.00 credit limit. I will spare you the foul language; only telling you my FICA score is 834-840. I called the bank with no fear because I had my options but in 15 minutes they increased my credit limit to $9500.00. If this did not happen I would still be able to keep my appointment for the new furnace; could an optimist make the needed adjustments? Something to ponder as you watch this colorful, animated adventure film. WHEN one of the townsfolk was kidnapped optimist Poppy, voiced by Anna Kendrick (The Accountant, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), was positive she could save her fellow troll. It only meant working with the pessimist Branch, voiced by Justin Timberlake (Friends with Benefits, Runner Runner). This film festival winning comedy had a fun soundtrack to accompany the kaleidoscopic scenes. Though the movie was geared towards children, adults could find things they would like about the story. For me the idea of working together resonated strongly in the script. The story was basic, offering very little in originality; I felt as if the purpose of the movie was to make troll dolls popular again. With that being said let me tell you the things that kept my interest through this picture were the use of sarcasm, the dancing, song selection and the color palette. What you see in the trailer is pretty much what you get in the film. I try my best not to go into a movie theater with expectations, but I have to say this film was easy fun. There was a brief extra scene during the credits.
2 ¾ stars
It was the beginning to our rite of passage. The years up to this point for the average student was a life of following the rules. Stand in single file, no talking, sit in alphabetical order; these were the things we heard in the early years. As we now entered into 6th grade some of us started flexing our independence. For me it was leaving my bicycle at home and letting public transportation take me and my friends further down into the city. Our allowances would give us this new found freedom. Taking the bus or train, eating out at a fast food restaurant; we were finally adults–at least in our minds. Back in the classroom the students who had aggressive tendencies started flexing their ability to dominate other students. In my class there was a student who was repeating the year over. Though this person did not bully us, we still were cautious whenever we were around them. I remember how surprised I was that for being 1 year older this person had incredible strength. In PE class everyone wanted this student on their team. The aggressive students were not the only ones who asserted themselves; the class clowns from elementary school were now constantly testing their teachers to see how far they could be pushed. These two groups were heroes to some of us because they blatantly did not follow the rules. Sure they were sent to the principal’s office numerous times but it just seemed like they did not care. In fact, when they would come back to the classroom they were treated like demigods. I am embarrassed for what I am about to tell you; my way of being rebellious was to quietly shoot spitballs at students. But I did not use bits of wet rolled up paper, I used lip balm. Taking one end of an empty pen I would twirl it into the balm then aim for the back of a person’s head. When the student put their hand back to feel what hit them in the head they would smear the balm further in their hair. I was surprised no one in this dramatic comedy did not think of it. STARTING at a new school Rafe, played by Griffin Gluck (Just Go With It, Red Band Society-TV), could not believe all the rules students had to follow. One rule in particular would push him over the edge. With Lauren Graham (Bad Story, Gilmore Girls-TV) as Jules and Andrew Daly (She’s Out of My League, What Happens in Vegas) as Principal Dwight; I could not tell if the acting was meant to be more cartoonish to suit this story. I liked the animated scenes and felt I understood what the students were trying to achieve. However these students did not come across as real students for me. Part of this had to do with the script, but I think the directing also had a hand in it. For a good portion of this film I was simply bored. I believe this film would only be a hit with those who are presently attending middle school.
1 3/4 stars
Times have certainly changed and I bet some of you will be surprised to hear how things used to be when someone was expecting a baby. Years ago the new mother spent more time in the hospital before coming home. Nowadays the way things are going I am surprised one doesn’t need a referral from their primary doctor before going to the hospital to deliver a baby. And once you deliver you are sent home as quickly as possible. If she already had any young children at home more than likely they were not allowed in the hospital right away to see their new baby sister or brother. The mother would have to find a relative to stay and watch her child/children while she went to the hospital. I know what I am about to say will seem dated and I am aware in some circles they still would not approve but there used to be negative connotations associated with being a single mother. Growing up I can only recall one person who was a student who became pregnant. She disappeared; none of us knew what happened to her. Currently most people look upon the birth of a child as a joyous occasion. With the definition of family evolving where a family can be related by blood or not, I think deciding to have a child is an important decision. Even the method of delivery has expanded from what was available back then. Presently one can deliver a baby in a filled up bathtub, a birthing chair or even at home; they do not have to go to a hospital necessarily. Honestly does it really matter? As long as a baby is brought into this world with love and want it does not matter how they get here. See for yourself in this animated comedy. HAVING gotten out of the baby delivery business and into delivering packages employee Junior, voiced by Andy Samberg (The To Do List, Poster: Never Stop Never Believing), of internet company Cornerstone.com must find a way to deliver a surprise unexpected baby without his boss finding out. This adventure film also had Katie Crown (Bob’s Burgers, American Dad!) voicing Tulip, Keegan-Michael Key (Tomorrowland, Keanu) as Alpha Wolf, Jordan Peele (Keanu, Wanderlust) as Beta Wolf and Kelsey Grammer (X-Men franchise, Any American Carol) as Hunter. Colorful and filled with scenes that were supposed to be humorous, I found the story odd. There was too much going on with the multiple themes taking place throughout the story. I thought the scenes with Alpha and Beta Wolf were the best. If the writers would have focused on one of the story lines I think this would have been a better film. There were times where I was bored, especially with some scenes that seemed like filler. It was a shame because the theme having to do with family had a good message to convey. I suspect the youngest of children will enjoy this film and I do not recall any scenes that would be terribly frightening for them. Mixing the old ways with some of the new ones this movie may have shown you how to deliver a baby; it just was not the best in delivering entertainment.
1 ¾ stars
For some of you one of your earliest memories may have been waking up in the morning to see 2 eyes intently watching you from a nose distance away. You may have woken up from the warm breath pulsing at you or maybe the low sounding purr. One of the earliest relationships many of us have had was the bond between us and our pets. Though I did not experience it at a young age, I do remember how much I enjoyed slipping in between the bed sheets to discover the warmth a pet had created in my space. I still get a chuckle from the stories and photos my friends share of them waking up to have a sleeping cat draped around their head or going to sleep and finding their dog was already snuggled into the bed with the sheets pulled up to their dog collar, their head resting on a pillow. One picture in particular you would swear the dog was looking at his non-furry friend as if to say, “C’mon, it is time to go to sleep.” The bond between animals and humans has stayed strong throughout the centuries. In the past I would always have a line drawn between the characteristics displayed by animals and humans. An animal acts differently than a human; I never assumed a dog or a cat was thinking in a similar way to me. Seeing the interactions between my friends and their pets, I know some of their pets are more than pets. I get it and I am not judging because I have witnessed some interactions that can only be explained as telepathy or empathy. Even some of the movies I have reviewed here that were based on true stories about humans and animals amazed me. In fact today’s film showed something I never knew about the classic story of Robinson Crusoe. STRANDED and alone Robinson Crusoe, voiced by Matthias Schweighofer (Rabbit without Ears, What a Man), did not realize he actually had friends on the small island. This film festival winning animated adventure comedy also had the voices of Kaya Yanar (Schillerstrabe-TV) as Papagei Dienstal, Ilka Bessin (Der Nanny) as Tapir Rosie and Dieter Hallervorden (Nonstop Nonsens-TV, On Track) as Ziegenbock Zottel. In case you were wondering this Belgium film had dubbed in English for the dialog. The best part of this picture was the colorful animation; that pretty much was it. I did not mind the twist the writers did to the Robinson Crusoe story but was surprised this script lacked anything fun or funny. Maybe the youngest of children would enjoy this but there were a couple of times where I thought the film was mean spirited. If I had never seen an animated film before in my entire life maybe I would have at least found something to like about this movie. It really was such a flat, uninspired production that I could not wait for it to be over. Honestly if this is an award winner, what were the other nominated films like? Your time would be better spent volunteering at an animal shelter or at least taking the money you would have spent for this film and donating it.
1 ½ stars
One of the main motivations for breeding an animal is to make money. From my college studies I learned how much thought and detail goes into deciding which animal should be bred. Whether a farmer or racehorse breeder they each spot specific traits they want to be carried down to the offspring of their herd. I still remember a course I had where we were taught to look at a pig and figure out their most prominent traits for breeding purposes. Some of you who follow race horsing may already know a winning horse is worth more in retirement when they go out to stud. Aren’t you glad we are not animals? But I have to tell you I am just as fascinated by family traits as I was in animal science. The gene pool to me is this vast reservoir of a family’s history; it is a game of chance when a couple has a child. What traits will the child acquire from the parents? I am always curious when a business establishment is family owned and has been handed down from generation to generation. It makes me wonder whether each new generation has acquired the same set of skill sets to make the business a continued success. Even when I witness a child doing the same thing as one of their parents, like being a tennis player or painter, it amazes me how that talent filtered down to the younger generation. Though I have to tell you I know of a family that has a business that has been handed down and the latest generation involved with it dislikes being a part of it. They wanted to be something else but their family essentially forced them to follow in the footsteps of their parent. Gratefully that was not the case in this gorgeous animated adventure film. KUBO, voiced by Art Parkinson (Dracula Untold, San Andreas), never knew his father and could not understand why his mother insisted he be home before dark. She had a very good reason. With a mixture of claymation and CGI effects, this family film was magical and enchanting. The actors such as Charlize Theron (Young Adult, A Million Ways to Die in the West) as Monkey, Matthew McConaughey (Mud, Dallas Buyers Club) as Beetle and Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash, Harry Potter franchise) as Moon King were wonderful voicing their characters. I do not know if the story was actually from Japanese folklore, but the script was something special. The way it brought in the topic of ancestors was beautiful. I felt there was the right balance of humor, drama, danger and thrills to create a connection to any age group watching this film. Not sure why but there is something about the art of claymation that attracts me. Maybe it is because I know how much effort has to be made to make the characters move seamlessly; the figures are just more dimensional to me. I do not know what else I could tell you except after seeing this picture I had wished I was part of Kubo’s gene pool.