AS WE WERE LEAD to our table I looked out across the dining room and saw miniature lighthouses at a majority of the tables. The glow I was seeing came from the electronic devices being used at these tables; with the users being adolescents and young children. Some had tablets, others had phones; but they all looked like they were drugged as they were staring at their glowing screens. There were no interactions being initiated by others sitting at each of their tables. Some of the little ones looked as if they were hypnotized; they were so absorbed by the antics taking place on their devices. I totally understand parents wanting to keep their children occupied during a meal out at a restaurant. Honestly who wants to be the parents of a crying child in a public place? But as I looked at these kids I had to wonder how they interact with other children? GRANTED I AM NOT current with the types of video/electronic games children play with these days, but I have heard kids will play with their friends without ever leaving their house. It is some type of video game where you log on as a player and play with a friend across the street or across the country. My electronic days took place when Space Invaders and Centipede were the top games, so I am ignorant when it comes to current activities. And you know that is okay by me. I would not trade the times I sat on the living room floor playing board games with my friends. There was one game where you had to negotiate with your opponent, buying and selling parcels of land like a realtor. To this day I still love the game Scrabble or do not laugh, playing charades. There was nothing like a rainy day to be at a friend’s house playing games, stopping for a snack then returning afterwards to finish up and see who would win. Though each of us was competitive, we knew better than to gloat excessively if we were the winner because there was no guarantee you could win the next time. Looking back at those times I realize playing together face to face was a bonding experience and the perfect introduction to teamwork. The same could be said for this action, comedy adventure. FORCED TO CLEAN OUT a storage room for detention, four high school students discover an old video game they decide to play. They would soon discover they had to win at it if they wanted to stay alive. This enjoyable film starred Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, San Andreas) as Spencer, Kevin Hart (The Wedding Ringer, Central Intelligence) as Fridge, Jack Black (King Kong, Bernie) as Bethany, and Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, Doctor Who-TV) as Martha. There is no getting around the fact that Dwayne has an easy appeal that draws the viewers into any of his characters. With this role he was the perfect choice to play this physically strong, brawny type who was easily scared. Jack Black did a wonderful job as Bethany; the self absorbed, selfie taking high schooler. The director did a great job to keep the pacing on track throughout the story. This fun movie would be enjoyable for the whole family; the villains were more of the creepy type instead of the bloody, scary kind if that makes any sense. I would classify this type of picture as a good escape film; it was made to be humorous and fun. In addition I enjoyed the message of teamwork and as a bonus got to reminisce about the games I used to play when I was younger.
NO MATTER HOW ENLIGHTENED we become as a society there still will be people who judge others based on their appearance. I have seen time and time again someone reacting to another person solely on their outer exterior, never taking the time in getting to know that individual. Recently I was watching a television special charity event, where the host was asking for contributions to combat a particular disability. Throughout the show they would have focus pieces devoted to different families that have a family member inflicted with the disability; one in particular struck me about a woman who could not speak. Pretty much anyone who met her assumed she did not understand them because she did not talk. I do not remember all the details but at some point in her life she was given a computer tablet. Not only was she able to work the tablet, she was able to convey intelligence with a witty sense of humor. I was mesmerized as I saw her conduct interviews with the use of a computer speech program. SPEAKING FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCES I know how much influence a child’s actions and manner of dress plays a part in the pecking order that gets established among the neighborhood kids and in school. It was rare for a child labeled smart to also be considered tough. If a male showed an aptitude for one of the arts, he would be considered a “sissy.” In turn if a female excelled in what was considered a male dominated sport, she was classified as a “tomboy.” I can see decades ago when activities used to be defined more as a female/male thing; but over time attitudes changed where it was okay if a girl wanted to play a team sports and a boy to enroll in a cooking class. Yet today I still have seen or listened to someone who was discriminated or bullied because they wanted to do something different from the majority, let us say. Maybe we need to see more examples of people showing us how they cannot be fit into a stereotype, just like the main character in this animated, film festival winning adventure comedy. AS A YOUNG BULL Ferdinand, voiced by John Cena (Trainwreck, The Marine), was picked on for not wanting to grow up and fight in the bullring. His size however would make him look menacing which was exactly what a matador wanted in a bull. With Kate McKinnon (Rough Night, Ghostbusters) voicing Lupe, Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man, Blue Jasmine) voicing Valiente and Anthony Anderson (The Departed, Hustle & Flow) voicing Bones; I thought all the actors were good, but John Cena and Kate McKinnon really brought their characters to life. He was the perfect choice for Ferdinand. I vaguely remember reading this book as a young child and back then did not see or recognize the message that was in this film’s script. Making the story more current was fine; however, there seemed to be a little too much filler throughout the picture. I think for a younger crowd it would not matter; there was enough humor and chase scenes to keep the attention of young viewers. Besides, the animation was fine and I actually liked the Spanish animated settings. The story offered a valuable lesson that I appreciated not being done in a heavy handed way. There is that old cliché, “Do not judge a book by its cover” and in the case of this movie, you might be surprised by what you see.
2 ¾ stars
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
It is funny, the individual could be the chief executive officer of a large corporation that has a worldwide reach with thousands of employees; but as soon as they are at a family function they are seen as the shy baby brother, sister, cousin or some other relative that they were years ago. Those early images of our siblings/relatives that were imprinted in our minds never leave us. When I am around my relatives it is the only time I hear the nickname that was given to me when I was a little boy. None of my friends or business associates use that name which is fine by me. Now I am still training my relatives not to introduce me by my nickname to strangers. You see as soon as I hear that nickname memories from my childhood flood my brain, like my first ride in a convertible car to navigating an escalator for the first time without holding an adult’s hand. It doesn’t make a difference if I’m dressed up in a three piece suit or just lead a full cycle class; those images will continue to play in the background of my senses. I know this must happen for many people because I’ve seen the same thing going on with my friends and their families. You just never know how it will play out, for you could be on top of the world but in your family’s eyes you are still that spoiled little brat. REALIZING he had just lost all of his money and everyone else’s investments in his new company businessman Jake, played by Nick Kroll (Date Night, The League-TV), had to leave Manhattan and move in with his sister Justine, played by Rose Byrne (This is Where I Leave You, Annie), and her husband Danny, played by Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine, Danny Collins). Unfocused and unsure were not ideal attributes if he was going to help take care of his little nephew. This comedic drama had very little humor as far as I was concerned. I liked the cast but I found the script to be mostly bland. There was very little that happened on the screen that pulled me into the story. One possibility for my blah reaction to this movie could be the fact that it seemed like a knockoff of the film, The Skeleton Twins. That movie was so much better than this one; I just found myself getting bored here. There really was nothing new or different in this story; what did keep my attention was Rose and Bobby for the most part. Whether you call this a comedy, drama or dramedy; it won’t change the fact that it was not a very good picture.
1 3/4 stars
When one does not have the opportunity to form memories of someone, made-up ones have to suffice. The make-believe memories can be a kinder, gentler, more loving version of the real person. I have heard individuals carry on about someone they barely knew, painting the person in sweet coats of affection; whereas, my memories recall that person being somewhat mean and angry. Growing up there were some relatives I never got the chance to meet; I only had old photographs and other people’s stories to form any connection to the unknown family members. Whenever the mood struck, I would pull out these old photos and study the features and outfits of my relatives. There was one photograph where a bespectacled man dressed in a suit was standing with one foot up on what I thought was a big wooden block. He was holding up a violin as if he was giving it the once over before placing it on his shoulder to play. I would imagine he was practicing for a recital. He would perform in a garden, where the relatives would be seated all around as they listened to the rich deep notes of a concerto. Besides my imagination, any hearsay or tidbits about a relative I would incorporate into elaborate stories; turning some of them into heroes, gangsters, spies, or some other fanciful characters. Where my fake memories were about deceased people, there is a world of difference when the memories are based on someone who is still alive. INSPIRED by a true story, a letter written by John Lennon arrived 40 years late to singer/songwriter Danny Collins, played by Al Pacino (Righteous Kill, Scarface). Seeing the letter sparked Danny into seeking out Tom Donnelly, played by Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine, Chef), the son he never knew. This comedic drama was driven by its outstanding cast. Al was perfect for this role; he not only looked the part but I was convinced he was this aging singer who was well past his glory days. Besides him and Bobby there was Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, A Beautiful Mind) as Frank Grubman and Annette Bening (Ruby Sparks, American Beauty) as Mary Sinclair. I thoroughly enjoyed the acting in this movie; it was believable and filled with great depth. Now I admit the script was somewhat predictable, besides being manipulative; but I did not care because I liked the way the story carried me throughout the film. There were even a couple of surprises along my journey. The dynamics between the characters were engaging; I was intrigued with their perceptions and memories. And after you see this picture I hope you too will have developed fond memories.
The earth’s population is divided into 2 groups, those who eat to live and those who live to eat. I walk a fragile line between the two camps and frequently fall off depending on how the day is going for me. For a majority of situations food is the end result. Speaking from personal experience food can provide unbridled comfort, soothing calmness, vigorous energy, emotional support and a cavalcade of other options. Now since I teach in the health field I have to state this disclaimer: food should only be ingested in moderation. Think about when you go on a date; what is one of the first ideas you think of to do on a date? Usually it is going out to eat at a restaurant. There is something about sharing a meal with someone that builds a sense of camaraderie, budding connections between people. I bet if all negotiations whether in the business place, world stage or personal relationships were done over a meal we would see better results. When you have good food, a great story and a wonderful cast; do you know what you get? You get this sweet and salty fun comedy film. All the burners were working when the movie studio made this film. Jon Favreau (The Wolf of Wall Street, Iron Man franchise) wrote, directed and starred as chef Carl Casper in this enjoyable picture. Not happy with his current position at work and in life, Carl heads back to Miami to rediscover the things he loved about cooking. I found this film to be more than the average comedy; there was a dose of sharpness to the script that made the characters come alive. With a cast that included John Leguizamo (Ride Along, Moulin Rouge) as Martin, Sofia Vergara (Fading Gigolo, Machete Kills) as Inez, Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine, Win Win) as Tony and Scarlett Johansson (Don Jon, The Other Boleyn Girl) as Molly; everyone convinced me they were who they portrayed. It was a real treat to watch them. I want to make special mention about the scenes that involved the cooking and creation of the meals. No way do I consider myself a food guru; heck, I can barely cook a meal. However, watching the food in this film was like watching a whole other movie about the art of food preparation. To me there was such detail given to these scenes without boiling over to a long dissertation, that I was fascinated and inspired to run home and attempt to make a grand meal. Luckily rational thought took over and after the movie ended I went to a grocery story to indulge myself in the produce aisle. Extra scene inserted in the ending credits.
3 1/4 stars
A life lived without an honest acknowledgement of one’s history is like living in a 3 walled house; eventually, the weight of reality will come crashing down. I know for I have seen it happen. When a person runs away from their life’s history, taking on a new identity, the facade never lasts long. There was someone I dated a long time ago that never talked about their childhood, parents, or even hobbies. It soon became apparent that my interests were becoming their interests. I saw how they were molding themselves to my way of living and found it unsettling. Essentially they were creating a life for themselves that was dependent on me. The problem they ran into was when there was an issue or crisis, they were ill equipped to handle it; they would implode. The relationship soon ended as I found out later they started a brand new, different life. In a powerful Oscar worthy performance Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings franchise, The Aviator) played wealthy socialite Jasmine, a woman whose life crumbled apart upon the arrest of her crooked businessman husband Hal, played by Alec Baldwin (The Departed, It’s Complicated). With everything lost, Jasmine left New York for San Francisco to stay with her working class sister Ginger, played by Sally Hawkins (Made in Dagenham, Happy-Go-Lucky). Writer and director Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris, Match Point) has a knack for picking an ideal cast and letting them shine with their craft. Everyone in this drama was outstanding. Cate’s over the top brilliant performance was as perfect as it could be; she will be a front runner for the award races this year. I have never seen a poor performance from Sally and she was made to play Ginger. Besides the surprisingly excellent acting by Bobby Cannavale (Win Win, Parker) as Ginger’s boyfriend Chili; do not faint when I tell you comedian Andrew Dice Clay (Pretty in Pink, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane) as Ginger’s ex-husband Augie was living real in his role. I thought the switching of scenes from current to past events would be annoying; but instead, it gave them more intensity. There may not have been a lot of laughs but Woody’s script had a wonderful rhythm to it. This was a fascinating story about the lives people try to create for themselves.
3 1/2 stars