AS A CHILD I HAD A MENAGERIE of literary animals for pets. There was Old Yeller, Stuart Little, Peter Rabbit and Black Beauty to name a few. Among all these friends I had Doctor Dolittle on call just in case there was an emergency. There was always room for another animal to join my group, which explains why I made frequent trips to the library. Looking across the bookshelves, I would read every title on the shelves. With any title that sounded intriguing to me, I had to pull the book out to investigate and see if the story involved an animal. It did not matter what species; if there was mention of an animal, whether it was a pet or in the wild, I would check out the book. A fond memory of mine was seeing a movie that was based on a book I had read. Seeing Black Beauty or Lassie on the big or small screen was like a dream come true for me. And speaking of Lassie, when I was real small any collie I saw I immediately thought was Lassie. When they would not come up to me after calling her name, I would be sad. MY LOVE OF ANIMALS STAYED WITH me as I grew up. The pets my friends and relatives had were my surrogate pets. I could spend hours playing with a dog or cat. The other thing I would do was to simply follow and watch them. There are so many memories I have involving animals; each one as vivid today as when they were first formed. One of my oldest memories was going to a small zoo in a neighborhood park. There were only 8 or 9 different animals in it. I remember holding on to a railing in front of the cage and holding a marshmallow up in the air to get a bear to stand on its hind legs. The first time the bear stood up I went wild with excitement. I immediately deemed the bear my pet and would always go to its cage first before going to any of the other animals. I am certain many of us have fond memories revolving around animals. With so many stories having been done I cannot imagine non-animal lovers not knowing a few of them, at least. And now adding to our list of animal favorites comes Bella out of this adventure family film. HOME WAS A SPECIAL PLACE THAT Bella, voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard (Pete’s Dragon, Jurassic World franchise), knew all too well. That is why she could not give up on her 400-mile journey to get back home. With Jonah Hauer-King (Postcards from London, Little Women-TV) as Lucas, Alexandra Shipp (Straight Outta Compton; Love, Simon) as Olivia, Ashley Judd (Double Jeopardy, Heat) as Terri and Edward James Olmos (Blade Runner, Stand and Deliver) as Axel; this movie had a built-in cute factor due to Bella. It would be hard not to enjoy watching Bella and the animals she encountered in her life; however, cuteness can only go for so long. The entire production here came off a bit amateurish. The script was predictable as it periodically set up scenes to pull at the viewers’ heartstrings. The acting seemed stilted to me, to the point I preferred watching Bella when there were no humans around. The main issue about this picture was how generic it was in telling a story that has been done so many times before and better. This is not something you have to run out and go see; especially since there were a couple of scenes that I felt would be scary for younger children. I fell in love with Bella, but she deserved a better movie to star in than this one.
As far as I can remember I always had an uneasy feeling about staying in a small town. Yes, I grew up in a large city with all the negatives and positives that go with city living; but there is something about small towns that makes me feel too exposed. Maybe it is due to having been singled out for the wrong reasons when I was younger, but as an adult I tend to be a guarded, private individual. Now the funny thing is I have no problem traveling through a small town, stopping to experience some of their local culture is fine. Alright, by local culture I mean their food establishments. I remember the time I was passing through this tiny town in North Dakota and found a small diner for lunch. It was a hoot sitting in my cracked, red vinyl, wooden booth as I observed various townsfolk coming in to chat with the employees over a cup of coffee. The food was homemade and plentiful; you know you never can go wrong with hand cut french fries. Of course I had to walk over to the rotating dessert carousel to decide which baked item was calling out to me. After lunch I drove around and enjoyed looking at the rugged western style charm of the streets and buildings as I let the earlier conversations of the diner ruminate in my head. It seemed as if everyone knew everyone else’s business as I recalled hearing about the shoemaker’s daughter who was out too late and some neighbor who didn’t pick up after her dog. It may be cute to hear or maybe even stereotypical to a city person, but I prefer to have a lower profile among my neighbors. As I watched this comedic romance I could not picture myself living in that small Virginian town. COMFORTABLE with the life she was living Ave Marie Mulligan, played by Ashley Judd (Divergent franchise, Double Jeopardy), was not prepared for the family secret that was soon to be revealed to her. One of the reasons why I traveled a ways to see this film was the cast. Along with Ashley there was Patrick Wilson (Insidious franchise, Watchmen) as Jack MacChesney, Jane Krakowski (Alfie, 30 Rock-TV) as Sweet Sue Tinsley and Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost, For Colored Girls) as Fleeta Mullins. I still do not understand how the film studio was able to get such a well known cast because this movie played more like a high school theater sketch. There was nothing amusing in the script, even though I was able to see the writer was trying to reproduce a southern goth dramatic vibe. If that was the case there needed to be more drama and outrageousness. I enjoyed watching Ashley but a majority of the scenes were sappy and predicable. With poor pacing and silly dialog, this film did not win me over to the charms of a small town.
1 3/4 stars
I cannot imagine how even the coldest of hearts can stay frozen when those set of eyes look to you for love and guidance. One of the purest things on Earth is the unconditional eyes of a baby or pet staring up at you. When I started out in college my courses were for veterinary science. I wound up looking into the eyes of a variety of animals. There was the horse that had a mischievous glint in his eye, who would toss up strands of hay every time I entered her stall. One of my professors would bring in one of his dogs that always found a comfortable spot by my feet whenever she wanted to take a nap. No matter what type of animal I encountered, I was always fascinated with their eyes; imagining how they see the world around us. From my limited observations I narrowed down the different looks in their eyes to the following: fondness, food, fear, fun and sadness. One of the hardest things for me was looking into the sad eyes of an animal; without knowing the reason why I always felt helpless. EYES played an important part in this dramatic sequel. Winter, the dolphin with the prosthetic tail, had been living a full life at the Clearwater Marine Hospital until her companion passed away. It was of paramount importance that Dr. Clay Haskett, played by Harry Connick Jr (New in Town, P.S. I Love You) and his team find a new companion for the dolphin if she was going to continue to survive at the hospital. This family film was pretty much as wholesome as a movie could be. There was nothing surprising for me as the story was straight forward and quite predictable. I do not mean to say this was a poor film; it was just a simple story inspired by true events. The cast that included Ashley Judd (Divergent, Kiss the Girls) as Lorraine Nelson, Morgan Freeman (Lucy, Now You See Me) as Dr. Cameron McCarthy and Nathan Gamble (The Mist, Marley & Me) as Sawyer were all back for this continuation of Winter’s tale. At times the script veered into hokey territory for my tastes; however, I do not think young children would care or even notice. The acting was okay; as I said earlier, there really is nothing negative to say about this film. For the most part it was innocuous light fare. If nothing else I hope people would walk away from this movie with a deeper respect and understanding towards the animals who live among us.
2 1/4 stars
LIving a life filled with “what ifs” is like driving a car with filthy windows; you may get to your final destination but will not have seen where you have been going. I understand this concept on an intellectual level, but it has always been a challenge for me emotionally. It is easy for me to fall into this “what if” trap for example by standing in a checkout line where a customer in front of me suddenly needs a price check on one of their items. I will immediately think I should have chosen that other line that did not look busy. Maybe it was the environment I grew up in or lack of confidence, but a life spent wondering what would have happened if I had done something different is a waste of time. I cannot reverse time or change the results; so why devote energy to something that is out of my control? It would be similar to going out to dinner and after the meal wishing you had chosen your other choice. You would not go and purge yourself of the meal to start over; you could only gain the knowledge not to order it again. Now in the field of entertainment I see nothing wrong with the “what if” scenario being used as a meaningful plot device. WHAT if Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin borther had lived? Though this dramatic musical film does not mention Elvis in any of its advertisements; it was obvious to me if the character looks like Elvis, sings like Elvis and moves like Elvis then the writers were using Elvis’ birth as the catalyst for this story about identical twins who were separated at birth. Both roles played by newcomer Blake Rayne, the one named Drexel Hemsley would grow up to be a rock superstar while the one named Ryan Wade grew up being groomed to follow in his father Reece’s, played by Ray Liotta (Identity, Smokin’ Aces), footsteps in the ministry. I did not have a problem with the idea for this story per se; however, having to sit through this film with its ridiculous cliches and pandering to faith based viewers was torturous for me. It stunned me to see Ashley Judd (High Crimes, Divergent) as Louise Wade trying to do something with the horrible script. I would say the same for Ray; but after seeing his name listed as a producer, one has to wonder what he was thinking, agreeing to this mess of a movie. The only reason this film received as a high rating as it did from me was due to the musical numbers. After seeing this picture you would be justified in wondering what would have happened if you had gone seen some other film.
1 2/3 stars
There is a certain comfort in eating the same thing for lunch each business day. Working in a chaotic environment, I find stability in having a meal that is both dependable and made up with comforting foods that I can count on. Growing up in a neighborhood where the majority of people came from the same political, socioeconomic and religious background provided a built-in shorthand to everyone’s conversations. A single word could explain everything without having to go into details. I do not find fault with people being similar, but what about the person who appears not to fit in with the majority? In my own observations it seems there is less conformity but also less tolerance; or maybe it is the less tolerant are louder. Personally, I am comfortable with variety in my life; even with my lunch I change it up on the weekends. The way I describe it is by saying life is like a massive mansion where each person provides a different window that lets me see something new from its vantage point. By now you have probably guessed I was tuned in with the plot in this action adventure film. Set in the future, society was broken down into 5 factions based on virtues. Once a child reached a certain age they were tested to determine which faction would be most suitable for them. Shailene Woodley (The Descendants, The Spectacular Now) played Beatrice “Tris” Prior who did not fit into one convenient category. According to the policies in place and enforced by Jeanine, played by Kate Winslet (Titanic, Revolutionary Road); people like Tris would be considered a threat to society. If Tris was going to survive she would have to pretend to fit in with her faction. From what I have heard, moviegoers who have read Veronica Roth’s book which this film was based on were disappointed. Since I have not read the trilogy my comments are strictly based on the entertainment value of this movie. The best part of this picture comes down to two people: Shailene Woodley and Theo James (The Inbetweeners Movie, Underworld: Awakening) as her group leader named Four. I thought they worked well together and his acting was almost as good as Shailene’s. Filmed in Chicago, the outdoor scenes and sets constantly kept my attention. Extra points go to the 2 actors for actually climbing up the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier. I found the beginning of the movie was slow and dry. Maybe if I had read the book I would have had a better understanding of Tris’ relationships with her fellow inductees. The last hour of the movie was more exciting to me. Based on my personality I would be honored to be considered a Divergent, but then again I like being different.
2 3/4 stars
It is so hard to break a pattern that was learned by example from a young age. First, to even be aware of the pattern and secondly, realizing it was not working for you is such a major accomplishment in one’s life. Lucy Fowler, played by Ashley Judd (Double Jeopardy, Crossing Over), had come to a point in her life where the hard drinking, sleeping around, waking up early to sneak out from a stranger’s bed was no longer fulfilling a need in her. I have to say; watching Ashley in this part reminded me that with the proper direction, she can really deliver a convincing character. She was excellent in this performance. The development of her character really blossomed when she met Cal Perrell, played deftly by Jeffrey Donovan (Hitch, J. Edgar, Burn Notice-TV series), a recently transplanted resident to her small southern town. The relationship between these two came across in a real way as they began a rocky courtship. I enjoyed watching this movie, feeling as though I was really seeing a glimpse of small town life. And more imporatntly, I appreciated the way the story ended; it felt more true to life for me. Those learned habits really can be tough to overcome.
2 2/3 stars — DVD