IT WAS NOT UNITL I turned 12 years old that I first experienced a death. A close relative had suddenly died; it was a complete shock for everyone. After hearing the news I remember sitting down at the piano to play a song over and over that reminded me of this relative. The funeral took place rather quickly and afterwards we all gathered at a relative’s house. The atmosphere was somber but there were periods of laughter throughout the night. Typically I was excited about all the food that somehow magically appeared while we were at the cemetery. There were so many desserts that they commandeered their own table. The amount of people who stopped over was staggering and it never let up for the next several days. By the end of the mourning period I felt the past week had been one long party. I discovered this was our custom for all future funerals. AS I HAVE GONE through the past years I have been exposed to other forms of mourning from my own experiences. There are some cultures that believe in cremation, while others are against it. In some faiths it is important to bury the body quickly, yet I have been to funerals where the body remains above ground for several days. Now one thing I have noticed as baby boomers have aged is hearing more people talk about incarnation. Excuse me for being simplistic but I can see how death would be less scary if one felt they would be coming back to life. To tell you the truth I feel however one deals with death is fine with me because I have seen so many people deal with loss in many different ways. There is not one that is better than another. Regarding myself I hope when my time comes people will focus more on celebrating my life instead of mourning it. Death is one of those things that everyone on the planet will experience in their life; so why focus on the sadness and sense of loss? Honoring a deceased person and sharing personal stories about them is something I find comforting, which is why I was enthralled with this animated, adventure comedy. DESPITE HIS FAMILY’S BAN on music Miguel, voiced by relative newcomer Anthony Gonzalez, wanted to be a musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz, voiced by Benjamin Bratt (Doctor Strange, Miss Congeniality). His determination would lead him to the grave of his idol just in time for the Day of the Dead celebration. This film festival winning movie was exquisite in both the kaleidoscope of colors across the screen as well as the script that beautifully handled the subject of death based on Mexican culture. I thought the story was thoughtful, respectful, kind and in a way comforting; it did not shy away from the subject of death. With Gael Garcia Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries, Rosewater) voicing Hector, Alanna Ubach (Meet the Fockers, Waiting…) voicing Mama Imelda and Renee Victor (Confessions of a Shopaholic, Weeds-TV) voicing Abuelita; I cannot say this was a true comedy. It had a few humorous moments but for the most part the word I would use to describe this picture would be heartwarming. As an added bonus to watching this movie there was a short film shown beforehand from the award winning Frozen realm, “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.” There is nothing you will lose by seeing this captivating film about life and death.
3 1/2 stars
I tried throwing out several different topics but they would always steer the conversation back to their job. If I made reference to something that happened to me they would match the experience with someone in their office. Have you ever met a person who brings their work home with them? Maybe because from my day job I go and teach evening fitness and yoga classes, I have an easier time of letting go of the workaday world. I am a big believer in employees finding a way to let go of their job stress and not carry it through their daily life. From my yoga classes I have seen what stress can do to a person’s body and mind. There have been some participants walking into class for the first time who are so tightly wound up they look like they could break on their very first yoga pose. It is funny but I actually offered a free yoga class to the individual I was referring to earlier but they declined. The reason I suggested it was because I could see their shoulders rise up towards their ears as soon as they started talking about their work. It was obvious to me they could not let go of their stress. Sadly this was not the only person I knew who brought their work home with them; I have been exposed to quite a few individuals who live to work as opposed to work to live. Feel free to take a look at the guy in this crime drama and tell me if he is bringing his work home with him. DISCOVERING an opportunity to make a huge drug bust against a major drug lord meant Robert Mazur, played by Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, Argo), would have to go undercover and put off retirement. Too bad Robert did not know if it would be worth the trade-off. Based on a true story this biographical film started out slow for me; but just like undertaking a building project, it kept getting bigger and deeper. The acting was first class by everyone including John Leguizamo (Chef, Vanishing on 7th Street) as Emir Abreu, Diane Kruger (Unknown, National Treasure) as Kathy Ertz and Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality, The Lesser Blessed) as Roberto Alcaino. One may expect Bryan to be terrific but I was impressed even more by Diane and Benjamin. Their performances were the most believable for me. I thought the directing not only gave depth to the characters but it also added intensity to various scenes. Besides the beginning of the film there were a few slow parts, along with a couple of things that seemed out of place compared to the major story; however, the acting was so good I did not feel these few things took too much away from my experience watching this picture. The other thing I want to mention is the actual story. It was so out of the realm of my world that I had moments of disbelief, but it was not a distraction. I may be intense at times but I have to tell you after seeing this film I am just thankful I can leave my work behind at the end of the day.
It is hard to tell someone what they are attempting to do is not very good. I am not referring to someone’s behavior or actions per se, more as a reality check to a person’s desire. Many of you may have seen these reality shows where a person auditions to be part of the program, as a singer or dancer. I am all for encouraging a person to pursue their dreams, but some of the people I have seen on these television shows appear to have been chosen solely to amuse the viewing audience. I find it perplexing that the contestant claims their family and friends said they would make a great singer or dancer, when it is obvious they cannot carry a tune or stay on beat. Remembering one of my writing classes, there was a student who wanted to be a writer. Through class discussions we found out his family encouraged him by holding mini story times for him to read his stories to the family. Based on what he read in our class, his stories tended to follow a formula: the endings always involved someone dying and the use of profanity was meant to shock the reader since its use rarely fit his characters. He did pass the class but by junior year he either dropped out of school or changed majors; I never saw him again. I do not think anyone wants or enjoys having to be the one to perform the reality check, but isn’t it preferable to watching the person go through with some ill-advised life decisions based on unrealistic hopes? There was a similar situation taking place in this comedic sequel. BEN Barber, played by Kevin Hart (The Wedding Ringer, Get Hard), was positive he was on the right path to becoming a permanent police officer when he accompanied his future brother-in-law Detective James Payton, played by Ice Cube (21 Jump Street franchise, Barbershop franchise), to Miami to help solve a case. James was convinced Ben could not handle the pressure. If you saw the original movie and enjoyed it then you will be in store for the exact same thing in this film. I first have to say I do not consider Kevin an actor; he is exactly the same in every role I have seen him in previously. Regarding this action picture, there were many aspects of it that irritated me. The jokes about Kevin’s height (is this a requirement for every one of his movies?), the jokes about the two characters becoming brother-in-laws and the lack of a solid story all contributed to my boredom. However I did enjoy Ken Jeong (The Hangover franchise, All About Steve) as A.J. and Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality, Demolition Man) as Antonio Pope. This film as far as I was concerned was a quick money grab by the movie studio. Someone needs to tell them they are not producing a decent product if this is what they come up with for a sequel.
1 3/4 stars
The magic of cartoons is their ability to turn something real into the unreal. They can take a current topic and provide a different spin on it or turn it into a satire. Cartoon characters can be beaten and hurt multiple times, yet still come back for more, while providing us with a good laugh. And then there is the use of color and design; everyday items can suddenly defy gravity and physics in their twisted, illogical shapes and hues. I was raised on the classic Looney Tunes cartoons from Warner Bros. The foundation to any cartoon is a solid story and Looney Tunes was brilliant in their ability to play with a story. In this animated sequel I felt the story was disappointingly weak. Steve Carell (Hope Springs, Date Night) was back again, this time as Gru the family man to the three orphaned girls. Gone was Gru’s nastiness, though I thought Steve still did an excellent job voicing the character. New to the cast was Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, Friends with Kids) as agent Lucy and Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality, Catwoman) as club owner Edwardo. The story this time had Gru being recruited by the Anti-Villain League to track down a new super criminal. On the plus side the Minions were back and offered some fun gags. However, the issue I had with this movie concerned the lazy writing. I mean come on, did we really need to try and mine humor out of flatulence? It was just an easy way to piece the story together. Where some of this year’s recent animated movies entertained both children and adults; I think younger kids would like this comedy more than adults. Another issue I had with the movie was its predictability. Cartoons should be able to offer at least a surprise or two for the viewer; I did not find anything close to being shocking. Instead of creating magic with Gru and the girls, it seemed the studio was looking to make a quick buck; some magic act.
2 1/2 stars
Throughout the animal kingdom there are numerous examples of the mother and father protecting their young. A docile animal turns into a ferocious killer when her or his child is being threatened. Among humans, how many of us have heard amazing stories of a parent’s sudden super human strength to save their child? Though I am not a parent, I can understand that protective instinct. When my niece and nephew were little, whenever we were out in public, I usually walked behind them and their parents. It was something that instinctively occurred in me; looking out for any potential danger that might bring harm to them. Starting out with the similar premise of a parent protecting their child, this action film had everything in place to create a tense story inspired by true events. With his son jailed for possession of drugs, it would take something creative for John Matthews, played by Dwayne Johnson (Tooth Fairy, The Rundown), to get his son out before the hardcore inmates would beat his son to death. Striking an unusual deal with district attorney Joanne Keeghan, played by Susan Sarandon (Arbitrage, Mr. Woodcock), John would go undercover to set up a sting operation for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Let us do a quick review here: we have a parent willing to do anything for their child, dangerous inmates and drug dealers. Sounds like an exciting movie to me; I was completely wrong. It seemed as if all the actors had the life sucked out of them, going through their motions in a deflated state. I gave credit to Dwayne Johnson for taking on a serious role, but his inexperience in a dramatic role led to a poor performance. Besides Susan Sarandon getting a badly written role, I was stunned with Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality, Love in the Time of Cholera) as drug kingpin Juan Carlos “El Topo” Pintera. There was zero depth to his character. The only thing that resembled excitement was the car/truck chase scene and Barry Pepper (Broken City, True Grit) as Agent Cooper. I can only imagine what the parents of the writers and director must feel about their children’s work after seeing this dull film. Brief scenes with blood.
1 3/4 stars