MY LOVE OF STORIES BEGAN AT AN early age because of the stories that were told around family meals. I heard about so many different relatives’ lives that I would wish they were sitting at the dining room table to tell their story directly to us. I had a relative who was a violin virtuoso. He was self-taught and only played for family and friends, is what I heard. The only memory I have associated to this person was seeing an old black and white photograph of him, dressed in a suit and holding his violin at his side. He died before I was born, so I never got to hear him play. Another story I heard around the dining room table was about a relative who had saved several other relatives by sneaking them out of their country during a war. With the details of each relative’s escape not known, I would make-up my own stories about their perilous travels and act them out whenever I was playing with my toy soldiers. I would cover the living room of our home with piles of towels to represent the mountains and rulers as bridges which my relatives/soldiers would have to traverse on their way to freedom. THERE WERE OTHER STORIES TOLD AT the dining room table; I remember being surprised by how many people were related to me. I used to wonder how much truth were in the stories that were being told; but, without having much physical proof, I had to rely on the storyteller to be accurate with the details. I cannot say it bothered me, but I was envious of the friends of mine who had physical remnants of their deceased relatives. One friend had a sword that was mounted on a plaque that hung in the hallway of their home; I think it belonged to a great, great, great uncle. Another friend of mine had their grandfather’s gold pocket watch. It was the first time I had ever seen a pocket watch and I was fascinated with the face cover that sprung open at the press of a button. At the time I did not realize the stories I was listening to would help me in my history classes in school. When the teacher was covering a world conflict or was focusing on a specific country, I would get a mental picture of my relative. Sometimes a city would be mentioned, and I could imagine my relative being there while doing something. I did not realize this ability would help me remember city names on our tests. How I wished I could talk to these deceased relatives; if only I had the opportunity the brothers had in this animated, adventure comedy. UPON RECEIVING THEIR DECEASED FATHER’S MAGICAL staff; brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot, voiced by Tom Holland (Spider-Man franchise, The Impossible) and Chris Pratt (The Kid, Passengers), set out on an adventure to try and bring back the magic of their Dad. With Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Downhill, Enough Said) voicing Laurel Lightfoot, Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Shape of Water) voicing the Manticore and Mel Rodriguez (Little Miss Sunshine, Panic Room) voicing Colt Bronco; this Pixar movie had the usual high standard of animation we are used to from this studio. Though the cast of actors brought life to these fantasy characters, the script did not have any magic for me. Out of the many films I have seen from this studio, this one was the most obvious with following the studio’s story formula. I did not find anything funny to chuckle at and I must say the father character was odd to me. The script was simple and predictable. If I had my choice, I would rather have been reminiscing about my deceased relatives’ stories than sitting in the theater to watch what these two brothers went through to connect to their past.
HIS PHOTOGRAPH WAS PROMINENTLY DISPLAYED ON one of the banners in the hotel’s convention center. There were also photos of him in the members’ welcome booklets, along with a bio about his achievements. In the aerobic world he had achieved a level of popularity akin to a rock star. I was able to sign up for only one of his numerous workshops at the convention. There must have been a cancellation I figured because the rest of his classes filled up immediately according to one of the volunteers monitoring the ballroom. From the articles that were published in my fitness magazines, he seemed like a fun guy who had a strong sense of humor. As I looked around the room at the other participants I noticed many of them already had his DVD’s and other branded merchandise that were being sold down at the aerobic marketplace. This was a place put up in the convention center where a variety of vendors could set up booths and sell their latest fitness products to the participants. A woman walked up onto the stage at one end of the ballroom, to announce his name. She had only gotten out his first and last name before the audience cheered wildly for him. I almost felt like I was sitting in the middle of a cult. I HAVE TO SAY IT WAS AN excellent workshop he presented to us. There wasn’t anyone around me who was not covered in sweat. I toweled off as best as I could in the room, packed up my stuff and headed out to find somewhere to eat in the convention center. There was a coffee shop I found that would work for me, so I went in and let the hostess seat me. Once I ordered food, it came to the table quickly. It was when I was halfway through eating that I saw that same presenter from earlier coming into the restaurant. He looked around the room until he saw me then nodded. I was stunned; how in the world did he recognize me, let alone see me in the middle of a mass of people? He walked over to me and introduced himself. I told him I had just taken his workshop. He smiled and asked if he could join me; I said absolutely. Putting his soft drink cup down on the table, he sat down across from me. The conversation was easy as we both shared aerobic class stories. However, as he was talking he took a flask out of his gym bag and poured out the liquid from it into his drink. I could smell it was alcohol. By the time I finished my meal he was giddy and talking nonsense. Evidently this was not his first drink. To say I was shocked would be an understatement; I wondered if he had any other workshops to teach later. Here I had this image of him based on what I read about him, but this was someone completely different from my thoughts. The young boy in this western drama went through a similar experience. HAVING HEARD AND SEEN SO MUCH written about Billy the Kid, played by Dane DeHaan (A Cure for Wellness, Kill Your Darlings); a young boy could not believe the person he met could have done all those things being said about him. With Chris Pratt (Passengers, Guardian of the Galaxy franchise) as Grant Cutler, Ethan Hawke (First Reformed; Juliet, Naked) as Pat Garrett, Leila George (Mortal Engines; Mother, May I Sleep with Danger-TV movie) as Sara and Vincent D’Onofrio (The Cell, Ed Wood) as Sheriff Romero; I enjoyed the perspective used to tell this story. The acting was good for the most part, but I did not feel there was much connection between the characters if that makes sense. Ethan was in top form having been on a strong streak with movie roles; his acting keeps getting better with each film he has been in. What caused me to lose my interest was the script; the first half was better than the last. The components of the script had all been done before, so there were no surprises here. I felt little emotion being generated in the 2nd part which attributed to my mind wandering. I understand this movie can be viewed online already; which I have felt means the studio knows what they have on their hands, so they try to keep up appearances.
THERE WAS AN OLD SET OF blocks I found in my toy box. It must have been handed down because the color used on the wooden blocks was faded and worn out. Each block had a letter of the alphabet, but I never used the blocks to make words; instead, I used them to make more important things. Stacking the blocks one on top of another made a tall lookout post, with certain letters like “U” and “M” being hidden cannons and machine guns. I would use the blocks to build a wall that was used to surround a moat filled with alligators. One of my favorite things to build were these unusual shaped structures that I pretended were buildings used for outer space outposts. The letters carved into the blocks were windows or shades to protect the inhabitants from the effects of a sun. My imagination would be all over the place as it was being nurtured while playing with these old, wooden building blocks. Every time I would play with them I would discover new adventures and places to explore. IT WAS SOON AFTER I STARTED playing with other toys that would feed my imagination. I remember a box that contained these miniature logs with notches carved towards the ends, like ones used to make a log cabin. However, I used mine to build bridges that would carry visitors over churning rapids or deadly volcanoes. You are probably saying a bridge would never last over an active volcano; but in my world, the logs were made of a secret element that allowed them to withstand the heat from the lava churning inside the volcano, that was preparing to spew up and out. Most of my building type toys were of a smaller scale; in other words, I could create whatever I wanted but it would not be life-sized. That all changed when I received a gift of Styrofoam blocks from a friend of mine. These blocks were bigger than anything I had in my possession. They would interlock using the three pegs sticking up from the top into the three holes that were at the bottom of each piece. The key was not using all three pegs into another piece. All I had to do was use one of the pegs at the ends and I could form a curving wall to form an igloo or fort that was big enough for me to sit in. Add a towel or bedsheet at the top and it would become an awning. There was no limit to my imagination with any of my building toys. The same could be said for the writers of this animated action sequel. LIFE DRASTICALLY CHANGED THE PAST FEW years from everything being awesome to everything being destroyed. The only citizen who kept a positive attitude was Emmet Brickowski, voiced by Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, The Magnificent Seven), but that was about to change. With Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games franchise, Pitch Perfect franchise) voicing Lucy, Will Arnett (Show Dogs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise) voicing Batman, Tiffany Haddish (Night School, Nobody’s Fool) voicing Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi and Stephanie Beatriz (Short Term 12, The Light of the Moon) voicing General Mayhem; the previous cast returned with a few new additions in this adventure film. The actors were all in tune with their characters, delivering the finely tuned humor in the script. As with building blocks, the writers had free rein to go anywhere they wanted with the story. For the most part, they did a good job; however, I think they defaulted to the safe side to avoid risking damage to this burgeoning franchise. The entire family will find something to enjoy in this picture. If there is going to be a third installment, I hope the writers see it as an opportunity to build something new and fresh for these building block pieces.
THE BOAT SLID DOWN THE ramp and floated into the dark tunnel. Voices were echoing off the walls but I did recognize or actually remember what was being said. When we came out of the tunnel I saw a town being pillaged as flames were licking the air from various structures and objects. A couple of the citizens were being chased around in a circle while there were men strewn on the ground in obvious states of intoxication. My memories were being rekindled; I had been to this town before, many years ago. I was prepared for the cannon going off as my boat came upon a battle scene. There were people in other boats who yelled in surprise at the bomb’s explosion. We did not stay long as our boat had us moving away from the scene. Funny after all these years I still knew the last thing I was going to see was a man sitting on top of a bridge raising a bottle up in the air to give us a cheer. DURING THE ENTIRE DAY I came across so many other incidents where I was recalling how I felt the first time when I was on the same amusement park ride years ago. There is something about going back to an amusement park after being away from it for so many years. Many of the rides I rode that day were the same ones I did before except for a little updating and tweaking by the park’s owner. I still enjoyed myself though I discovered something new on the faster rides; I was now getting dizzy and queasy from them. What was up with that? Something else I noticed; this time around I was missing the element of surprise and wonder that I had the first time I rode the rides. Not that this ruined my time; I still enjoyed myself. Also, I was able this time to skip some rides because I remembered I did not care for them when I rode them last. What sustained my interest and sense of fun was my memories and the feelings of nostalgia. As I was riding an attraction I was reminiscing about my previous time. Thinking about the shock and surprise allowed me to see the rides through gentler eyes. I was less critical about how tight fitting some of the rides were and a bit corny at times. It is fun to revisit things from one’s past; but when doing so, it helps if you keep your expectations low. The same could be applied to this action, adventure science fiction film. WHEN THE ISLAND CONTAINING the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park was being destroyed by active volcanoes, there was little time for Claire Dearing and Owen Grady, played by Bryce Dallas Howard (Gold, Pete’s Dragon) and Chris Pratt (Passengers, Guardians of the Galaxy) to waste if they wanted to save the dinosaurs from extinction again. With Rafe Spall (The Big Short, Hot Fuzz) as Eli Mills, newcomer Isabella Sermon as Maisie Lockwood and Justice Smith (Paper Towns, Every Day) as Franklin Webb; the dinosaurs were the main attraction in this picture. I did think Bryce and Chris worked together wonderfully; they certainly have chemistry. I found the special effects and the soundtrack made this picture more exciting than what the script was attempting to do. The story was a bit odd to me and the script had some holes in it. An example would be the disappearance of one of the characters and we never found out what happened. For a good popcorn movie that has some exciting action in it, this would be the film to see. If you have not seen any of the previous installments you might enjoy this more than someone who has seen the other ones.
2 1/2 star
THE man’s wavy untamed hair in the photograph was the closest looking to his own. No one else in the photo album had hair similar to this man, so there was a good chance that man in the photo could be his father. The young boy would pull out his mother’s photo album anytime he was feeling sorry for himself. Sitting on the sofa with the album in his lap he would stare at this one particular photograph of the man with the wavy hair and wonder what the man was like. The little boy would get lost inside his imagination, placing himself next to his possible father in a variety of scenarios. They would be at the amusement park; sitting side by side in a roller coaster that was about to climb up a steep embankment, their hands tightly clenching their shouldstraps with their legs pressed up against each other. For several years the young boy believed his real father was out there somewhere. SOME people were born into a family while others created their own. A basic definition of family is a group of people related to one another. It could be by blood or there may be something else in common. I have a friend who has a family by birth. Though she continues to try over and over, her and her family have different expectations or maybe it is just different feelings of what makes a family. She has been disappointed more times than not with her so-called family. The only time they do something as a family is if it is convenient for her siblings; they have never gone out of their way for her. So the windup is my friend has started to create her own supportive family among her friends. This action science fiction film will show you what my friend did in her life. SETTLING into their roles as the Guardians of the Galaxy, the group of friends encounter strong forces that will test the bonds they have recently formed with each other. This adventure sequel starred Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Passengers) as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana (Star Trek franchise, Nina) as Gamora, Dave Bautista (The Man with the Iron Fists, Spectre) as Drax and Michael Rooker (The Bone Collector, Jumper) as Yondu. Right from the start this picture grabs you with its special effects and action packed scenes. And just like the original movie, this one also had a great soundtrack. I thought the script was intriguing with its strong theme of family. Not wanting to get too deep with this theme the writers did not forget to include the same type of humor that was used in the last film. Now this brings me to my issue with this movie; it unfortunately was not the first one because since we are familiar with the new franchise, this installment did not have the same fresh quirkiness because I had seen it before. I do not consider this a major complaint; I still laughed and enjoyed the action. If you are not a fan of science fiction I am not sure you would get totally into this picture, but I am sure you would not be able to stop your feet from tapping along to the music. There were three extra scenes during the credits and one more brief scene at the end of the credits.
THE word “home” is one of those words that can immediately stir up the emotions inside a person. For some hearing that word brings childhood memories such as family dinners around a large oak table topped with a linen tablecloth or being taught by your parents the rules to a new game you received for your birthday. Other individuals may hear the word “home” and immediately feel an icy sense of dread stealing down their spine or a fitful night of sleep caused by deep hunger pains. No matter the circumstances, a home can have a powerful affect on each of us. WHEN friends of mine who grew up out of state talk about going home for the holidays, I take that to mean they are going to visit their family and friends back where they grew up. That does not stop me from sometimes asking what they mean when they say “home.” I am not trying to be a jerk; I am just curious if they feel like the place they currently live in does not feel like home. I find some of my friends’ answers interesting to my question. Some of them feel if they were in a committed relationship their place would feel more like a home, while others have expressed apartment living is not the same as being in a house. Having grown up in apartments I do understand the difference somewhat since I have been living in a house. However my definition of home has grown to incorporate the city where I was born and live in. There is something else inside of me that defines home and it has nothing to do with the material trappings that demarcate one’s living space; it has to do with the heart. You see any place can be a home if it is built on a foundation of nurturing elements such as comfort, peacefulness, safety and love. Now imagine what the main characters were thinking in this science fiction drama. DURING a 120 year journey to a distant colony a ship malfunction accidently wakes up from a state of stasis passenger Jim Preston, played Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World), ninety years to early. He did not sign up to spend the rest of his life alone on a ship full of non-available passengers. This adventure romance had a string of enticing special effects and sets. With Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle, Joy) as Aurora Lane, Michael Sheen (Midnight in Paris, Twilight franchise) as Arthur and Laurence Fishburne (Mystic River, Akeelah and the Bee) as Gus Mancuso; I found myself curious with the story’s concept of long term space travel. The chemistry between Jennifer and Chris felt authentic to me; however, with the poorly thought out script they floundered in their roles. I was bored for the first half of this space romance and was annoyed with the obvious goofs in the scenes. Being selected for a holiday opening I felt this film was not properly thought out in ideas and execution. I am sad to say that this film was not the best choice to leave the comfort of my warm home on a cold day.
1 ¾ stars
It only takes a few minutes after the alarm goes off before the sense of dread awakens inside of you. With a heaviness that weighs you down, you would think it would be thick enough to fend off any physical blows. Sadly it does not prevent it. When you are living with dread, you really have no idea how much energy it takes away from you. Like a straw continuously seeking out the last drops of a bottomless glass, dread constantly makes it presence known no matter what you are doing to distract yourself from it. Unfortunately I know too well what I speak of; dread was my unwanted friend for an entire school year. My daily walk to school was devoted to planning out what escape routes I would use for the day. One never wanted to be caught navigating the same route each day because it could provide for an easy ambush. Bathrooms were always avoided between class times. Instead I would either ask for a hall pass during the class or wait for a free period; I had to wait for a time when it would be less likely anyone would be lying in wait for me. Unless you have been bullied, you may not understand what it feels like to always be on the defensive throughout the day. I was not the only one who was targeted and that was something I never understood. The general population, whether it is in a school or a town, is usually so much larger than the bully and their cohorts; yet the masses rarely band together to stop the bully. At least that has been my experiences. It was hopeful to see that was not the case in this action western remake of a classic film. DETERMINED to take over the entire town Bartholomew Bogue, played by Peter Sarsgaard (Orphan, Jarhead), gave the townsfolk an ultimatum. One citizen, a recent widow due to Bartholomew, was willing to fight for her land; but she needed help. Starring Denzel Washington (The Equalizer, Training Day) as Chisolm, Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World) as Josh Faraday and Ethan Hawke (Born to be Blue, Good Kill) as Goodnight Robicheaux; the only actors who stood out for me were Ethan, Chris and Peter. I thought Denzel was a generic version of the character, not quite believable. The filming of this movie was the highlight; the outdoor scenes were the best. As for the action scenes some really popped out with intensity while others seemed scattered and all over the place. I really felt the script was what prevented this picture from achieving its lofty goals. The reason I say lofty is because it was obvious everyone involved was trying to make this a modern classic, even taking on the original music during the ending credits. Unfortunately it did not work; overall this film production was uneven. There were parts I could get into but then other times I found them bland. Also this movie was way too long; it could have used some extra editing. I am sure the film studio wants this picture to punch its way to the top of the box office charts; however, I do not think the other movies will let it stay there.
2 ½ stars
The clanking metal sound still reminded me of an anchor being pulled up ship. Looking over at the roller coaster I recalled how that first steep drop took my breath away; literally, I was so tensed up I forgot to breathe as we dropped into what felt like a free fall down the tracks. Today there would be no way I would go on that ride again. As I have gotten older I no longer find heights attractive. I did go on the virtual spaceship ride, noticing the seat seemed smaller with my knees now reaching the back of the seat in front of me. Though I still enjoyed the ride I knew now when to brace myself before the ship engaged in a pretend aerial dogfight in outer space. Walking through the amusement park that I had last visited years ago, I still enjoyed going on the rides and attractions. Some of the larger rides had been freshened up with new parts or simply just a coat of paint. There was one ride where the computer graphics finally looked futuristic compared to the ones they had previously. I think part of the fondness I still had for the park was the memories from my previous visits that accompanied me during the day. There was no need to run from ride to ride, I could take my time and be more selective since the surprise factor was gone for me. OVER twenty years have passed since the tragic ending to Jurassic Park. Updated and marketed to a new generation, Jurassic World park attendance had been strong. However market research had shown for the park to remain profitable it needed to come up with a bigger and better attraction to keep people coming back. Its newest attraction had something else in mind. This action adventure film had incredible special effects; the dinosaurs seemed like actual live creatures being filmed alongside the actors. Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Parks and Recreation-TV) as Owen and Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help, The Village) as Claire were the main characters, both did a good job. I did not mind any of the actors to tell you the truth, even though the script did not give them any room to grow; they were pretty much two dimensional. If you are not familiar with Jurassic Park, then I believe you will get more out of this science fiction film than I did. I found it predictable, especially when some scenes were similar to ones in the previous movie. With that being said, there is no doubt in my mind that you will find this picture fun to watch and even exciting in parts. It was marketed to be a summer blockbuster and it will succeed. Wait a second, wasn’t that the same marketing idea the park had for their newest attraction?
2 3/4 stars
Any story or event becomes enhanced with the addition of an unexpected surprise. If I were to tell you that every 25th person who visited my movie site would get a gift card to a movie theater, I am sure the people who received the cards enjoyed reading my reviews more than the ones who did not get a gift card. If I read a news story about someone doing an extraordinary feat in the middle of a crisis, like a person lifting a heavy piece of machinery that accidentally rolled on top of a child, I feel more invested in the story and will probably remember it for a longer time. There was the time I was at a friend’s wedding reception where his introverted cousin, who used to hang out with us, was called up to give a toast. Instead of giving a speech filled with embarrassing or funny tidbits about the groom, the cousin had secretly made arrangements with the band and performed a couple of my friend’s favorite songs. The big surprise was no one knew the cousin could even sing; he amazed everyone with his incredible voice. So you see, experiencing the unexpected can provide a memorable time. SURPRISED by the unexpected was used to the maximum to enhance this science fiction adventure film. Chris Pratt (Delivery Man, Moneyball) played Peter Quill, a space traveler who was being hunted down after he stole a mysterious metal artifact. Only the evil Ronan, played by Lee Pace (The Hobbit franchise, Lincoln), had an idea what the metal object contained and he was determined to get it from Peter. This action movie had one of the most unusual opening scenes I had ever seen in the superhero genres; I suggest you do not come in late to the movie. Speaking of the superhero genre, the cast in this fun film consisted of some of the most unlikely characters and I do mean characters one will ever see as superheroes. Besides Peter who preferred to be called Star Lord, there was Zoe Saldana (Star Trek franchise, Columbiana) as Gamora, Dave Bautista (Riddick, The Man with the Iron Fists) as Drax, Vin Diesel (Saving Private Ryan, Boiler Room) who voiced the character Groot and Bradley Cooper (American Hustle, Hit and Run) who voiced Rocket. I loved this movie on so many levels. First was the awesome soundtrack; it pretty much played out like an extra character of the cast. The humor, snide remarks, action and special effects were terrific, all fitting together to create something different from any previous superhero film. There was not one time where I felt bored; every scene provided something to look at, feel or think about. I had no idea this motley crew would help make this picture a total, unexpected surprise for me. There was a brief extra scene after the credits.
3 1/2 stars
It does not come with batteries nor does it need to run with any other power source. What I am referring to is our imagination and creativity. From the back porch of the 3rd floor apartment I grew up in, I could see to the end of the block. Each backyard was a different kingdom in my fantasy world. Taking empty plastic dishwasher bottles with their push-up tops, I would fill them up with water and they would become bombs I would use to protect my castle. When I had to go on a fact-finding mission, I would use the back alleys covered with gravel to cover my tracks. During these missions I would hold out a ballpoint pen at arm’s length, turning it into a spaceship that was protecting me from any enemy missiles. I could spend hours outside coming up with several activities that were fueled by my imagination; some incorporated my friends while others had to be done secretly by me. The creativity coming out of the writers’ imagination for this animated action comedy reminded me so much of my childhood. I believe everyone could relate to something in this fun film. Chris Pratt (Her, Wanted) voiced happy-go-lucky Emmet Brickowoski who loved everything he did in his structured life. One day an unusual misstep brought him in contact with Wyldstyle, voiced by Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games franchise, People Like Us), who mistakenly believed he was the chosen one to save the world from the evil Lord Business, voiced by Will Ferrell (Stranger Than Fiction, Step Brothers). The kaleidoscopic explosion of colors, rapid fire comments and crazy scenes kept me on my toes; in fact, I feel I need to see this movie again because I felt I was missing some of the details. I understand the cast did their recordings together instead of the usual way of each actor being by themselves in the recording booth. It made a difference in my opinion; there was a stronger fluidity to the verbal exchanges. Will Arnett (Blades of Glory, Arrested Development-TV) as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, Taken franchise) as Bad Cop/Good Cop and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, Now You See Me) as Vitruvius were just a few of the voices that stood out for me. There was so much that was good about this film that I do not feel I even have to tell you about the minor stuff. The bottom line for me was this movie took a familiar product and with a big dose of imagination provided me the opportunity to have a fun time while recalling some fond memories from my youth.
3 1/4 stars