THE HOME COOKED MEAL WAS so good I asked for a copy of the recipe. After making the dish for so many years, the host no longer followed the exact recipe; she knew the ingredients and approximate amounts needed. I gently prodded, well actually begged, her to write it all down sometime during the evening if it was not much trouble. Just prior to me leaving later in the night the host handed me an envelope. You should have seen my face when I opened it and discovered she had written down the recipe on a piece of paper. She did say it may not be exact as the original, but close enough and I could personalize it to my own tastes. Besides wanting the recipe to make for myself, I thought it would be the perfect course to serve for an upcoming dinner party I was planning to host. As the weeks passed I acquired all the ingredients, reading and re-reading the recipe a couple of times to make sure I had everything needed and understood the preparation. THE DAY OF THE DINNER PARTY I had my tasks organized on a list which is something I do each time. Think of it like a pseudo schedule I follow to keep me on track for what needs to be done, to prepare a full meal with dessert. I was looking forward to making the main dish, expecting my guests would enjoy it as much as I did. Because I wanted to give myself as much flexibility with the time constraints I had for my tasks, I pre-cut some of the ingredients and stored them in airtight containers inside the refrigerator. I went about my business, cleaning the house and setting the table. By the time the first guests showed up I had all the dishes that needed to be baked cooking inside the oven. I felt everything was falling into place. When everyone was there and we sat down for dinner, I brought out the main dish and started serving it to each guest; it smelled good. As people started to cut in and taste their meal they complemented me. I was glad everyone enjoyed the meal but I was the only one who knew the dish I made was not as good as the original one I had at that previous dinner party. Don’t get me wrong; it was okay but it did not taste as special to me; I was disappointed by it. Having seen the previous Ocean movies, I must tell you I felt the same way about this gender switched version—disappointed. AFTER DOING HER TIME IN prison Danny’s sister Debbie Ocean, played by Sandra Bullock (The Heat, The Lake House), told the parole board she just wanted to lead a normal life and pay her bills. She did not mention how she was going to pay her bills with the help of the Met’s annual Gala event in New York City. With Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, Thor: Ragnarok) as Lou, Anne Hathaway (The Intern, Les Miserables) as Daphne Kluger, Mindy Kaling (No Strings Attached, The Office-TV) as Amita and Sarah Paulson (12 Years a Slave, Carol) as Tammy; I felt the cast was ideal for this story. All the actors were seasoned enough to make this picture a fun experience. Sadly, the script hindered this group from delivering on it. Except for Anne’s character, which she did beautifully, I found myself not as invested in the story as I thought I would be. The film was more of a fluff piece; it was okay to sit through but I was glad I did not pay full price. Just like the recipe I made, this movie was okay but could have been better.
2 ½ stars
ACTIONS speak louder than words. Sometimes they do more than just speak louder. There are some people who do things with little fanfare, but their actions have a profound effect on many. Recently on the news I saw there was an anonymous donor who provided enough funds to rebuild a charitable organization’s offices after they were damaged by a tornado. Another news source reported on a patient who needed a kidney transplant. A donor had stepped forward after hearing the patient’s story. This donor had no connections to the individual, but after hearing the patient’s story he said he felt it was the right thing to do. He did not want any compensation or recognition for his healthy kidney, nor did he want any fuss. Of course the news sources jumped at the chance to bring a “feel good” story to the public. During these current times I find it refreshing to find individuals doing good deeds without the need to broadcast or brag about them to the world. LOOKING towards the opposite end of the spectrum, there are individuals who have no idea their actions can have a negative impact on people. How many of us have experienced at work where one worker does something shady or let me say “against policy” that causes the company to install a new procedure that affects all the workers? I was employed at a company where the owner was carrying on an affair with a woman who was not his wife. Luckily I did not get sucked into the drama, but several employees were put in an uncomfortable spot when the wife would call looking for her husband. The employees were put in an awkward place because they had no choice but to lie to the wife if they wanted to keep their job. You might be thinking the affair would not last long and you would be partially correct. Some did not last long but there was always some other woman waiting in the wings. I so wanted to tell the owner to take a look around and see how his actions were affecting his employees. Too bad he did not have the insight that the main character found in this fantasy comedy. GLORIA’S, played by Anne Hathaway (The Intern, Rachael Getting Married), constant drinking was having an effect on her boyfriend Tim, played by Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, The Guest). She could not see what her actions were doing to him, let alone to people nowhere near her. This film festival winning movie’s story was quite unusual. It started out slow or more to the point confusing to me; however, once I felt I understood what Gloria’s drinking represented I was able to sit back and enjoy this quirky film. Anne did a wonderful job of acting with her character and the bonus was watching her play against Jason Sudeikis (Masterminds, Mother’s Day) as Oscar. He was amazing in his ability to switch back and forth between comedy and seriousness. I honestly do not see this picture going into wide release because I would not consider it a mainstream movie. However the story really had a way of pulling in the viewer; one only needed to suspend reality and watch how actions speak louder than words at times.
The multi-colored pennants hanging off the building were so thick in numbers you would have thought this was the launching of an armada instead of a grocery store’s grand re-opening. I could tell before I pulled into the parking lot that something must have been going on because traffic was busier than usual. As I walked into the store I immediately noticed all the shopping carts were replaced with polished black, extra wide carts. Later I would discover I missed the squeaky wheels of the old carts because they used to announce my arrival to the shoppers lost in thought IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AISLE, blocking passage. Starting at the produce department all the previous stand alone racks were replaced with these “islands” built of wood with multiple shelves perched on top in a pyramid shape. The produce was carefully lined up on these shelves that were covered in some type of felt or Astroturf. I almost needed sunglasses from the super bright lights that were hanging down from a newly revealed bare ceiling. All the signage was bigger and easier to read. I felt like I was in a brand new store though I had been shopping in this place for years. From my shopping list I saw I needed apples, pears and green peppers. At one island up ahead I could see the green peppers circling the lowest shelf. The shelf above had red peppers and the top shelf was filled with yellow. Looking at the peppers close-up I discovered, though the store was remodeled, the produce hadn’t changed; you had to hunt through to find a pepper that was not bruised or shriveled up. As they say the store was all flash with no substance, just like this fantasy film. ALICE Kingsleigh, played by Mia Wasikowska (Crimson Peak, Jane Eyre), returns to Wonderland to help her good friend Hatter Tarrant Hightopp aka Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp (Black Mass, Into the Woods). Her journey would take her back in time. This adventure film was utterly imaginative and colorful to watch on the big screen. With most of the previous cast returning like Anne Hathaway (The Intern, The Dark Knight Rises) as Mirana, there was a new addition with Sacha Baron Cohen (The Brothers Grimsby, The Dictator) as Time. He was fine though nothing real special. Maybe I was expecting the writers to use his comedic talent fully than what they wrote for him. In fact, this brings me to my main complaint about this film; it was not fun or entertaining. The story was more of a downer as were the characters. It seemed like a long time before the story picked up but by that time I did not care anymore. I remember sitting in my seat and wondering if this is what Lewis Carroll had in mind? The story lines separately may have been good by themselves, but mixing them all in one movie just made things messy in the telling of this story. This movie was like one of those Corpse flowers that is pretty to look at but smells foul.
It started with a letter I read in a syndicated advice column. A person wrote in lamenting about the state of our education system that seems to be pushing students through who do not have simple basic skills. This person’s example was the checker at their grocery store who could not figure out what the cost was for an item that had a sale price of 4 for $1.00, but was ringing up at 44 cents each. When the shopper pointed it out, the checker had to ask a coworker who also could not figure out what to charge for each item. This shopper knew that these 2 had graduated with honors from high school and were college freshmen. They finally took out a calculator to get the correct answer of 25 cents per item. It is funny because I had a similar experience at the movie theater last week. My ticket cost $5.75 so I gave the cashier a $20 dollar bill and a single dollar. The person started to hand back the dollar to me but I told her I wanted even change. I could tell they had no idea what I wanted so I had to explain what change I wanted back. There used to be a time when older employees with a long job history were admired and respected for their knowledge and experience. These employees were invaluable to a company. From what I have seen and heard that is no longer the case. When a company is looking to cut costs the older employees can be targeted because the company may feel they can get someone young and right out of college to fill the position for half the price. This is why I thought the premise for the story in this comedy was a good one. SINCE retirement was not totally fulfilling for 70 year old Ben, played by Robert De Niro (Casino, Meet the Parents franchise), he decided to apply for the intern position at a hot new online fashion company. It was quickly apparent to him offices and their employees had changed when he saw the company’s president Jules, played by Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married, Love & Other Drugs), riding around the office on a bicycle. I thought Robert was especially good in this role and was surprised at the chemistry he had with Anne. There were some scenes they shared that worked well, similar to the ones he shared with Rene Russo (Outbreak, Thor franchise) as Fiona. The issue I had with the script was the multiple offshoots to the main story. I felt some scenes were forced just to try and get a laugh; they were unnecessary to me. If the writers would have focused more on the company and its employees the movie would have been stronger in my opinion. On the plus side I appreciated the film showing the value of having an older more experienced employee.
2 1/3 stars
Some people learn about someone from looking through their medicine cabinet. Who knows, you may discover they suffer from acid reflux, wear contact lenses or have sensitive teeth. Now I will admit if the door to the medicine cabinet is ajar, I will peek at what is visible without touching anything; so there will not be any fingerprints. So yes, I may know what type of hair shampoo a person likes or they are on an antibiotic; however, this does not reveal a true picture about the individual. If you really want to get to know someone, take a look at their music library. Based on the type of music they listen to can tell you a variety of things, such as they are an old-fashioned romantic or they must have had a relationship that had a bad breakup. I know if someone were to go through my music they would figure out I like to move because of the abundance of dance music in my library. Another aspect of music is its healing properties. How many of us have played a particular song over and over to heal a sad, heavy heart? Music has a way of providing us many gifts. AFTER a horrific accident Franny, played by Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises, Bride Wars), flew home after being away for several years, to be there for her brother Henry, played by Ben Rosenfield (A Most Violent Year, Boardwalk Empire-TV), and her estranged mother Karen, played by Mary Steenburgen (Last Vegas, The Help). Listening to her brother’s music, Franny sought out her brother’s favorite places to listen to his favorite artists so she could get to know him. This film festival nominee had a gentle story despite its tragic event. Anne was well suited for the role and I enjoyed her performance as I did Mary and Johnny Flynn (Something in the Air, Lotus Eaters) as James Forester. The music score was full of indie folk songs; at least that is how I would describe them. They were sweet but nothing memorable. The idea for this drama was admirable; I thought it was an interesting take on a familiar theme. The issue I had with this movie was it did not go far enough to be unique. There were times I felt I had already seen parts of it before. In addition, it was pretty easy to figure out how the story would play out. Despite these shortcomings I did not mind sitting through this drama; granted the main attraction for me was the music. On a final note, this film may have hit a few sour notes but it did prove again the power of music.
1 3/4 stars
A mound of recently fallen autumn leaves became an ancient fragile pyramid that was ready to be explored by us. We had to be careful as we dug our way inside so the colored walls would not crumble and fall. The discarded stove in the alley turned into a rocket ship with 4 blazing thrusters and a retractable dock door that revealed a double landing deck made of steel. For a child the world was this huge amusement park, filled with infinite places to explore. I feel exploring is part of our human nature. Not necessarily in the same way, all of us do it in some kind of form. There are people who explore various stores to find the cheapest price on an item before buying it. When I take a trip to an unfamiliar place, I go into full explorer mode. After researching and mapping out my trip; once I arrive I usually go non-stop to cover as much territory as I can before I return home. Think about it; isn’t taking an art or dance class a way for us to explore our creative side? Throughout the ages there have been individuals who spent their entire life looking for something new and different; as I said, it is just in our nature. EXPLORING for a new planet to call home was imperative if mankind wanted to survive as a species since the Earth was dying. For Professor Brand’s, played by Michael Caine (Harry Brown, The Dark Knight franchise), plan to succeed he would have to depend on the skills of retired astronaut Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club, Mud), to pilot the spaceship. One of the passengers was the professor’s daughter; a scientist who Cooper referred to simply as Brand, played by Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables, The Devil Wears Prada). No one knew if the crew would be back in time before the planet expired. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight franchise, Inception), this science fiction adventure was a major piece of work. Without the use of green screens for the special effects, the actors were able to react in a more realistic way to the sets around them. Visually the movie was stunning with its broad spectrum of varied scenes, both on Earth and in space. Where I felt this movie stumbled was its story. Though the script per se was well done, even with the past and present story lines going simultaneously, the story had some muddled spots in it. With a running time of 2 hours and 49 minutes; I felt the film could have used a little more editing. The hardest part watching this movie was at the end; after sitting all the way through, I found myself confused to the point I felt I was left out in space.
Walking into a room filled with strangers does not create anxiety for some people. It could be a business convention, workshop, classroom or a family event and it would not be a problem for a person. Years of teaching class has helped me overcome my instinctive fear of being thrown into a situation with a bunch of strangers. If there is no connection between me and the other people other than we are all in the same line of work, than I am comfortable. However, when I have gone as someone’s guest my first instinct is to hold back and be an observer. I am sure many of us have been in a situation where we were meeting our significant other’s family and though we were told they would not be judging us, deep inside we knew they would be. Sure you want to be on your best behavior and make a good impression, but the pressure can get to you. I cannot tell you how many times I have been in this type of situation, where I not only was careful with my verbiage, but was starving for fear someone would catch me with a piece of food dripping off my facial hair or stuck between my teeth before I could clean it up. There was no way I could not sympathize for Blu, voiced by Jesse Eisenberg (Now You See Me, 30 Minutes or Less), in this animated adventure sequel. Discovering they may not be the last of their kind; Blu and his wife Jewel, voiced by Anne Hathaway (Love & Other Drugs, Bride Wars), left the comfort of Rio de Janeiro and headed out to the deepest parts of the Amazon jungle in hopes of finding blue feathered friends. It would turn into an adventure that would bring a whole new meaning to the word family for Blu, Jewel and their kids. This sequel stayed pretty true to the original one. It would help to see the first one, but one could easily watch and follow this film without seeing the original movie. This comedy adventure’s main attraction was the big dance and song numbers. Each one was fun to watch and provided a huge palette of colorful figures crossing the screen. Musical artist Bruno Mars (Honeymoon in Vegas) had the perfect role playing Roberto, including a big solo performance. The story was the weak link, taking parts of the movie “Meet the Parents” as one of its story lines. I do not think children would care since there was a steady stream of jokes and comical characters. All of the cast from the first film were here including Nigel, voiced by Jemaine Clement (Dinner with Schmucks, Predicament), along with some new characters such as Andy Garcia (Rob the Mob, At Middleton) as Eduardo. This was an enjoyable fun film that did not stray from its winning formula established with the previous one. I believe everyone would feel comfortable being a guest at the showing of this enjoyable movie.
2 1/2 stars
The stage musical of Les Miserables is one of my favorite shows, having seen it three times. It has one of the best musical scores I have ever heard besides incredible set designs. At least the productions I have seen. The story set in the 1800’s in France, revolved around the life long pursuit by police officer Javert of Jean Valjean, a former prisoner who broke parole. There were so many different aspects of the story to hook in the viewer; from redemption and unconditional love to salvation and honor. Everything I loved about the stage show was abused in this film version. While watching this 2 hour and 37 minute movie, I felt the director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Red Dust) sucked the life out of this classic tale. As much as I was impressed with his Oscar winning film The King’s Speech, I was disappointed in this ugly movie. The reason I use the word ugly is because the majority of the scenes looked like they were shot with camera lenses stuck in portrait mode. Constantly seeing angled shots of the actors’ faces quickly became a bore. Then there was the quick cutting from shot to shot, along with using a spiraling camera shoot on actors and buildings, that made me slightly nauseous. Shame on Mr. Hooper; it would have been easy to add drama to the scene if we could have seen some of the body language of the actors. Hugh Jackman (Real Steel, X-Men franchise) who I normally enjoy, had something wrong here as Jean Valjean. While every actor singing had a mellowness to their voice, it seemed as Hugh was forced to sing in a higher key. His voice was shrill and grating on my ears. Russell Crowe (Gladitor, A Beautiful Mind) as Javert did an admirable job with his singing. Playing factory worker Fantine, it seemed as if Anne Hathaway (Rachel Getting Married) knew she had one chance to make the Oscar voters notice, giving it her all to her song performance. I will say she did a great job. The surprise for me was Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn, The Other Boleyn Girl) as Marius. I had no idea he could sing and do it so well. Sacha Baron Cohen (Hugo, The Dictator) and Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows) were comic relief as the crooked innkeeper and his wife. I knew I was going to witness misery in this movie; I just did not realize it would be my own over this poorly done film.
I hope I never lose touch with the little kid inside of me. Harking back to the older, classic animated movies from my youth; this film shined like a well done piece of art. With a beautiful palette of colors, I enjoyed the vibrant scenes that led me through the story. Blu, a domesticated blue colored macaw voiced by Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Zombieland), was one of only two such birds left in the world. With the hope of becoming mates, Blu and his owner were flown down to Rio de Janeiro to meet Jewel, voiced by Anne Hathaway (Get Smart, The Devil Wears Prada). The two actors were perfect choices to voice their characters. Jesse with his distinctive way of delivering his lines and Anne’s ability to project sweetness or irritation with her voice, along with her wonderful singing, made Blu and Jewel come to life. This movie had everything: there was plenty of thrilling action when the two birds were kidnapped, a smattering of musical numbers and amusing humor throughout; I had a great time watching this fun, exciting film. All that was missing was my little table and chair from when I was a child, so I could have had my glass of chocolate milk and chocolate chip cookie.
3 1/4 stars — DVD